One of the best ways to understand Deleuze and Guzattari’s concept of becoming-animal is to read post-Jungian analyst James Hillman. In his collection of essays and lectures on the relation between animals and the psyche, ANIMAL PRESENCES, Hillman declares:

“I am suggesting that we dream interpreters not reduce the dream to the symbol but reduce ourselves, our own vision, to that of the animal – a reduction that may be an extension, an amplification, of our vision so as to see the animal with an animal eye” (ANIMAL PRESENCES, p31 – 32).


On the subject of the negative remarks about “dogs” that can be found in Deleuze’s ABC PRIMER: Deleuze thinks in terms of the behaviour and of assemblages, not of essences or of individual elements such as dogs per se.

It is clear that the “human-dog” assemblage can sometimes have some negative instantiations. For example I do tai chi in a public park in Nice. Some dog owners think nothing of walking between the ranks of those doing the long tai chi Form together, and of letting the dog bark and yap next to, or rub against, someone who is concentrating on the movements, and this on a space where dogs are forbidden. This is the sort of behaviour that Deleuze condemns, and quite justly.

DOMESTICITY AND WILDERNESS: Oedipal pets vs untamed beasts

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 humans into the wild just as we humans 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, just as much as they compose 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).

As Deleuze aged he found it increasingly hard to have an animal relation with himself. 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 a desire for “unleashment”. We know now that this desire for unleashment eventually led to Deleuze’s suicide, and so Deleuze’s concept of a “zone of indistinction”, of a feeling of commonality with the dog, is quite moving here.


Deleuze, we have seen, had sympathy for the plight of the dog, and found a relation with his own state attached, as by a leash, to an oxygen tank. More generally, he found that this proximity to dogs is the general case when we are subjected to medical power. Deleuze remarks that doctors as “individuals” may be “quite exquisite”, yet “they treat people like dogs” in their medical function (ABC Primer, M as in Malady).

Instead of the hysterical identification of the dog owner who talks to the dog as if it were a member of their family, we have the cold doctor of distances who treats the human patient as the object of an experiment with their technical machines. The result is the same, no sympathy, no becoming, the “rift” between domesticity and wilderness is not healed.

Undoubtedly we should not examine dogs in isolation, but survey the multiplicity of Canidae. As Hillman remarks “The canidae (dog, wolf, jackal, fox, dingo) are present in our very structure” (151). “Dog” is the name for a multiplicity of intensive states.

With Deleuze’s complaint about being “attached like a dog” to his oxygen tank, and being “treated like a dog” by his doctors, we can see that dogs are used by Deleuze as what Hillman calls “emblems of sadness”. There is sadness and depression in the dog attached and mistreated. According to Deleuze, this feeling of identity with the dog is not the expression of a relation of resemblance or of “sentimental identification”, but of a deep sympathy and identity

“every man that suffers is meat. Meat is the common zone between man and beast” (FRANCIS BACON, 23, my translation).

There is suffering here, a shared predicament, “a man who suffers is a beast, a beast which suffers is a man. That is the reality of becoming” (idem, 25). An animal domesticated cruelly, or a patient manipulated coldly, is treated like a hunk of animated meat to be organised as one wills. We are all, animals and humans, sensitive meat shut up in an organism that must play out its role or function.

There is also a creative and revolutionary force:

“What revolutionary in art, in politics, in religion, or in anything, has not felt this extreme moment where he is just a beast, and has become responsible, not for the dogs [Deleuze says “calves” but the lesson is the same] that are dying, but before the dogs that are dying” (idem, 25).

This force can push us to the limit, where language becomes pure cry in the face of death – crying out at death. “Death” for Deleuze is both a very real and intolerable fact, and an emblem of the event and of the invisible forces that animate it. One cries out not over death nor about death, but at death, at the forces behind it.

Thus, the writer pushes language to the limit of the cry, of the chant, and a writer is responsible for writing “for”, in the place of, animals who die, even by doing philosophy” (ABC Primer, A as in Animal).

So philosophy is already sympathy for the dog and its plight, and also an attempt to free it. It is a cry, crying out “in the immense pity that carries the meat off” (FRANCIS BACON, 26, my translation). To cry out at, to carry off, outside the organism (in Deleuze’s technical sense of  stratification and organisation of intensive matter, such as “meat”).

