Notes on: Deleuze, G and Guattari, F. ( 2004) A Thousand Plateaus.London: Continuum. Chapter 10 1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, becoming-Imperceptible...

Dave Harris


NB -- becoming is a term used so often (and so mistakenly in my view) in Education, that I have a more detailed, longer, later, set of notes, which pursue some of the weirder stuff and discuss more of the terms like 'haecceity' , as an alternative version of these notes --  here

There is a lengthy and rather slow commentary (spread over 11 smaller videos of about 10 minutes each) on this chapter, and on Deleuze’s themes about animals (and, later, about Lacan on animals) by Derrida on There is an awful lot of private language and delirious writing in this chapter that seems to have beaten even Derrida who does what a mere reader can only do – pick out the more intelligible gems. I am not a famous French academic who is indulged and allowed to quote at length and then pontificate very deliberately, so I am going to bash it all into a few sides.

The main point seems to be to want to challenge categorizing schemes again, especially relating to animals  – the series (as in evolutionary thought) – Deleuze introduces the  term ‘involution’ to refer to a creative process linking heterogeneous terms, ‘a block [of becoming] that runs its own line ”between” the terms in play and beneath assignable relations’ ( 263). [NB There can be useful series too, as in Cinema 2, where 'irrational' cuts and sequences in experimental films make sense once one see them as examples of some underlying series or theme, but then, if you are into Bergson, it is probably quite easy to spot the Bergsonian themes]. Then there are structures (as in Levi Strauss, especially, I reckon, the split between the natural and the cultural, which LS sees as so important and fundamental to myth and social life etc. [Mind you, he also sees a category in between as in the culinary triangle – raw, cooked and ‘cured’ as in tobacco or manufactured by animals as in honey – are these enough to demonstrate an interest in becoming for LS too?] And the representational schema (in LS too – animals represent totems etc) and Oedipal reductions of Freud. ‘Becoming’ is the concept that is lacking in fixed categories. It is also described as the human facility to extend thought to become other things, including animals.

Then there is the bit Derrida likes. He says it is really funny where Deleuze laughs at psychoanalysis and when he takes on the whole French nation by insisting that Jung is better than Freud. These are parodies of classifications, I assume? Bleedin hilarious, I agree:


We must distinguish three kinds of animals. First, individuated animals, family pets, sentimental, Oedipal animals each with its own petty history, “my" cat, "my" dog. These animals invite us to regress, draw us into a narcissistic contemplation, and they are the only kind of animal psychoanalysis understands, the better to discover a daddy, a mommy, a little brother behind them (when psychoanalysis talks about animals, animals learn to laugh): anyone who likes cats or dogs is a fool. And then there is a second kind: animals with characteristics or attributes; genus, classification, or State animals; animals as they are treated in the great divine myths, in such a way as to extract from them series or structures, archetypes or models (Jung is in any event profounder than Freud). Finally, there are more demonic animals, pack or affect animals that form a  multiplicity, a becoming, a population, a tale . . . Or once again, cannot any animal be treated in all three ways? There is always the possibility that a given animal, a louse, a cheetah or an elephant, will be treated as a pet,  my little beast. And at the other extreme, it is also possible for any animal to be treated in the mode of the pack or  swarm...Even the cat, even the dog.’ ( 265—6)


The discussion proceeds through several ‘memories’ representing different approaches (psychoanalysis, theology, Spinoza), through literary examples (Kafka, Lawrence – and Moby Dick where Ahab wants to become the whale). It is illustrated with several case studies like the masochist described in Ch 6 above – and Little Hans again, who is not allowed to put together his own understandings (as assemblages)  involving his concerns about sex, social class, personal freedom and nature but is forced into the old Oedipal reading by kindly old Professor Freud (and Hans's dad). The only ‘memory’ I related to was that referring to Castenada again and the bit where the sorcerer mate of Don Juan’s (Vol. 3 as I recall) shows Castenada that human bodies are really bundles of fibres connected to the rest of the universe and that they can be used to move around (which I always thought was a borrowing from the notion of Qi).


