UNLEASHING THE DOGS (1): Oedipal domesticity versus beasts of the wilderness

James Hillman tells us a story that illustrates the ambiguity of dogs (but such is the case for any animal) in Deleuze’s bestiary:

“once we humans and the animals were all together in a peaceable kingdom, until slowly a rift appeared in the earth, and gradually the animals were all on one side, the humans on the other of an ever-widening gap. At the very last moment, the dog leapt the chasm to be on the side of the humans.” (ANIMAL PRESENCES, 153).

Dogs in this story are the ambiguous relays between domestication and wilderness, sharing in both worlds, drawing us into the wild just as we tend to draw them into domesticity. An Oedipal relation with an animal means taking the position of the “beautiful soul” and denying the active inhuman forces, the wilderness energies, that compose the dog, for example just as much as us. Imposing a human form on these forces, domesticating these energies, having a human relation with the dog, is the opposite of what Deleuze aims at with his ethic of becoming. Animal becoming means unleashing the forces and letting them compose freer relations. For Deleuze “people who really like cats and dogs do not have with them a human relationship, for example, children who have a infantile relationship with animals. What is essential, claims Deleuze, is to have an animal relationship with animals”. (see Charles Stivale’s excellent summary/transcription of Deleuze’s ABC Primer). Hillman too protests against the attempt of “soft idealization and sentimentalism” to “retrieve the dog and take it back into the family lap” (150).

“Human nature consists not only in the community sitting around the campfire but also in the beasts in the surrounding jungle” (151).

Deleuze found it increasingly hard to have an animal relation with himself, as he was unable to breathe properly without medical assistance, which he compared to a leash for a dog: “the winter was very difficult in terms of my health: long suffocations, tied like a dog to my oxygen tank” (François Dosse, “Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives”). This “complaint” as Deleuze calls it, expresses sympathy for the dog and desire for unleashment (may Andrew Gibson pardon me this coinage!). We know that this desire for unleashment will lead to Deleuze’s suicide, and so the “zone of indistinction”, the feeling of commonality with the dog, is quite moving here.

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