Romantic Individualism, Animal Rights and the Challenge of Multiplicity

Louise Economides

... writing is a becoming, writing is traversed by strange becomings that are not becomings-writer, but becomings-rat, becomings-insect, becomings-wolf ... the incredible feeling of an unknown Nature—affect. For the affect is not a personal feeling, nor is it a characteristic; it is the effectuation of a power of the pack that throws the self into upheaval and makes it reel.
—Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus [1]
For man is the antinatural being par excellence. This is even what distinguishes him from other beings, including those who seem closest to him: animals. This is how he escapes natural cycles, how he attains the realm of culture, and the sphere of morality, which presupposes living in accordance with laws and not just with nature.
—Luc Ferry, The New Ecological Order [2]

[1] One or many "subjects"? The question, far from being merely semantic, is becoming critical in ecological discourses that seek lines of flight from the impasses which block modernity's dualisms: Nature versus Culture, man (in the singular) versus "the animal," necessity versus freedom. By now, one would expect these categories to be as familiar to readers of ecological theory as they are tiresome by virtue of the fact that they have been endlessly iterated both by those seeking greater respect for non-human entities and those who defend anthropocentric humanism. Yet if we study a representative body of knowledge—such as debates surrounding the issue of "animal rights"—it appears that these dualisms have lost little of their currency, even (and perhaps especially) in the light of phenomena within late capitalist techno-culture which have rendered such categories highly problematic. To cite just a couple examples: can we coherently label transgenic organisms with human DNA flags such as OncoMouse® and "Astrid" the pig non-human "animals" that should be denied ethical recognition? If we expand our focus beyond the question of the animal to other ecological domains, we encounter similar de-stabilizations (can we call super-storms believed to be influenced by global warming "natural" disasters?). All around us, it would seem, modernist divisions between nature and culture and their associated humanisms are becoming obsolete. Why then does our discourse—and here I locate most environmentalists (including myself) as well as our critics—often cling to such categories, particularly when we engage in attempts to broaden the scope of what constitutes rights?

[2] Perhaps this tendency can be understood as symptomatic of ecology's inability to come to terms with what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call "multiplicity" or "becoming." These complex concepts, explored in A Thousand Plateaus and other key texts, will be unpacked in detail here as a means of framing the problem of individualism in animal rights discourse. Broadly speaking, their epistemological stakes concern the problem of essentialism in traditional philosophy, particularly the quest to comprehend phenomena according to what they are in some absolute ontological sense, rather than what they have the capacity to become, or their ongoing existence as affects (sensations, events) rather than as static things. The shift away from ontological absolutism to a phenomenology of becoming entails an understanding of how entities are, of necessity, always already interconnected with other entities in novel configurations which cannot be reduced to the dualistic paradigms which structure desire in social strata. Hence, as Deleuze and Guattari describe it

... becoming and multiplicity are the same thing. 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 ... each multiplicity is already composed of heterogeneous terms in symbiosis, and that ... multiplicity is continually transforming itself into a string of other multiplicities, according to its thresholds and doors. (ATP 249)

Significantly, the forms of alliance that emerge via such processes of becoming are not "filial" sexual unions that can be comprehended teleologically in terms of "production" (242); rather, they are "pack" or viral assemblages that do not observe boundaries such as Oedipal triangles or Hegelian dualisms. They are chaotic fusions of heterogeneity that cannot be predicted, yet which ironically constitute the most frequent gatherings in nature's rhizomatic networks: "they are interkingdoms, unnatural participations. That is the only way Nature operates—against itself" (242). In other words, a "multiplicity" is, by implication, an ecological phenomenon, but one that profoundly challenges modernity's essentializing tendency to characterize nature and the individual subject as stable categories, or ecological harm and counter-measures as teleological processes that can be objectively comprehended. The question therefore arises: how might one map a Deleuzo-Guattarian "ecology"? What might the contours of such an ecology look like and what might the benefits and risks be of a adopting a postmodern approach to formulating ecological issues? It will be my contention that such an approach to ecology usefully deconstructs modernity's essentialist dualisms, in particular the latent individualism underpinning both animal rights discourse and ethical humanism more generally.

[3] It is interesting to note that to date very few studies linking Deleuze and Guattari's philosophy and ecology have been published, with the notable exception of Mark Halsey's work, including Deleuze and Environmental Damage. [3] In part, I believe this aporia stems from the difficulty of conceptualizing nature and ecological praxis within "postmodern" epistemological frameworks. Halsey does an excellent job illustrating not only how Deleuze and Guattari's conceptual assemblages can be employed to create "more intense coding" [4] for sites of ecological contestation such as Goolengook, Australia, but also amply demonstrates ways in which five prominent strands of environmental philosophy today (liberal ecology, ecomarxism, ecofeminism, deep ecology and ecosocialism) all employ "the methods and epistemologies of modernity" (Environmental Damage 14) without questioning this way of framing ecological problems and solutions. In contrast to Halsey's ambitious and wide-reaching project, my own focus here will be to employ Deleuze and Guattari's theory to critique what Halsey terms "liberal" ecology and its "personalized" (18) or individualistic solutions to environmental problems, specifically those surrounding the issues of subjectivity and speciesism. In its current articulations, animal rights discourse typically positions itself as an extension of humanist subjectivity to non-human entities. Though well meaning, the inclusion of animals within such a concept of rights reproduces conceptual problems never resolved in humanist constructions of subjectivity. As such, it constitutes merely the latest branch on a very old tree of reformist thought. Perhaps more than anything else it is Deleuze and Guattari's critique of such "aborescent" structures that at once separates their thinking from that of most eco-critics and, simultaneously, traces that most improbable of alliances from a modern vantage point—an anti-essentialist epistemology in which "the civilization of uprootedness and innovation [is not] utterly irreconcilable with a concern for nature" (Ferry XXII).