When Deleuze compares unfavorably the barking of a dog to the howling of a wolf, he is not judging the dog as a fixed essence but describing two intensive states that any dog can share in. Barking is a form of territorial complaint, a compulsive refrain:

“Like a dog, the mind chases its own tail, obsessively seizes on a misery, shakes it like a terrier, and won’t let go – compulsive repetitions of complaint, like a dog barking and barking long after the postman has passed (James Hillman, ANIMAL PRESENCES, 152-153).

Even Deleuze complains about his lamentable state, yet he declares that these complaints are made not to “feel sorry” for himself but to “make a sign” to a friend. His complaint is more of a howl than a bark, that is to say it is more the detection and expression of an impersonal force than the representation of a personal grievance. Making a sign to a friend, hailing a friend – this shows us that the cry is not always to be understood as the scream or the howl, it can be a cry of joy or of glee. Crying out can be howling, but also hailing.


We have seen that Deleuze does not enunciate judgements, he does not “judge” schizos, he evaluates assemblages. The same philosophical ethic is present in his attitude towards dogs. James Hillman remarks “There are no wrong or negative animals, in dreams or otherwise”. On this point, Deleuze would agree. However, he would hasten to add that there are no intrinsically “right” animals either. It is not a question of right or wrong, but of what is good for your individuation or not, of what you can “stand” in the way of alterity, of what type and in what proportions, to compose your process of individuation rather than having it de-composed.

Deleuze says he “can better stand (although not for too long) the wolf howling at the moon than barking” (ABC Primer, A as in Animal). We can imagine him asking a dog-lover “How can you stand that barking?”, and it could be a genuine question to awaken the dog-lover to an awareness of their insensitivity (coldness) or sentimentality (identification). It could also be a demand for a pragmatic account of the conditions under which one can stand a dog and its behaviour, including barking.


James Hillman provides such a philosophical protocol for standing dogs, in the form of five “messages” conveyed by the presence of dogs. These messages correspond to what we have seen to be the main components of Deleuze’s own attitude to dogs, so it will be useful to list them here as a synthesis of what has been said. I am taking these “messages” of the dog from the book by James Hillman, ANIMAL PRESENCES, Chapter 9 “You dirty dog!”

1) Dogs are emblems of sadness, suffering, and depression and thus of mute nature: “Depression restores us to the dumb animal, the futility of explanation, of language itself”. Depression here is viewed as a movement of deepening out of ego, as a process of exploration of intensities outside the norm of mediocre enjoyment. The dog takes us out of the injunction to enjoy and into the elaboration of our own nature: “We find nature in our mutual wordless relation with the dog”.

2) Dog is a wild multitude rather than a domestic identity, it englobes a multiplicity of intensive states: “Dog carries its ancestors: that is a second message. Wolves, dingoes, jackals; the snarling, howling mad dogs of war and mad dogs of the noonday sun”.

3) The dog, like the Cynic who has decided to follow nature, is a watchdog “barking at illusion”, i.e. detecting the forces of stupidity and crying out at them. The dog is a meat-spirit, outside the clichés of the beautiful soul:

“Keep a cynical eye toward idealizations and ideologies, wide-eyed wisdoms, grand illusions and delusions of grandeur, love of romance and romantic love”.

4) Dogs are emblems of decay and decomposition, having no care for the distinction between pure and impure, clean and unclean. The dog goes for the bone, destroying the corpse for its bony residue and essence. Along with the dilatation of the meat there is the contraction to the bone: “Go toward the marrow, that inmost character as presented in a well-composed obituary, a Haiku, a portrait of an old face, a wintry tree, or a clearly dissected analysis such as done by a forensic pathologist. This, too, is following nature”.

5) Dogs have a special relation to death, the dog barks at death, warning and protecting us, yet also bringing us into its proximity, into the neighborhood of death and decay. Deleuze argues that it’s not men, but animals, who know how to die, and he returns to cats [but the same is true for dogs], how a cat [or a dog] seeks a corner to die in, a territory for death. (ABC Primer, A as in Animal). The dog is a “death demon” and the oedipal relation to the dog is a defence against the awareness of death, a denial of the entropy of the meat, a denial of death:

“when we walk our dog for our health or for its, when we make sure it gets its shots on schedule, wears its flea collar, when we groom it for “best in show,” when it travels with us on family outings, or rides mascot in the pickup, we are engaged in apotropaic defenses against the death demon”.

