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Eating Girls: Deleuze and Guattari's Becoming-Animal and the Romantic Sublime in William Blake's Lyca Poems

By Peter Heymans

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It is perhaps illustrative of animal philosophy’s strong intent to establish itself firmly in serious academia that it has recently shown interest in Gilles Deleuze and Félix
Guattari’s concept of becoming-animal, a concept which is so abstrusely theoretical and abstract that it appears to say very little on the animal as we know it.1 In her latest study When Species Meet (2007), Donna Haraway has rejected not only Deleuze and Guattari’s lack of concern for the real animal, but also their deeply-rooted contempt for the family pet, which they take to be a pitiful receptacle for the ungratified Oedipal sentimentality of the childless, the old, and the lonely. “I am not sure,” Haraway (30) reflects, “I can find in philosophy a clearer display of misogyny, fear of aging, incuriosity about animals, and horror at the ordinariness of the flesh, here covered by the alibi of an antiOedipal and anticapitalist project.” Criticizing the high-flown abstractness of Deleuze and Guattari’s theory in more epigrammatic terms, she writes: “This is a philosophy of the sublime, not the earthly, not the mud” (28). I want to show in this paper that Haraway is speaking more than she knows here, and that the concept of becominganimal is, indeed, rhetorically and structurally indebted to the discourse of the sublime, that amphibious aesthetic of fear and wonder that is believed to have emerged in a firstcentury Greek rhetorical treatise, moved to center-stage in the nature poetry of the Romantics and the aesthetic theories of Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant, and has invited renewed and expanded interest in the writings of Jean-François Lyotard, Slavoj Žižek, and many other postmodernists.2 By relating becoming-animal to the Romantic sublime, I do not seek to deprive Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of its ecological significance, however — as Haraway purports to do. Quite the opposite, I want to
demonstrate that both the sublime and the dynamic of becoming-animal, despite their subjectivist preoccupation with human identity and consciousness, can bear important relevance to the study of human-animal relations. I will illustrate this relevance with an ecocritical reading of William Blake’s Lyca poems, “The Little Girl Lost” and “The Little Girl Found,” both published in his Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794), which engage the aesthetic of the sublime in a way that accords closely with the
poststructuralist dismantlement of human subjectivity. 

Date 2011
Publication Title Humanimalia
Volume 3
Issue 1
Pages 1-30
ISBN/ISSN 2151-8645
Publisher DePauw University
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animals in culture
  2. Poetry.
  3. romantic relationships