[4] A key dimension in Deleuze and Guattari's thought that enables such a reconciliation is, I will argue, not only a shift away from an objectivist epistemology (and its associated essentialisms) hitherto dominant in environmentalist discourse, but also a shift toward an aesthetic understanding of subjectivity. In keeping with what Halsey terms "a processual conception of society and subjectivity" ("Machinic Thought" 38) indebted to Nietzsche's philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari's work suggests that art plays a critical "deterritorializing" role in its particular method of creating "lines of flight" away from the socius's arborescent "assemblages of enunciation" (state philosophy's meta-narratives, including Oedipal, Capitalist and Religious semiotic "machines" that seek to stabilize the flows of desire). In contrast to the "molar" state's desire to codify what constitutes human and non-human identity with non-contingent finality, Deleuze and Guattari explore art's connection with affect as a "zone of indetermination" wherein "things, beasts, and persons ... endlessly reach that point that immediately precedes their natural differentiation," moments of "man's nonhuman becoming." [5] This is not to suggest that aesthetic communication represents a panacea capable of single-handedly solving ecological problems—as we shall see, like any other "abstract machine of coding" its deterritorializations can be "negative," "relative" or "absolute"(ATP 508-510) in nature. Nevertheless, the unique status of aesthetic machines in Deleuze and Guattari's thought warrants analysis of how something like "animal rights" becomes thematized within artworks. Thus, I will supplement my critique of animal rights philosophy with a study of literary works from the Romantic period which address the ethical treatment of animals. This historical moment is significant because it witnessed a dramatic increase in public discourse concerning animal rights and (simultaneously) the growing cultural prominence of "romantic individualism." As an extension of late 18th century humanism, romantic individualism constructs the individual ego as the ultimate basis for ethics and social systems. Poetry of the period often conflates animal rights and individualism in a reductively sentimental manner, but it can also reveal the ethical limitations of anthropomorphic projection. In its most radical articulations, romantic poetry ruptures ethical individualism to explore affective states that strongly resemble what Deleuze and Guattari characterize as the experience of "multiplicity" or "becoming-animal." As such, its deterritorializations reflect unresolved fissures in animal and human rights discourse that remain extremely relevant to ecological politics today.

Animal Rights, Individualism and the Roots of the Problem in Late Eighteenth-Century Thought

[5] As aforementioned, ecology (and modern philosophy more broadly) has traditionally employed a logic of essences as the foundation upon which it builds truth claims. With the rise of capitalist modernity, western humanity's "essence" has most often been defined along two parallel lines: as a function of our species' individuation from everything else in nature and as the capacity to develop individual subjectivity within liberal collectives committed to human rights. Most important for my exploration of animal rights is the monolithic categorization that results from the first split and the ethical atomism accompanying the second. As an example of the former, we have Luc Ferry's Kantian assertion that what essentially separates humanity from all other animals is our capacity for freedom, defined as our profoundly "antinatural" ability to act in ways that cannot be reduced to instinctual pursuits (i.e. ego-centric drives). From this standpoint, animals can be denied rights on the basis that they cannot freely enter into an ethical contract with human beings. However, as Cary Wolfe convincingly demonstrates, Ferry can only maintain this essentialist division by ignoring considerable ethological evidence that other animal species are quite capable of exhibiting "freedom from instinct" in their behaviors. [6] In other words, what are eliminated in such arborescent formulations are "rhizomatic" complexities that problematize reductive categorization. Tom Regan's attempt to modify Kantian ethics by applying the famous "categorical imperative" of inherent (as opposed to use) value to animals doesn't overcome the problem of essentialism, either. In texts such as "The Case for Animal Rights," Regan purchases anti-speciesist ethical consideration for animals at the cost of leaving a humanist ideology of individual rights uninterrogated. This is clear in his rhetoric when he claims that "each of us [whether human or animal is] the experiencing subject of a life, a conscious creature having an individual welfare that has importance to us... " [my emphasis]. [7] Though well meaning in its attempt to go beyond the species barrier rigidly maintained in traditional humanism(s), Regan's recourse to the individual's "inherent rights" raises the question of how such a formulation could possibly apply to animals whose identities are ineluctably shaped by the collectives in which they live, indeed, for whom the whole notion of "individual" identity is suspect. For example, what might we mean when we assert that an individual ant has inherent rights, or an individual tuna? Undoubtedly, a single entity can solicit humane treatment on a par with collectives, but is this because it is an "individual" in a humanist sense or because it is a living, breathing being?

[6] All this is not to say that individual differences do not exist between members of the same species (human and non-human) or that recognizing such differences can carry ethical weight. Jacques Derrida's late deconstruction of "the animal" as a monolithic category that effaces both differences between vastly divergent species and differences among the members of the same species rigorously illustrates this, as does Deleuze and Guattari's emphasis on affect (or what bodies can do) rather than genus as a key factor that differentiates animals (this is why they claim "a racehorse is more different from a workhorse than a workhorse is from an ox" in ATP 257). Rather, my purpose in placing humanist notions of animal rights under pressure is to suggest ways in which it such discourses can actually work against ecological, non-anthropocentric justifications for including animals within the purview of ethics. Or, put somewhat differently, I wish to show how machinic assemblages configuring the flows of desire at work in human interactions with non-human entities (including animals) can never fully contain multiplicitous becoming under the sign of an individual, unified subject.

[7] In "The Animal That Therefore I am (More to Follow)," Derrida observes that Jeremy Bentham's celebrated reframing of the question of animal rights as hinging upon suffering "changes everything" insofar as it is "disturbed by a certain passivity" or a "not-being –able" that takes on positive ethical significance (previously an animal's incapacity to exhibit things like "freedom" were cited as grounds for denying rights). [8] Yet, for all its innovation, neither Bentham's theory nor the work of contemporary animal rights philosophers inspired by utilitarianism such as Peter Singer fundamentally breaks with ethical individualism. Indeed, utilitarianism aims at reconciling atomistic pursuit of happiness with the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals within society. In contrast to Derrida's reading of Bentham's ethics, I would suggest that in order to harmonize potentially incommensurable "interests" between individuals and collectives, utilitarianism resorts to its own form of (negative) essentialism insofar as the capacity to suffer is located as the single most important criterion upon which to assess a being's possession of interests and, ultimately, it's "rights" in the abstract. Debora Slicer analyzes the inadequacy of this approach to animal rights, particularly a tendency to omit contextual specificity as an important factor in ethical discourse. Significantly, she asserts that "animal rights theories reduce individuals to that atomistic bundle of interests that the justice tradition recognizes as the basis for moral considerableness," [9] but in doing so effaces significant differences which socialization (including gender) can make in the construction of "interests."

