To Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, beings who bridge the gap between human and animal are not confined to metaphor or mythology. In claiming that animality can “take possession of the [human] body’s interiors,” they affirm the existence of a phenomenon they call “becoming-animal”—an experience during which humans, though their physical forms are not altered, can both psychically internalize and creatively emit that which is nonhuman. While the term “becoming-animal” may evoke familiar, improbable images of physical transformation—fur pelts, for example, rising from movie werewolves’ human skins—Deleuze and Guattari identify this change as a process confined to the mind, and assert that its result is not a human-bodied animal (or an animal-bodied human) but a mental hybrid whose species defies definition.
In this paper, I argue for the utility of becoming-animal as a functional philosophical tool, a phrase that can sketch the dimensions of certain human-animal relationships with unique accuracy. To ground and contextualize this argument, I examine the text in which Deleuze and Guattari initially describe becoming-animal—their two-volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia—and identify the development of “becoming” as a term with a specific technical meaning in their philosophy. Deleuze and Guattari’s work together relies heavily on the coinage of language that, while abstract and sometimes sketchily defined, ultimately provides a means by which to generate “signs pointing a way out” from more conventional orderings of reality. Becoming-animal, according to them, serves as an alternative to reductive frameworks of thought that conceive of animals only in relation to anthropocentric systems (the human state or family unit). I discuss becoming-animal as Deleuze and Guattari distinguish it from these systems, and address critiques of the concept that see becoming-animal as anthropocentric or as problematically abstracted.
“Deleuze and Guattari, when they discuss becomings-animal, refer readily to demons and sorcerers; they value the Wolf-Man’s frightening dream over the sober conclusions of his analyst, and state ‘with all [their] heart’ that ‘of course there are werewolves and vampires.’ Their development of the term ‘becoming-animal,’ and the eclectic, bold ways they identify and describe the concept, is in keeping with their overall understanding of the function of philosophy—a discipline they see as being at its most productive when it ‘creates concepts that break with established or self-evident forms of understanding and description.’”
“Hicok’s prose poem ‘The new math’ also suggests that taking on the behavior of animals, rather than merely looking at and admiring them, might lead humankind to a state of being superior to our current one. ‘There are these notions of how the world would be better,’ the poem begins. One of these is to ‘hunt truth like the wolf hunts elk,’ but its simile soon becomes metaphor, and more explicitly animalistic: ‘Train the spine to walk on all fours. Claim only that which your urine can touch.’ ‘A theory toward wolf,’ Hicok writes, ‘would be a fine addition to the history of advice.’ He moves from exhorting wolfiness to a sober admission of feeling alienated—‘not belonging is the way I belong’—and compares that not-belonging, which is so consistent and solid as to seem like a phenomenon in its own right, to division by zero. ‘If we could solve that equation,’ Hicok writes, ‘we’d be happy.’”