Sigrira Perret-Gentil

Excerpt from 18 Lives

In 18 Lives I am interested in the idea of "becoming" and blurring the species line. "Becoming" refers to a term used by philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who state, "becomings (sic) animal are neither dreams nor phantasies, they are perfectly real…the becoming animal of the human being is real, even if the animal he becomes is not" (238). So this becoming is not literal, but more like a state of mind, in which for a brief moment each creature may forget what species he or she (or the other) is. Deleuze and Guattari only allow for a "becoming" to happen when one is not actively trying to imitate the other. It is less intentional and more subtle than that. Feeling my muscles relax as the cats gaze at me while lying in the sunlight is a "becoming." Involuntarily my eyes blink slowly, gradually, like theirs do. The sensation is more about identification with their pleasure than a personal human desire for heat. One jumps over and smells my eye, I feel his nose and whiskers touch my eyelashes. There is a becoming.

Jarvis grooms me in the morning, and as I feel his raspy tongue licking my sensitive human skin incessantly, I "become" cat. Occasionally he gets over-enthusiastic and grasps my skin between his teeth; I pull away and become human again. Juneau sleeps with his body under the comforter and his head on the pillow, arm positioned like mine as I sleep; he "becomes" human. Later, when he curls up behind my knees he and I become cat again, seeking warmth like his wild counterparts.

"Becomings-animal (sic) are basically of another power, since their reality resides not in an animal one imitates or to which one corresponds but in themselves, in that which suddenly sweeps us up and makes us become -- a proximity, an indiscernibility that extracts a shared element from the animal far more effectively than any domestication, utilization or imitation could…" (279).

When the cats and I communicate, we do so in a language that is not entirely cat or human like. We reach a point somewhere near the middle where it all blends and we are not speaking our own nor trying to mimic the other's language. Our eyes and body language play a large part. When these moments of communication are successful, a becoming occurs.

Deleuze, Gilles and Feliz Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.