[8] While Slicer usefully deconstructs abstract, essentialist approaches to animal rights, her recourse to situated "affections" as an alternative ethical framework has its own drawbacks, not the least of which is the problem of sympathetic exclusivity, something closely associated with what I have been terming "ethical individualism." Towards the end of her essay, Slicer asks how we can explain the

affective schizophrenia of a country that spends more money than any other in the world on its 'pets,' while spending more than any other on animal research, much of it involving the use of cats and dogs, hamsters and bunnies. How and why do we circumscribe our collective and individual imaginations in this manner? (120)

Clearly, a utilitarian ethic based upon an animal (in the abstract)'s ability to suffer is of little use in answering such a question, as the animals we confer special affection upon are often of the same species as those relegated to the lab, and therefore possess the same physiological capacity to suffer. What Slicer's unanswered question points to is a fundamental problem in Bentham's ethos, namely our tendency as human beings to see individuals (human or animal) with whom we are emotionally intimate as possessing more "interests" than others of their kind. Emotional identification easily lapses into sentimental self-affirmation in such a schema, or what Deleuze and Guattari term an "Oedipalization" of select individuals (most often pets) which can (ironically) bolster a sense of our own human uniqueness as the earth's preeminently "sensitive" species.

[9] A final problem with conceiving of animal rights as an extension of individualistic ethics is that certain isolated creatures can be invested with sentimental import while groups of animals (whether of the same or different species) are demonized. David Clark's excellent analysis of Emmanuel Levinas's relationship with "Bobby," a dog who befriended the philosopher during his internment in a slave labor camp during World War II, addresses the problem of sentimental anthropomorphicization from the standpoint of racism. Citing the example of de-humanized Jews under the Nazi regime, he discusses the source of Levinas's hesitation to anthropomorphicize the canine: "the sentimental humanization of animals and the brutal animalization of humans are two sides of the same assimilating gesture." [10] In such a schema, the personalization of individual animals as pets can be accompanied by a ruthless depersonalization of groups of human beings stigmatized as "vermin." While Clark suggests that ideological links between speciesism and racism account for this phenomenon, I would add that the ideology of individualism underwriting humanist subjectivity also plays a major role in such constructions. One question that Clark does not address is whether both an animal and a human being must (of necessity) be an "individual" in order to be granted "face" in a Levinasian sense within modern ethics. Certainly both Regan's Kantian and Singer's utilitarian ethics suggest that this is the case.

[10] To summarize, the chief problems with animal rights discourse that hinges upon extending individual subjectivity to non-human entities include: 1) incommensurability with animals whose identities are inextricably shaped by collectives within which they live 2) the risk of sentimentalizing individual subjects (animals who are granted "face") while demonizing faceless collectives 3) the elision, under the sign of a "unified" subject, of multiplicities which constitute all "individuals" and 4) ironic reinforcement of nature –culture dualism. Given that most contemporary animal rights discourse traces its roots to the late 18th century, a study of how animals are represented in Romantic art usefully illustrates the ideological drawbacks enumerated above. Within the framework of a Deleuze and Guattarian post-structuralist ecology, we can observe how sympathy for individual animals in Romantic texts often reterritorializes what might otherwise amount to radically deterritorialized experiences of "multiplicity" or "becoming-animal," detracting from such texts' emancipatory potential.

Romantic Poetry and Sympathy for Animals

[11] As David Perkins notes in his recent book Romanticism and Animal Rights, the doctrine of "universal" rights invoked by late-Enlightenment revolutionaries had a significant impact not only upon the gradual enfranchisement of oppressed human groups, but also upon attitudes towards animals during the Romantic period. [11] Many contemporary critics have noted a conflation of human and animal rights discourse in the work of thinkers such as Anna Barbauld and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, both of whom composed public statements against slavery and in favor of recognizing a "brotherhood" or ethical bond between human beings and animals. [12] Yet, as I will argue here, the basis for such enfranchisement in both poets' work is sometimes problematically atomistic, animals requiring sympathetic individuality in order to inspire ethical treatment. It is no coincidence that the protagonists in a majority of Romantic texts that invoke sympathy for animals are remarkable individuals: whether it be a homeless rodent in Burns's "To a Wee Mouse," a persecuted stag in Wordsworth's "Hart-Leap Well" or Blake's insect victim in "The Fly." Human and animal collectives, when they do appear in Romantic texts, are often horrifying in their multiplicity, as in Wordsworth's famous description of London's "endless stream of men and moving things" in The Prelude (1805) (Book VII, line 158) [13] or the hideous "multitude" (460) of phantoms that accompany the car of life in Shelley's "Triumph of Life," blocking out the Platonic light of truth like a "flock of vampire bats before the glare / Of the tropic sun" (484-485). [14] In sum, animal subjects worthy of ethical treatment are often analogues of the Romantic individual, what Deleuze and Guattari would characterize as "individuated animals" (ATP 240) that invite regressive identification, rather than "pack animals" or multitudes (241) that trouble atomistic notions of selfhood.

[12] This tension is particularly evident in Romantic texts which explore revolutionary politics via sympathetic animal subjects. A complex example of this occurs in Coleridge's poem "To a Young Ass," [15] which addresses both the problem of animal cruelty and of poverty within the context revolutionary emancipation. As I will illustrate, this text reflects both the deterritorializing potential of animal rights discourse and the reterritorializing drawbacks of ethical individualism. By the time Coleridge wrote the poem in 1794, there was already a verse tradition linking animal rights and sympathy for revolutionary ideals. For example, Anna Barbauld's "The Mouse's Petition," composed in 1771, focuses upon a rodent slated for one of Joseph Priestley's oxygen experiments who employs a rhetoric of "universal rights" to plea for its release in an address that resonates with the plight of the poor and of political dissidents. [16] Likewise, when Coleridge wrote "To a Young Ass" he was probably influenced by earlier poems in print wherein donkeys function as symbolic surrogates for the poor. [17] David Perkins offers several possible explanations for this conflation, including the fact that "donkeys especially were likely to be the work animals of the poor" (104) and the ass's symbolic connotations, both positive ("spiritual merit ... patience") and negative ("foolishness, stubbornness, whatever is implied by asinine") (110).