becoming [not the reproduction of a series] and multiplicity are the same thing [they imply each other?]. A multiplicity is defined not by its elements, nor by a center of unification or comprehension. It is defined by the number of dimensions it has; it is not divisible, it cannot lose or gain a dimension without changing its nature [So no essentialism]. Since its variations and dimensions are immanent to it, it amounts to the same thing to say that each multiplicity is already composed of heterogeneous terms in symbiosis, and that a multiplicity is continually transforming itself into a string of other multiplicities, according to its thresholds and doors. For example, the Wolf-Man’s pack of wolves also becomes a swarm of bees, and a field of anuses, and a collection of small holes and tiny ulcerations (the theme of contagion) [is his fantasies,that is]: all these heterogeneous elements compose “the" multiplicity of symbiosis and becoming. If we imagined the position of a fascinated Self, it was because the multiplicity toward which it leans, stretching to the breaking point, is the continuation of another multiplicity that works it and strains it from the inside. In fact, the self is only a threshold, a door, a becoming between two multiplicities. Each multiplicity is defined by a borderline functioning as Anomalous, but there is a string of borderlines, a continuous line of borderlines (fiber) following which the multiplicity changes. And at each threshold or door, a new pact? A fiber stretches from a human to an animal, from a human or an animal to molecules, from molecules to particles, and so on to the imperceptible. Every fiber is a Universe fiber. A fiber strung across borderlines constitutes a line of flight or of deterritorialization. It is evident that the Anomalous, the Outsider, has several functions: not only does it border each multiplicity, of which it determines the temporary or local stability (with the highest number of dimensions possible under the circumstances), not only is it the precondition for the alliance necessary to becoming, but it also carries the transformations of becoming or crossings of multiplicities always farther down the line of  flight. Moby Dick is the White Wall bordering the pack; he is also the demonic Term of the Alliance; finally, he is the terrible Fishing Line with nothing on the other end, the line that crosses the wall and drags the captain . . . where? Into the void . . . 

The error we must guard against is to believe that there is a kind  of logical order [e.g. logical series] to this string, these crossings or transformations. It is already going too far to postulate an order descending from the animal to the vegetable, then to molecules, to particles. {cf DeLanda's video on evolution as a topological series of multiplicities on a plane rather than a series connected in time}. Each multiplicity is symbiotic; its becoming ties together animals, plants, microorganisms, mad [p?]articles, a whole galaxy. (275) 


Other Deleuzian concepts are involved in the expanded notion of becoming(s), especially the plan(e) of immanence (both plan and plane because of his interest in strategy and production?). This a flat plane (no depths to explain what goes on, just surface with movements on it), and it is a plane of immanence in the sense that it represents potential or possibilities: ‘ A plane of consistency [on the other hand is a theoretical construct? Or is that planes of reference?] peopled by anonymous matter, by infinite bits of impalpable matter entering into varying connection’ (282) . The potentials are described as longitude (‘extensive parts falling under a relation’ (283). Or even less comprehensible: ‘the particle aggregates belonging to that body in a given relation: these aggregates are part of each other depending on the composition of the relation that defines the individuated assemblage of the body’ (283). There is also latitude (‘ speeds, slowness, and degrees of all kinds’ (279), ‘intensive parts falling under a capacity [just ‘intensities’] ...the affects [NB, not effects, but to do with effects on the body] of which it is capable at a given degree of power...Affects are becomings’ (283). Apparently the relations concerned are ones of ‘movement and rest, speed and slowness, grouping together an infinity of parts’ (283). Beats me (I haven’t read any Spinoza -- even when I did it didn't help much. Dave -- this is maths not Spinoza? {written by a later Dave} <An even later Dave now has read some Deleueze on Spinoza>).  Assemblages are formed (by machines?) to construct a haecceity (= ‘thisness’) – unique events which are linked to each other but which are also made up of multiplicities [not essences then as in Duns Scotus via Wikipedia] .