In sum, the relation to the dog involves dumb nature and the multiplicity of canine cries, the wild multiplicity of canidae enfolded in the dog-world, unrepressed nature and playing with the dog, a cynical barking at illusion and stupidity, the taste for decay and decomposition and for getting to the bare bones, composing with depression and death.


Deleuze remarks that a dualism can be a good first step on the way to a multiplicity. So when he opposes barking and howling we can be sure that this is a preliminary distinction to get us to feel something important. Deleuze “indicates that he is sensitive to something in animals, but what bothers him are familial and familiar, domestic animals” (ABC Primer, A as in Animal). Deleuze is trying to awaken a sensitivity, not pass judgement. He has in mind the whole multiplicity of canine cries: barking, howling, yelping, growling, snarling, yapping. The bark in itself is not in question, there are all sorts of barking,  but rather its stupidity versus its “demonicity”.

James Hillman talks of the dog as an “angel” bearing messages of the plural soul, Deleuze prefers to talk in terms of demons, but the idea is the same uncoded signs and becomings rather than stable significations and fixed attributes. The important thing is not so much univocal communication of a coded content as polyvocal emission of signs. Signs require an apprenticeship, as we cross the “rift” and go over to the other, and not domestication. An animal relationship to the animal means for example being the dog’s apprentice as well as its owner.

Deleuze cites Castaneda playing with a dog while under the effect of peyote. He notes that the important thing here is not the drug but the dismantling of interpretations relating to the experience. Playing with the dog rather than interpreting the dog: “No, the dog I saw and ran along with under the effect of the drug was not my whore of a mother” (DIALOGUES, 48). Not the pre-coded secrets of psychoanalysis but the process of becoming:

“This is a procedure of animal-becoming which does not mean anything other than what it becomes, and makes me become with it” (DIALOGUES, 48, my translation).

It is also a procedure of schizoanalysis, which is why Hillman claims that the household pet was the first psychoanalyst:

“Not only are pets part of the larger family, but they are intimately familiar observers of your unconscious presentation in everyday household life. They were the first psychoanalysts.”

The dog teaches us that all is meat, prey to decomposition and decay. It teaches us that we can go for the bare bones of the situation, cutting away the flesh to get to that which assembles it: skeleton, framework, house, diagram.

We have seen that for Deleuze there is no wrong animal, there is no wrong cry. Even the bark detects a force and makes a sign. The question is rather one of sensitivity and awareness, of being on the alert for forces and signs. The dog is just as capable of alerting us to the diabolic forces knocking at the door as any other animal.

“Even the most closed house opens onto a universe” (WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY, 180, my translation).

So the house is ambiguous, between domesticity and cosmicity. The key element is

“not the flesh but the compound of nonhuman forces of the cosmos, of man’s nonhuman becomings, and of the ambiguous house that exchanges and adjusts them” (WIP, 183).

So not just the dog, but the house itself is “ambiguous”, and cannot fulfil its apotropaic function of warding off nature and demons, multiplicities and becomings, death and depression.

This cosmic dimension comes from the great chain of becomings, since animal-becomings link into molecular-becomings and into a universe of signs and forces,  a “universe of micro-perceptions” as it is called in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS. Once again Castaneda’s dog shows us the way: “the affects of a dog-becoming, for example, are relayed by those of a molecular-becoming, micro-perceptions of water, air, etc.” Does the relation with the dog close us up in a tiny egotistic territory or does it open us up to other becomings? Does it limit us to negativity and lack or is there the passage to positivity and abundance? To answer this question we must look at another philosopher who is very useful in clarifying Deleuze’s often cryptic pronouncements: Paul Feyerabend.


An interesting example of the dog as psychoanalyst (really schizoanalyst, but let’s not quibble about brand names) is given by Paul Feyerabend in his autobiography KILLING TIME. In this book, he describes his passage from “icy egotist” to a human being capable of friendship and love (169) . He takes his icy egotism as merely a more acute form of what it is to be an “individual” in our Western civilization. There is a barrier around each of us, boundaries that isolate and define each individual, that limit their existence, preventing full dialogue and free exchange:

“the fact that the parties to an exchange have an existence of their own puts limits on their feelings and actions” (169).