[13] Traditionally dismissed as a prime example of "bad poetry," "To a Young Ass" has recently received serious critical attention as an important text both from the vantage point of animal rights and as a reflection of the poet's early flirtation with political radicalism. Yet critical assessments of what the poem ultimately says about revolutionary praxis differ widely. For example, Onno Dag Oerlemans suggests that "the poem's sympathy for the foal is to be taken literally, as an example of the poet's (not unproblematic) spirit of compassion and egalitarianism that fired his early zeal for the Revolution and his utopian scheme for a Pantisocracy." In his reading, the text is truly revolutionary insofar as it reflects "the Romantic gesture of putting the self into nature, of sensing that individual consciousness is a part of a larger spirit," a gesture that "seems to have roots in ... the undermining of the hubris of anthropocentrism." [18] On the other hand, David Perkins asserts that the poem fails as a revolutionary text, representing at best a safe means to address the problem of human poverty via an animal surrogate and at worst a "sop to conscience," insofar as the text's sympathy for "the sufferings of the poor" is effectively cancelled by its "fear[-] of social upheaval and therefore of incendiary words" (113). The question therefore arises: do poems like "To a Young Ass" which ostensibly conflate human and animal rights effectively de-center traditional humanist subjectivity, or ironically reinforce it?

[14] The answer I would like to explore through a Deleuzo-Guattarian framework is "both"—that is, insofar as such texts reflect a desire for "multiplicity" or "becoming-animal" they evade rigidly anthropocentric subjectivity and represent a "line of flight" from modernity's nature-culture dualisms. On the other hand, this particular poem's deterritorialization is ultimately "negative" (ATP 508) insofar as a sentimental individualism ultimately undercuts the experience of multiplicity enacted therein, reterritorializing revolutionary lines of flight into less threatening familial units. As such, it serves as a potent example of the thwarted revolutionary potential at work in individualistic animal rights discourse more generally.

[15] In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari make it clear that the experience of "multiplicity" or "becoming-animal" is, by definition, subversive, "accompanied, at its origin as in its undertaking, by a rupture with the central institutions that have established themselves or seek to become established" (247). The politics of becoming exceeds forms of subjectivity specified by familial, religious and state assemblages and constitutes a form of expression for "minoritarian groups, or groups that are oppressed, prohibited, in revolt, or always on the fringe of recognized institutions..." In "To a Young Ass," the speaker begins on a subversive note when he admires an animal who is a member of just such a "minoritarian group," provocatively stating: "Poor little Foal of an oppresséd race!/ I love the languid patience of thy face" (1-2), even going so far as to "hail" the animal as a "Brother"(26) in the second stanza. Thus, the text subversively brings "heterogeneous terms" (animals, the poor, revolutionary rhetoric) into forms of "symbiosis" that continually morph into "string[s] of other multiplicities" (the original text critiqued sycophantic artists and their relationship with "scoundrel Monarch[s]").

[16] Yet, the text's most deterritorializing dimension is its representation of what might be termed thwarted becoming, or ways in which an oppressive socius stifles both the experience of multiplicity and of non-productive expressions of desire. If, in Deleuze and Guattari's reading, an organism should be ethically assessed not by "Species or Genus characteristics" but by "the active and passive affects of which the animal is capable in the individuated assemblage of which it is a part" (257), this implies that an animal's capacity to realize its full potential as an embodied being is always influenced by "environmental" factors (in a cultural as well as ecological sense). In other words, an organism's "power to act" is always influenced by "intensities [that] come from external parts"(256)—most notably by "assemblages" through which the "social machine or socius" "codif[ies]" and "regulates" the "flows of desire." [19] An assemblage "extract[s] a territory from ... milieus"(ATP 503), establishing a relationship between signs (expression) and actions (content) for entities within a particular social context. Assemblages, by virtue of their quasi-semiotic status, always include both lines of territorialization and of deterritorialization, elements which both channel desire and which escape such decoding. How does all this affect what an animal "can do"? Deleuze and Guattari's analysis of "Little Hans's horse" in A Thousand Plateaus provides a striking example. Objecting to Freud's Oedipal analysis of Hans's response to an abused work horse, the authors instead focus upon how the child perceives that the animal

... is not a member of a species but an element or individual in a machinic assemblage: draft horse-omnibus-street. It is defined by a list of active and passive affects in the context of the individuated assemblage it is part of: having eyes blocked by blinders, having a bit and bridle, being proud, having a big peepee-maker, pulling heavy loads, being whipped, falling, making a din with its legs, biting, etc. These affects circulate and are transformed within the assemblage: what a horse "can do." (257)

There is much to be unpacked here, but most apropos to our analysis of Coleridge's ass poem is the sense in which the "becoming-horse of Little Hans" involves the child's "unnatural participation" (258) in affective assemblages beyond those delineated for him as a humanist "individual." In a profound sense, the latter is not sufficiently individuated in a "molecular" sense, overcoded as it is by molar discourses that seek to essentialize what it means to be human or animal. As a counter to such reductive individualism, Deleuze and Guattari re-envision both the horse and boy as entities whose affective capacities are influenced by specific spatio-temporal and semiotic contexts.