The language of children represents a fair expression [but not an understanding surely] of the relations in assemblages before they have been disciplined – and Little Hans’s inquiries are cited – do machines pee/why do some machines like train engines pee; what exactly are the differences between boys and girls and how they pee, the use of indefinite articles ‘a body’ etc. Things like horses are a ‘list of affects’[for him] rather than a clearly defined member of a species – its eyes are blinkered, it has a dark band round its mouth, it drums with its feet etc. So becoming horse means not playing at horse, not developing an analogy with a horse, not empathising with a horse but


whether Little Hans can endow his own elements with the relations of movement and rest, the affects, that would make it become horse, forms and subjects aside. Is there an as yet unknown assemblage that would be neither Hans’ nor the horse’s but that of the becoming–horse for Hans? An assemblage, for example, in which the horse would bare its teeth and Hans might show something else, his feet, his legs, his peepee maker, whatever? And in what way would that ameliorate Hans’ problem, to what extent would it open a way out that had been previously blocked?...[and when Hoffmanstahl contemplates a dying rat and ‘becomes a rat’ ]... This is not an analogy, or a product of the imagination, but a composition of speeds and affects on the plane of consistency; a plan(e), a program, or rather a diagram [I later learned this meant some representation of a mathematical relationship], a problem, a question-machine’ (284-5)


Some obsessional stuff follows about other sorts of planes, more specific ones, formed by practices developed on the plane of immanence. It starts with a plane of signification, where language like that of the child describes how planes of immanence produced these practices (maybe).

Even linguistics is not immune from the same prejudice, inasmuch as it is inseparable from a personology; according to linguistics, in addition to the indefinite article and the pronoun, the third-person pronoun also lacks the determination of subjectivity that is proper to the first two persons and is supposedly the necessary condition for all enunciation. We believe on the contrary that the third person indefinite, HE, THEY, implies no indetermination from this point of view it ties the statement to a collective assemblage, as its necessary condition, rather than to a subject of the enunciation. Blanchot is correct in saying that ONE and HE-0ne is dying, he is unhappy—in no Way take the place of a subject, but instead do away with any subject in favor of an assemblage of the haecceity type that carries or brings out the event insofar as it is unformed and incapable of being effectuated by persons ("something happens to them that they can only get a grip on again by letting go of their ability to say I"). The HE does not represent a subject but rather makes a diagram of an assemblage. It does not overcode statements, it does not transcend them as do the first two persons; on the contrary, it prevents them from falling under the tyranny of subjective or signifying constellations, under the regime of empty redundancies. The contents of the chains of expression it articulates are those that can be assembled for a maximum number of occurrences and becomings. "They arrive like fate   Where do they come from, how have they pushed this far . . .?" He or one, indefinite article, proper name, infinitive verb: A HANS TO BECOME HORSE, A PACK NAMED WOLF TO LOOK AT HE, ONE TO DIE, WASP TO MEET ORCHID, THEY ARRIVE HUNS. [sic –original caps] Classified ads, telegraphic machines on the plane of consistency (once again, We are reminded of the procedures of Chinese poetry and the rules for translation suggested by the best commentators) .

Memories of a Plan(e) Maker. Perhaps there are two planes, or two ways of conceptualizing the plane. The plane can be a hidden principle, which makes visible what is seen and audible what is heard, etc., which at every instant causes the given to be given, in this or that state, at this or that moment. But the plane itself is not given. It is by nature hidden. It can only be inferred, induced, concluded from that to which it gives rise (simultaneously or successively, synchronically or diachronically). [This is what professional philosophers do - -and artists].  A plane of this kind is as much a plan(e) of organization as of development: it is structural or genetic, and both at once, structure and genesis, the structural plan(e) of formed organizations with their developments, the genetic plan(e) of the evolutionary developments with their organizations (292—3)

[Semetsky's gloss makes a lot more sense of much of this --and DeLanda's There is also a moderately accessible reading in Ch 3 of Dialogues]