Feyerabend was aware of the strength of this egotistic barrier and of the limits it imposed in his own case, and regretted it, but for a long time he did nothing about it. Gradually he came to have experiences where these boundaries became blurred, and he felt that he “became less well defined” (170). Conversing with “intelligent women”, in the sense of emotional intelligence, gave him the experience of the dissolution of frontiers:

“they, their thoughts, their ways of approaching the world were less defined than mine…talking to them seemed to dissolve the boundaries between thought and emotion, knowledge and fiction, serious and more lighthearted matters” (170).

This is what Feyerabend calls deconstruction, dissolving the demarcations and the clear-cut distinctions. Talking with women let Feyerabend begin to deconstruct his limited individuality, which is an important part of the process of individuation.

After the woman-becoming came the dog-becoming, as Deleuze would say. Feyerabend’s companion Barbara acquired a dog, which she called “Rommel”. Her intention seemed to be to reinforce her individuality and its barriers:

“an image that she had of herself – unapproachably beautiful, in her sports car, the unapproachably noble dog behind her” (170).

A well-defined, “unapproachable”, identity. Except that the dog did not conform to this apotropaic fantasm: he urinated squatting like a puppy rather than like a virile male, and “threw up prodigiously” on one of their pleasure trips. In honour of this event Feyerabend called the dog “Spund”, a contraction of the German for vomit and for dog. Instead of the aesthetic and unapproachable Rommel, the dog turned out to be the messy and dirty spew-hound Spund.

Playing with the dog Spund continued Feyerabend’s deconstruction of his limited individuality: “some of the more solid layers of my character dissolved” (171). This came about because Spund “had no character” from the point of view of the aesthetic program implied in the name Rommel. The exchange was free: “there was no control, no screening, no keeping up of pretenses” (171).

This is the dog of dumb nature, communicating without language by making and interpreting signs: “Spund understood what I said – he picked up the emotional undercurrent in no time.” His is the animal eye that allows no illusion and pretense. His behaviour had the spontaneity of unrepressed nature: “It was as if Nature herself were talking directly to me.” The relation was not the guided acquisition of a mould of behaviour but one of free exchange:

“All this was the result of sympathy, not of training” (171). The relation was quite physical, sometimes even feral: “Occasionally I put on old clothes and we fought quite fiercely” (171).

The association between dog and depression is present in this relation too. Feyerabend tells us about his coldness and his guilt over having pushed his parents away. He tells us also about his depression after publishing AGAINST METHOD and the futile discussions it generated:

“The depression stayed with me for over a year; it was like an animal, a well-defined spatially localizable thing” (147).

This depression is imaged as a faithful dog accompanying him on walks: “out for my morning walk – and here she is, my faithful depression” (147). Depression is a dog-becoming that slows Feyerabend down during this period of his life, but that does not take him further. It remained for the encounter with the spew-hound Spund and the “potentialities for change” (152) it offered to allow Feyerabend to “open to change” and to “pay more attention” to people.

As Feyerabend deconstructed more layers of his character his anamnesis of his past life and its barriers continued. The vomity dog Spund is an emblem of this anamnesis as a process of regurgitation of the past. James Hillman tells us:

“In depression, the mind goes on a hunt to find a cause, digs up old bones that have been chewed many times before– past sins, omissions, and regrets. Regurgitations as meditations and one feels oneself to be ugly and smelly, and full of blame” (ANIMAL PRESENCES, 152).

Finally, this process of deconstruction of boundaries, that Feyerabend associates with women and a dog, with friendship and a late-developped capacity for love, is also associated with death. The fading away of limits was meant to be a sublimated experience, a counter-effectuation, but the last chapter of Feyerabend’s autobiography, called “Fading Away“, laments that this title was to be no mere metaphorical image, but his own physical fading away into death:

“By the end of 1993, the title of this chapter has assumed a new meaning. I am partially paralyzed, in a hospital, with an inoperable brain tumor” (180).

On February 11th, 1994, passed away peacefully in his hospital bed, holding hands with his wife Grazia.

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