[17] Like the horse, Little Hans is "also taken up" in a disciplinary assemblage that seeks to regulate affect, although as a bourgeois boy his includes a prohibition of leaving his home to go out into the street where the horse is beaten. Hans's ability to "become-animal" hinges upon whether he can "endow his own elements with the relations of movement and rest, the affects, that would make it become horse," thereby "ameliorating" the stultifying effects of his own socialization by opening a line of flight into the experience of multiplicity. The implication in this and other examples of "becoming-animal" explored in A Thousand Plateaus is that, for all their liberating potential, such experiences also underscore the affects of machinic assemblages designed to block such experiences, disciplinary regimes designed to limit desire and the body's expressiveness. The pride and power of Little Hans's horse is forcibly channeled into work labor, the animal's perspective is narrowed by blinders and its body exposed to the bit, bridle and whip. When a human being "endows his [or her] own elements" with the assemblage that would make him/her "become-horse" in such an instance, he/she experiences the affects of such a disciplinary regime, including its contraction of what can constitute "horse-being"; the animal, in turn, "becomes-human" insofar as it becomes a human thought. Yet it is important to note that Deleuze and Guattari insist that the subversive "symbiosis" involved in this mutual experience of becoming-other cannot be reduced to a feeling of pity, imitation or identification. The latter serve to reterritorialize radical lines of flight into feelings sanctified by the socius, such as sentimental or Oedipal identification.

[18] In one remarkable aspect, "To a Young Ass" captures what might be called the speaker's experience of "becoming-donkey" insofar as it convincingly enacts the stifling affects of disciplinary assemblages upon both work animals and the working poor. The young foal's embodiment conveys a sense of its contracted being without it needing to say a word. When the text enacts this animal's unsettling stasis, its drooping, "moveless" head (8) and "dulled spirits"(5) "most unlike the nature of things young" (7), the speaker enters into an assemblage which has prematurely deadened a being that, in other circumstances, might be able to express animal "spirit" or joie de vivre. The second stanza makes clear what a donkey "can do" when released from an assemblage that reduces it to a starving and abused beast of burden. In a pastoral setting wherein the ass is treated with greater "Equality" (27-28)—namely the Pantisocratic "Dell" to which Coleridge, Southey and their families planned to immigrate -- it can enjoy the freedom of play as well as a share of the benefits of its toil. The authors imagined that animals as well as human beings would benefit from Pantisocracy, small utopian communities founded upon the principle of universal enfranchisement (reflected in the root words "pan" and "socracy"—rule of all). Therein, the currently silent, motionless young animal is imagined as "toss[ing] [its] heels in gamesome play," "frisk[ing] about" (31-32) and "bray[ing] [with] joy"(34). What is genuinely subversive, as opposed to merely sentimental, in the text's enactment of becoming-donkey is the suggestion that oppression shuts down the rich range of non-utilitarian pleasure and power which bodies—both human and non-human alike—are capable of experiencing. Hence, it is no accident that the donkey mare is described as being confined to a "narrow spot" (16) due to her "shorten'd chain" (14). This not only underscores the injustice of her starvation in the midst of plenty, but also conveys how contracted her "lot" (15) in life is. The suggestion that animals as well as human beings might require freedom in order to fully express their affective potential represents the kind of radically non-anthropocentric insight that Onno Oerlemans admires in the text.

[19] Yet for all its potential as a text which delineates "lines of flight" from molar subjectivity, the poem's deterritorializations are reterritorialized by an individualist ethics which ultimately contains multiplicity within Oedipal and familial assemblages. Perkins's reading of "To a Young Ass" suggests a key reason why this reterritorialization occurs—namely, the poet's "inner misgivings about revolutionary zeal" (114). Though scholars such as Nicholas Roe have made a convincing case for Coleridge's early support of the French Revolution and of radical causes, it is also clear that the poet never felt at ease with mass politics, particularly the potential for violence exhibited by French revolutionaries during the Reign of Terror. Instead of sanctioning mass uprising as a means to achieve social change, Coleridge imagined Pantisocracy as an attempt to establish a "family of Love" (quoted in Roe 113), intimate communities which ensured that "equalitarian principles were not wholly political or economic, but religious and emotional as well," [20] in contrast to what the poet perceived as the corrupting influence upon family life of Revolutionary ideals. Pantisocracy's small-scale utopian communities would be radical insofar as they promoted equal rights for all beings and abolished private property. Yet, Pantisocracy was also conservative insofar as it envisioned the family unit as the ultimate guarantor of morality and social stability—a domestic unit uncontaminated by politics. It is therefore possible to interpret the familial, individualized donkeys in "To a Young Ass" as reactionary surrogates for a poet who failed to "go all the way in social criticism"(Perkins 115) by endorsing large-scale political action as a solution to human poverty. The poet's anxiety regarding collective uprising is closely associated, I believe, with the problem of ethical individualism, or a deep-seated fear of what Deleuze and Guattari would term "pack intensities" at work in the experience of multiplicity.

[20] It is important to note that "To a Young Ass" was composed in October of 1794, on the heels of the Reign of Terror and the publication of The Fall of Robespierre, a verse play co-written by Coleridge and Robert Southey as a meditation upon the charismatic leader's bloody regime. [21] In Act I of the play, composed by Coleridge, the revolutionary masses are consistently represented as a violent "mob" (line 36) easily manipulated by unscrupulous leaders. The mob is "blind," "wild"(38) and the haunt of "enthusiast[s] ... confusion's lawless sons" (249). Tragically, the masses' attempt to achieve universal rights has resulted in the destruction of family life and respect for individual privacy. As Madame Adelaide (wife of the revolutionary Tallien) laments:

O this new freedom! at how dear a price
We've bought the seeming good! The peaceful virtues
And every blandishment of private life,
The father's cares, the mother's fond endearment,
All sacrificed to liberty's wild riot. (198-202)

With this in mind, it is particularly suggestive that "To a Young Ass" focuses upon a beleaguered donkey "family"—a mother and her son. The latter's "sad heart [is] thrill'd with filial pain/ To see [its] wretched mother's shorten'd chain" (13-14). The speaker himself takes on the role of the father in this Oedipal unit, offering the oppressed donkeys refuge in a more benign, but still patriarchal "brotherhood" in the "dell" of Pantisocracy. Seen through the lens of Deleuze and Guattari's theory, the speaker's resort to anthropomorphicizing the donkeys as a family unit after his initial identification with their "oppressed race" signals a retreat from the threatening implications of "pack" multiplicity that has "metastablized" into a revolutionary mass, or a "large-scale social machine" (ATP 35). A creature that might otherwise symbolize revolutionary politics is literally domesticated into a pet ("I give thee bread,/ And clap thy ragged coat, and pat thy head"—lines 3-4), one whose "languid patience" (2) (read Christian forbearance) in the face of suffering is presented as a virtue. Hence, an assemblage that might otherwise constitute an instance of multiplicity, or "pack alliance" with animals and human beings who are "othered" by the socius collapses into a sentimental representation of "individuated animals, family pets, Oedipal animals ... [which] invite us to regress, draw us into a narcissistic contemplation" (240).