There are even more specific plan(e)s than those, like planes of music or visual planes for films. Deleuze mentions his favourite experimental musicians (like Cage) or film-makers (like Godard) [see Cinema 2] who are to be celebrated by revealing the plan(e) like structure affecting their medium. The whole thing reads like an obsessional categorisation of idealist possibilities, a magical world with all its divisions and subdivisions which are called into existence as problems and issues arise – rather like the painful elaboration of concepts in Castenada’s later work when the inspiration is running out and he is trying desperately to make the sorcerers’ worldview  look coherent and powerful. It also reminds me of some of the cosmological theories of membranes and how they can constitute actual worlds (in so far as I can follow the arguments via various popular TV documentaries), although the concepts there seem to be generated by mathematical possibilities and to be tested by mathematical means, whereas here we just have Deleuzes’s ravings and obsessions [possibly also based on mathematical modelling, I have now learned] . Deleuze cites HP Lovecraft (sic) (277) whose example says just as a 2-d circle can be seen as cut from a 3-d sphere, so a 3-d sphere might be cut from some 4-d figure of which we know nothing, which is itself cut from a 5-d one and so on. I think this is really the model behind Deleuze too – a point (haecceity?) can be seen as cut from a line or a confluence of lines (relations), lines can be seen as cut from planes, planes are surfaces of bodies. He can’t let it lie at that though and has to add planes ad hoc [ad hoc haecceities! Right hic, in the text!] as further problems dawn on him. Deleuze stops the infinite regression with Spinoza’s notion of formless and quality-less particles and potentials,[or a BwO, of course] and thus lets Spinoza act as God (or the despot).

Becoming is then discussed in an equally bizarre way as operating at the molecular level. Deleuze must have remembered he spent ages developing that level in AntiOedipus. Here, becoming involves some process of sharing molecules between molar constructions or haecceities. Each emits molecules into a ‘zone of proximity’ (must have excited educationalists who probably thought of Vygotsky) – a footnote says this is a term from set theory meaning adjacent or neighbouring sets [blimey – I’ve just noticed –neigh—bouring!] elements in sets. Each object emits particles or corpuscles into this zone, and one molar subjectivity becomes another in that shared space.


becoming is the process of desire. This principle of proximity or approximation is entirely particular and reintroduces no analogy whatsoever [interesting!]. It indicates as rigorously as possible a zone of proximity or copresence of an article, the movement into which any particle that enters the zone is drawn. Louis Wolfson embarks upon a strange undertaking: a schizophrenic, he translates as quickly as possible each phrase in his maternal language into foreign words with similar sound and meaning; an anorexic, he rushes to the refrigerator, tears open the packages and snatches their contents, stuffing himself as quickly as possible. It would be false to believe that he needs to borrow "disguised" words from foreign languages. Rather, he snatches from his own language verbal particles that can no longer belong to the form of that language, just as he snatches from food alimentary particles that no longer act as formed nutritional substances; the two kinds of particles enter into proximity. We could also put it this way: Becoming is to emit particles that take on certain relations of movement and rest because they enter a particular zone of proximity. Or, it is to emit particles that enter that zone because they take on those relations. A haecceity is inseparable from the fog and mist that depend on a molecular zone, a corpuscular space. Proximity is a notion, at once traversed by topological and quantal, that marks a belonging to the same molecule, independently of the subjects considered and the forms determined.

Scherer and Hocquenghem made this essential point in their reconsideration of the problem of wolf-children [well, we all know that]. Of course, it is not a question of a real production, as if the child "really" became an animal; nor is it a question of a resemblance, as if the child imitated animals that really raised it; nor is it a question of a symbolic metaphor, as if the autistic child that was abandoned or lost merely became the "analogue" of an animal. Scherer and Hocquenghem are right to expose this false reasoning, which is based on a culturalism or moralism upholding the irreducibility of the human order: Because the child has not been transformed into an animal, it must only have a metaphorical  relation to it, induced by the child’s illness or rejection. For their own part, they appeal to an objective zone of indetermination or uncertainty, ”something shared or indiscernible” a proximity "that makes it impossible to say  where the boundary between the human and animal lies," not only in the case of autistic children, but for all children; it is as though, independent of the evolution carrying them toward adulthood, there were room in the child for other becomings, "other contemporaneous possibilities" that are not regressions but creative involutions bearing witness to an inhumanity immediately experienced in the body as such” unnatural nuptials “outside the programmed body”. (301—2)


