Animal Studies Bibliography

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 2007. Becoming Animal. In Linda Kalof and Amy Fitzgerald (eds.), The Animals Reader: The Essential Classical and Contemporary Writings , 37-50. Oxford, UK: Berg.
(Summarized by Jessica Bell, Animal Studies Program, Michigan State University)

The essay “Becoming Animal” in this edited collection is selected from a much longer work by Gilles Deleuze and Guattari, a work entitled A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. “Becoming Animal” references and relies upon terminology that is defined in previous chapters of A Thousand Plateaus and other previous works by the authors and thus it is useful to briefly define these terms. Deleuze and Guattari (1987) differentiate between two ways of conceptualizing phenomena and knowledge: the arborescent model and the rhizome. The arborescent model is hierarchical, has a center and peripheries, has a beginning, middle, and end, and has a strong spinal axis of theory and organization. In contrast, the rhizome is anti-hierarchical, grows in a lateral manner with no center or periphery, has no beginning, middle, or end, and has no privileged viewpoint. Deleuze and Guattari endorse the rhizome model and write that becoming-animal, the focus of this essay, “is a rhizome, not a classificatory or genealogical tree” (p. 39). Deleuze and Guattari (1987) also introduce the concepts of the molar and the molecular. These can be thought of as different scales or components that intersect with one another at multiple levels (individual, social, political, etc.). These are complex concepts but, overall, the molar is associated with that which is conscious/perceptible, that which territorializes, that which is relatively rigid, and that which operates on a macro level. The molecular is associated with that which is unconscious or subtle, that which de-territorializes, that which is fluid, and that which operates on a micro level. Becoming (for example, becoming-animal) is a molecular process.

This differentiation between molar and molecular becomes relevant when the authors differentiate between the three different types of animals. The first type of animal is the Oedipal animal. This animal is individualized and sentimentalized. In other words, this type of animal has a unique history and name that arises from its emotional alliance with a human. Deleuze and Guattari refer to this type of animal as Oedipal because it is also the type of animal that Freudian psychoanalysis explores as (or reduces to) symbols of intimate family relationships. The second type of animal is the Jungian, or “archetype”, animal. This is the animal that has a symbolic presence in the myths, rituals, and spiritual beliefs of many human cultures. It is the third type of animal, the demonic animal, in which Deleuze and Guattari are most interested. It is only in relationship to the demonic animal that becoming-animal can occur. Unlike the other two types of animals, and like the process of becoming-animal, the demonic animal has a molecular character (Beaulieu 2011). This is because the demonic animal, like the process of becoming-animal, is a flexible and ever-evolving multiplicity. Like the process of becoming-animal, it exists in a realm, a fold, all of its own. However, Deleuze and Guattari also write: “Cannot anyanimal be treated in all three ways?” Thus, these three “kinds” of animals are modes of relating to animals, not inherent characteristics of the animals themselves.

Deleuze and Guattari refer to becoming-animal as a unique process that resists comparisons to other processes. They write that “there is a reality specific to becoming” and “becoming is a verb with a consistency all its own” (p. 39). Becoming-animal is also not the only form of “becoming”. Deleuze and Guattari also refer to “becomings-woman” and “becomings-child” (p. 45). All these forms of becoming share certain characteristics. Becoming is not imitation, because imitation implies a shift from identity A to identity B (Beaulieu 2011). Rather than implying a shift from one identity to another identity, or the synthesis of two identities, becoming implies the deconstructing of identity itself. Becoming is neither regressive nor progressive. Regression and progression imply that certain forms are higher, or more central, than others. The notion of becoming by definition rejects this hierarchical and linear structure. In order to stress this aspect of becoming, Deleuze and Guattari refer to becoming not as “evolution” but as “involution, on the condition that involution is in no way confused with regression” (p. 39). Thus, Deleuze and Guattari reject a model of human-animal relating that views humans as “higher” on the “evolutionary tree”. A final important aspect of becoming is that becomings are always “minoritarian” (p. 45). Deleuze and Guattari conceptualize the notions of minor and major not in terms of numerical density or importance, but rather in terms of power (Beaulieu 2011). Thus, minoritarian groups are groups that “are oppressed, prohibited, in revolt, or always on the fringe of recognized institutions” (p. 45). In other words, it is through their position on the fringe or the borderline that minoritarian groups open up the space for becoming. Thus one can speak of becoming-woman or becoming-animal, but not becoming-man or becoming-human.

Deleuze and Guattari then discuss how the process of becoming-animal occurs. The first point they make is that becoming-animal occurs through contagion, not filiation. Filiation, or reproduction through hereditary descent, does not allow for the multiplicity of difference that contagion allows. For, when a new organism is produced through filiation, “the only differences retained are a simple duality between sexes within the same species, and small modifications across generations” (p. 41). Whereas, in contagion, there can be multiplicities that span across multiple worlds: plant, animal, and human. Deleuze and Guattari give the example of a becoming-animal interaction between a wasp and an orchid. The orchid, by appropriating physiological and chemical properties of the female wasp, entices the male wasp to pollinate it (Beaulieu 2011). Filiation does not apply here, since there can be no orchid-wasp hybrid produced through this interaction. Rather this interaction represents a becoming, a state of being that transcends the boundaries of classified distinct “species.”

The second key point about the process of becoming-animal is that this process involves both the anomalous and the multiplicity (or pack). Deleuze and Guattari define the anomalous as “neither an individual not a species… but a phenomenon of bordering” (p. 43). In other words, the anomalous is both part of a pack/multiplicity and an exceptional loner or leader within that pack.


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