[21] The other side of this "assimilating gesture," to invoke David Clark's formulation, is an animalization of the human poor, reflecting Coleridge's fear of disenfranchised collectives. It is significant that the only representative of human poverty we encounter in the poem is the donkeys' hard-hearted "master" (19), who cruelly uses his work animals. As such, he can be read as a representative of the laboring classes who have been hardened by their poverty and who, en mass, may unleash "inhuman" violence. Witness Coleridge's characterization of this kind of revolutionary in his Moral and Political Lectures of 1795: "can we wonder that men should want humanity, who want the circumstances of life that humanize? Can we wonder that with the ignorance of Brutes they should unite their ferocity?" [22] The poet's consistent animalization of revolutionary collectives should give us pause, not only because it de-humanizes members of these collectives but also because it bolsters humanist essentialism(s) regarding animal identity being synonymous with "ignorance" and "ferocity."

Romantic Multiplicity and Becoming-Animal

[22] Despite a preponderance of sympathetic individuals in Romantic texts exploring animal rights, some works of the period acknowledge the dilemmas of humanist anthropomorphicization in compelling ways. An outstanding example of this occurs in Anna Barbauld's "The Caterpillar," a poem which contemplates why a single (probably European tent) caterpillar inspires compassion in a way that a whole community of the same insect doesn't. [23] Addressing a single insect that has found its way onto her arm, the speaker confesses:

... now, I cannot kill thee.
Yet I have sworn perdition to thy race,
And recent from the slaughter am I come
Of tribes and embryo nations ... [having]
... crushed whole families beneath my foot;
Or sudden, poured on their devoted heads
The vials of destruction ... (13-22)

It is only the one, "helpless" (1) insect that inspires detailed, aesthetic attention and a corresponding sense of moral obligation on the speaker's part. The "single wretch" makes her "feel and clearly recognize / [its] individual existence, life, / And fellowship of sense with all that breathes" (25-27). But why should the individual caterpillar inspire ethical treatment, while its fellows have been eradicated without "the touch of pity" (23)? This, I believe, is the central question posed by the poem, a dilemma which the final 13 lines link to human warfare. As long as the battle remains abstract and the enemy plural—a quality captured in the metonym "clang of arms" (33)—the victor "rolls" (31) on, relentlessly slaying his foes. It is only when a "single" (36) enemy soldier begs for mercy that the victor is swayed by "capricious Pity / Which would not stir for thousands" (40). Critically, the final two lines make it clear that arbitrary pity for the one at the expense of the many is "not Virtue" but rather "the weakness of a virtuous mind" (42). This conclusion troubles Alice Den Otter, who observes that "the whole poem seems to encourage a Romantic position of respect and pity for individuals ... only to conclude, without apparent justification, that such affect is 'not Virtue' (41-42), despite its virtuous intent." [24] Yet, I would argue that it is precisely the so-called "virtue" of ethical individualism that the text consistently challenges, whether applied to animals or to human beings.

[23] From the standpoint of a Deleuzo-Guattarian ecology, the speaker in this text could be said to self-consciously occupy a position "on the edge of the crowd, at the periphery" (ATP 29) of swarming multiplicity, either of insect "tribes" or war-machine packs. That is, while the speaker does not utterly lose herself in a collective intensity (or let herself "be drawn into the center of the fray"), she also maintains an "attach[ment] to it by one of [her] extremities, a hand or foot." Unlike the Oedipal re-appropriation of becoming-animal at work in "To a Young Ass"—a move that represses any overt crowd affiliation on the speaker's part -- the experience of becoming-other enacted in "The Caterpillar" explicitly resists familial sentimentality by illustrating the extent to which "whole families" are "crushed" (13-22) when the author declares war on insect collectives ("tribes" or "nations"). In other words, there is no protected domestic space that can serve as ethical compensation for the speaker's speciesism; she is well aware that there is an ideological connection between sentimental bestowal of face upon an individual animal and a license to destroy "faceless" collectives without remorse. The text makes it clear that the speaker, like the weeping "hero" (38) on the battlefield, indulges in a self-aggrandizing form of sentimentalism when she spares one "weak" individual while slaughtering the more threatening collective to which it belonged.

[24] Although the speaker realizes the problem of an individualist approach to animal and human rights, her text does not employ the opposite ideological move of complete identification with collectives and a corresponding denigration of the value of individual lives. As Deleuze and Guattari's work makes clear, unqualified identification with collectives also blocks the experience of multiplicity, or one's ability to become-other. Fascistic or totalitarian assemblages destroy difference in the name of complete identification with a leader or regime. As such, they merely transfer the rigid authority of the isolated Individual to an equally oppressive Collective. By positioning herself as at once "fully part of the crowd and at the same time completely outside it" the speaker in "To a Caterpillar" engages with multiplicity in a way that never stabilizes into either a self-satisfied sentimentality or a straight-forward championing of group dynamics. Instead, as Den Otter notes, the poem's speaker "plays between different positions" (230) without settling on an essentialist one that would enable human beings to determine what constitutes "ethical" behavior towards others in advance of particular circumstances. In this sense, the text comes very close to what Deleuze and Guattari delineate as the ethical experience of becoming. Like their theory of multiplicity, the poem's "lines of flight" suggest that "Virtue is multidimensional" by presenting readers with "a relative ethics that shifts as circumstances shift" (Den Otter 230).