An example: Do not imitate a dog, but make your organism enter into composition with something else in such a way that the particles emitted from the aggregate thus composed will be canine as a function of the relation of movement and rest, or of molecular proximity, into which they enter. Clearly, this something else can be quite varied, and be more or less directly related to the animal in question: it can be the animal’s natural food (dirt and worm), or its exterior relations with other animals (you can become-dog with cats, or become-monkey with a horse), or an apparatus or prosthesis to which a person subjects the animal (muzzle and reindeer, etc. ), or something that does not even have a localizable relation to the animal in question. For this last case, we have seen how Slepian bases his attempt to become-dog on the idea of tying shoes to his hands using his mouth-muzzle. Philippe Gavi cites the performances of Lolito, an eater of bottles, earthenware, porcelains, iron, and even bicycles, who declares: ”I consider myself half-animal, half-man. More animal than man. I love animals, dogs especially, I feel a bond with them. My teeth have adapted; in fact, when I don’t eat glass or iron, my jaw aches like a young dog’s that craves to chew a bone If we interpret the word "like" as a metaphor, or propose a structural analogy of relations (man-iron : dog-bone), we understand nothing of becoming, The word ”like" is one of those words that change  drastically in meaning and function when they are used in connection with haecceities, when they are made into expressions of becomings instead of signified states or signifying relations. A dog may exercise its jaw on iron, but when it does it is using its jaw as a molar organ. When Lolito eats iron it is totally different: he makes his jaw enter into composition with the iron in such a way that he himself becomes the jaw of a molecular dog ( 302—3)


I have heard of this before—Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman (written in 1940) where mysterious Irish constables develop extraordinary resemblances to their personal bicycles over time: some get angular and upright, some like leaning up against walls etc. What happens is that they exchange their spare and less well-attached electrons ('corpuscles' for Deleuze) with their bicycle saddles as they ride them (the saddle is a 'zone of proximity'?) , and converge more and more as they use their bikes. The Wikipedia entry for O'Brien notes that the mysterious police station also contains 'a box from which anything you desire can be produced' -- a Deleuzian  abstract machine if ever I saw one.

women on trikes

The rest of the chapter features a long discussion of music and its effects and the efforts of various composers to escape constraints of form and system and experiment with sound. It was largely beyond me I am afraid, but bits made sense here and there –eg experimenting with the human voice to make it less ‘natural’ or more into pure sound –deterritorializing it (Deleuze, or maybe Guattari, remembers those terms and uses them again). In between are commentaries on painting along the same lines (sic). It is all a bit erratic and free-wheeling again – I think it needs a good discussion of creativity like that offered by the OuLiPo. That conception might restore the need for some sort of system of lines and points, the better to identify the freedoms that are possible [this is hinted at below where imagination needs technique].

There are odd asides on becoming here and there too. As if struck by a guilty thought, there is a bit about how man becomes other things but other things never become man. Deleuze says because ‘man’ is the kind of standard subject, and nearly invents hegemonic masculinity by suggesting that even not-men find their identities defined against this standard: ‘Of course, the child, the woman, the black have memories; but the Memory that collects those memories is still a virile majoritarian agency treating them as “childhood memories”, as conjugal or colonial memories.’ (323). As if to recompense his feminist buddies, he says that becoming-woman is a kind of essential first step for anyone wanting to break the hold of representation and start doing experimentation – there is even a reference back to the unfortunate Schreber. This argument may or may not be connected to one about secrets and how having secrets implies a whole non-secret apparatus to keep them secret.