[25] Hence, Barbauld's poem could be read as opening a space for contemplating the relationship between intra and inter-species conflicts beginning at a micro-level and only secondarily abstracting insights derived from this to a macro-level. In this respect, the text constitutes a form of "mapping" that Mark Halsey might find compatible with the kind of micro-management approach to ecology he extrapolates from Deleuze and Guattari's theory. No doubt inspired by these thinkers' call for a "molecular" (as opposed to "molar") approach to politics, or what Guattari terms "assemblages of enunciation capable of capturing the points of singularity of a situation," [25] Halsey suggests that "using smaller and smaller units of measurement" to assess sites of ecological conflict is the key to formulating more effective praxis. Instead of thinking about environmental politics as an ongoing struggle between groups of stereotyped human actors (big business versus tree-huggers), Halsey calls for a more detailed mapping of sites such as Goolengook forest which would encompass micro- as well as macro-levels, animal as well as human perspectives. He asks

... what if the key unit of management and way of moving [in contested sites] were dictated by an earthworm? What if one was required to map and enunciate all bodies competing for and occupying each and every square meter? ... It is likely that one would begin to speak in terms of irreducible differences between bodies and terrains, and, in so doing, a new ethics of (human) conduct would begin to emerge ... ("Machinic Thought" 50)

It is precisely this multi-dimensional perspective that Barbauld's text invites us to enter into, moving as it does between the human speaker and caterpillar's views of a contested site (in this case an English garden), before metaphorically expanding this small-scale domestic conflict onto the larger, more public stage of warfare. Instead of presenting us with neutral subjects each possessing "interests" such as the avoidance of pain, the text suggests that the speaker's gender significantly affects her framing of the conflict, dividing her between ruthless, militaristic "slaughter" of the caterpillars as tree-destroying pests, and sympathy for insect "families" and "embryo nations" (16), the equivalent of a caterpillar domestic sphere containing civilian victims -- mothers and their children. Arguably, it is the speaker's gender that complicates her ability to indulge in sentimental "pity" (23) for an individual insect having just destroyed others of its race. Barbauld characteristically resists self-indulgent displays of sensibility in this text (an emotional response encouraged in women of the time), because she is all too aware of the power dynamics at work in selective pity for a single member of an exterminated "race" (14).

[26] Yet for all its analytical brilliance, the text does not present us with a revolutionary opening up of human subjectivity which, I believe, is also a vital part of Deleuze and Guattari's concept of "becoming-other" or "multiplicity." Although the poem succeeds in mapping inter-species conflict with the kind of contextual specificity called for by Halsey and Slicer, there is no direct evidence that the speaker's ethic has been changed via her interaction with the caterpillars. Will her realization of the hypocrisy involved with sparing one insect while slaying thousands stay her hand the next time the bugs make a nest in her garden? The speaker's analysis of her own moral "weakness" for indulging in selective pity could be seen as a form of re-appropriation which makes the text's deterritorialization "relative" rather than absolute. By the end of the poem, the human speaker's asymmetrical authority to take away the life of other animals is not radically undercut, and her recognition of the faulty logic involved in displays of sympathy for isolated individuals could be seen as a move that (paradoxically) strengthens her ability to exercise this power more comprehensively in the future for the sake of consistency. The ethical neutrality that emerges from this contextually nuanced representation of species conflict suggests a shortcoming in Halsey's claim that more detailed measurement of contested environments will, in itself, likely yield "a new ethics of (human) conduct." While it would certainly be more egalitarian to include animal perspectives in how we measure ecological disputes, a willingness to acknowledge non-human actors as significant already presumes a radical deconstruction of anthropocentric subjectivity. Without the conceptual means to challenge the ethical validity of a foregone conclusion that, when push comes to shove, human interests always come first in environmental conflicts (and can be seen as essentially separate from the interests of other living things), the kind of detailed surveillance Halsey calls for would not be taken seriously.

[27] Such a shift in perspective must be preceded by a deconstruction of the sovereign humanist subject that Ferry declares to be "the antinatural being par excellence." The question is how to effectuate such a revision without replacing anthropocentric humanism with a new form of essentialist subjectivity (biocentrism, for example). If, in this post-modern era, we can no longer look to philosophy to provide universal foundations upon which we might build a new environmental ethic, and science can only provide the kind of detailed (but ethically neutral) mapping that Halsey calls for, then where can we turn for non-foundational means of transforming subjectivity? To my mind, Deleuze and Guattari's frequent recourse to art as a means of illustrating their concepts suggests that aesthetic communication can play a critical, if underestimated, role in such a project. Indeed, at the end of his final book Chaosmosis, Guattari makes this function explicit:

The artist—and more generally aesthetic perception detach and deterritorialise a segment of the real in such a way as to make it play the role of a partial enunciator ... The consequence of this quasi-animistic speech effect of a work of art is that the subjectivity of the artist and the "consumer" is reshaped ... The work of art, for those who use it, is an activity of unframing, of rupturing sense, of baroque proliferation or extreme impoverishment, which leads to a recreation and a reinvention of the subject itself. (131)

While I haven't the scope here to explore how aesthetic communication in general accomplishes such feats, I do believe that such aspirations underwrite much of Romantic art, created as it was in an era when notions of subjectivity, along with most other dimensions of western life, were undergoing dramatic change. Indeed, certain romantic texts "rupture sense" or received notions about subjectivity so radically that they resemble what Deleuze and Guattari term "absolute deterritorializations." In contrast to negative or relative forms, deterritorialization

is absolute when it ... brings about the creation of a new earth ... when it connects lines of flight, raises them to the power of an abstract vital line, or draws a plane of consistency. Now what complicates everything is that this absolute D necessarily proceeds by way of relative D, precisely because it is not transcendent. Conversely, relative or negative D itself requires an absolute for its operation: it makes the absolute something "encompassing," something totalizing that overcodes the earth and then conjugates lines of flight in order to stop them, destroy them—rather than connecting them in order to create ... (ATP 210)