Other examples of becoming animals continue to amuse:


Becoming is never imitating. When Hitchcock does birds, he does not reproduce bird calls, he produces an electronic sound like a field of intensities or a wave of vibrations, a continuous variation, like a terrible threat welling up inside us. And this applies not only to the “arts": Moby Dick’s effect also hinges the pure lived experience of double becoming and the book would not have the same beauty otherwise. The tarantella a strange dance that magically cures or exorcises the supposed victims of a tarantula bite. But when the victim does this dance, can he or she be said to be imitating the spider, to be identifying with it, even in an identification through an "archetypal" or "agonistic" struggle? No, because the victim, the patient, the person who is sick, becomes a dancing spider only to the extent that the spider itself is supposed to become a pure silhouette, pure color and pure sound to which the person dances. One does not imitate; one constitutes a block of becoming. Imitation enters in only as an adjustment of the block, like a finishing touch, a wink, a signature. But everything of importance happens elsewhere: in the becoming—spider of the dance, which occurs on the condition that the spider itself become; sound and color, orchestra and painting. Take the case of the local folk hero, Alexis the Trotter, who ran "like" a horse at extraordinary speed whipped himself with a short switch, whinnied, reared, kicked, knelt, lay down on the ground in the manner of a horse, competed against them in races, and against bicycles and trains. He imitated a horse to make people laugh. But he had a deeper zone of proximity or indiscernibility. Sources tell us that he was never as much of a horse as when he played the harmonica [priceless!]; precisely because he no longer needed a regulating or secondary imitation...Alex became all the more horse when the horse’s bit became a harmonica, and the horse’s trot went into double time ( 336—7)


I’ve forgotten to discuss the bit about imperceptibility in the title. This should help:

invisible man


If becoming-woman is the first quantum, or molecular segment, with the becomings—animal that link up with it coming next, what are they all rushing toward? Without a doubt, toward becoming-imperceptible. The imperceptible is the immanent end of becoming, its cosmic formula. For example, Matheson’s Shrinking Man passes through the kingdoms of nature, slips between molecules, to become an unfindable particle in infinite meditation on the infinite. Paul Morand’s Monsieur Zéro flees the larger countries, crosses the smallest ones, descends the scale of States, establishes an anonymous society in Lichtenstein of which he is the only member, and dies imperceptible, forming the particle 0 with his fingers: "I am a man who flees by swimming under water, and at whom all the world’s rifles fire. . .. I must no longer offer a target” But what does becoming-imperceptible signify, coming at the end of all the molecular becomings that begin with becoming-woman? Becoming-imperceptible means many things. What is the relation between the (anorganic) imperceptible, the (asignifying) indiscernible, and the (asubjective) impersonal?

 A first response would be: to be like everybody else. That is what Kierkegaard relates in his story about the “knight of the faith” the man of becoming: to look at him, one would notice nothing, a bourgeois, nothing but a bourgeois. That is how Fitzgerald lived: after a real rupture, one succeeds in being just like everybody else. To go unnoticed is by no means easy. To be stranger, even to one’s doorman or neighbours. If it is so difficult to be "like" everybody else, it is because it is an affair of becoming. Not everybody becomes everybody [and everything: tout le monde –Trans]  makes a becoming of everybody/everything. This requires much asceticism, much sobriety, much creative involution: an English elegance, an English fabric, blend in with the walls, eliminate the too-perceived, the too-much-to-be-perceived. "Eliminate all that is waste, death, and superfluity” complaint and grievance, unsatisfied desire, defense or pleading, everything that roots each of us (everybody) in ourselves, in our molarity; For everybody/everything is the molar aggregate,  but becoming everybody/everything is another affair, one that brings into play the cosmos with its molecular components. Becoming everybody/everything (tout le monde) is to world (faire monde), to make a world (faire un monde). By process of elimination, one is no longer anything more than an abstract line, or a piece in a puzzle that is itself abstract. It is by conjugating, by continuing with other lines, other pieces, that one makes a world that can overlay the first one, like a transparency. Animal elegance, the camouflage fish, the clandestine: this fish is crisscrossed by abstract lines that resemble nothing, that do not even follow its organic divisions; but thus disorganized, disarticulated, it worlds with the lines of a rock, sand and plants, becoming imperceptible’ (307—9) 

Happy now? Compare with Baudrillard on how the postmodern lets us disappear, and look at how the authors want to become imperceptible too? It is a goal for shy academics who have been criticized quite a lot and have grown weary of the sound of their own voices.

back to menu page