There is much to unpack in these distinctions, but most apropos to our discussion is how certain romantic artworks "connect lines of flight" away from individualist subjectivity in ways that nonetheless resist recourse to a "transcendent" re-grounding of ethics in new forms of essentialism that seek to "overcode" or "encompass" the earth. Primary among the latter would be the kind of holism we encounter in certain forms of "deep ecological" biocentrism, which many critics have characterized as fascistic in its overtones. [26]

[28] In the remainder of this paper, I will analyze Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1834) as a text which dramatizes a radically transformative (or "absolute") instance of "becoming-animal" that nonetheless resists a "transcendent" or essentialist basis for the new ethical awareness that emerges from this experience. For readers already familiar with this famous text, such an interpretation may at first seem surprising, given the poem's frequent references to Christian and pagan symbolism, and the Mariner's well known suffering in order to atone for his "hellish" (Part II: line 91) crime of killing an albatross. [27] Yet, a survey of the poem's critical reception both in its own time and in ours reveals the extent to which it has always represented an interpretive enigma for readers rather than a text which has a clear allegorical function or moral "message." Indeed, Anna Barbauld told Coleridge that "the only faults she found with the Ancient Mariner were—that it was improbable, and had no moral," [28] an assessment that concurs with that of many contemporary critics. [29] Elements in the text that are frequently cited as impediments to interpreting it as a Christian allegory include the fact that the Mariner's sin appears to be drastically disproportionate to his punishment, that his crime of killing the bird is unmotivated, and that the reason for his compulsion to recount his tale to strangers is unclear. However, what appears to be a fault for readers looking for a moral structure that unifies the poem's extraordinary events is, I will argue, its chief merit as a text which resists recourse to essentialist frameworks and instead presents us with ethical insight derived from a specific ecological context, from an existential experience of shared suffering and from a heightened aesthetic awareness of the beauty of living things. The poem is not a text which begins with a clear moral foundation upon which it structures an edifice that affirms pre-existing definitions of human subjectivity. Rather, it is, in Guattari's parlance, "an activity of unframing, of rupturing sense" that explodes received notions of proportionality in order to affect "a recreation" of subjectivity. It accomplishes this by carefully tracing a process whereby the Mariner first suffers acute isolation from his fellow creatures (an intensely alienating form of individualism) which is only overcome when he opens himself to "multiplicity," a line of flight wherein he "becomes-animal" and so takes a first step to becoming connected with a reality more encompassing than his isolated ego, yet which is nonetheless immanent rather than transcendent.

[29] A primary tension that animates the poem is the Mariner's extreme isolation from collectives, not only from his fellow men but also from non-human life forms. The complete absence of any self-interested motive for killing the albatross on the Mariner's part first underscores his difference from the rest of sailors. While his fellows are pragmatically anthropocentric in their attitude toward the albatross—first cursing the Mariner for eliminating a creature that "made the breeze to blow" but then justifying the killing when they come to believe it is responsible for "bring[ing] the fog and mist" (II: 91-102)—the Mariner's crime towards the bird doesn't stem from a calculated desire to manipulate it, but rather from thoughtlessness that signals an inability to place himself into the position of another's suffering. While en route to Malta in 1804, Coleridge himself observed a similar phenomenon when he commented upon sailors who shot a hawk: "Poor Hawk! O Strange Lust of Murder in Man!—It is not cruelty / it is mere non-feeling from non-thinking!" [30] Following a blistering drought and complete lack of wind that traps the ship when it reaches the equator, the crew makes the Mariner an official scapegoat for the bad luck that has befallen them, tracing their trials to the albatross's murder. Eventually, the Mariner's isolation reaches a climax when he is forced to witness the rest of the crew die, one by one, before his eyes. Just as the nature of his crime singles him out from that of the other men, so too does his punishment: he alone lives to bear witness to the events that transpire.

[30] Many critics have attempted to explain why the Mariner's alienation from his fellow man is a central theme in the poem, but nearly all do so without taking into account the significance of the fact that he is equally alienated from non-human entities. [31] Most of these accounts cannot explain why the Mariner's path to redemption is first triggered by a significant change in his outlook towards animals, rather than towards his fellow human beings. Indeed, careful attention to the text reveals that the Mariner's isolation from human collectives (the crew) is consistently paralleled by his rejection of animal "others," particularly pack animals "outside the shadow of the ship," or symbolically beyond the scope of his ethical recognition. For example, during the drought that estranges the Mariner from the other sailors, the former expresses disgust that while the human crew struggles to survive, the ship is surrounded by excessive, inhuman fecundity:

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea. (II: 123-126)

What is significant here is not merely the Mariner's anthropocentric sour grapes that other creatures are thriving while the human crew suffers—an "us" versus "them" identification that could be read as an unsuccessful attempt to heal his division from his fellow men -- but the implied threat that "pack intensities" (slimy things with many legs, a treacherous crew with many hands) pose to his narrow, shrunken ego.

[31] The contrast between the Mariner's spiritual aridity and isolation, versus the teeming life which surrounds him (but which he nonetheless rejects) reaches a fever pitch once the remaining sailors die. Declaring himself "Alone, alone, all, all alone,/ Alone on a wide wide sea!" the Mariner attempts to reconcile his guilt towards the crew via reference to animals that surround the vessel:

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I. (IV: 236-239)

Only in death can the Mariner recognize the "many men" of the crew as "beautiful"; while they were alive, his alienation from this collective was acute, as was their mutual hostility. What has brought about this change in perspective? Suggestively, the Mariner now identifies himself with "a thousand thousand slimy things" which inhabit the ocean, rather than being able to completely "other" these collectives. While the identification is not positive—much indicates that the Mariner sees himself as a form of "death-in-life" equivalent to nature's soulless fecundity—this small step towards associating himself with multiplicity foreshadows a more dramatic opening up of the self.

[32] Having arrived at a degree zero of individual isolation, the Mariner suddenly and unexpectedly experiences intense "love" for other life forms, a moment of "becoming-animal" that utterly transforms his world view, literally bringing about "the creation of a new earth" by "connecting lines of flight." The event that triggers this "becoming" is deeply aesthetic rather than moral in a foundationalist sense. Materially homeless and alone, the Mariner quietly contemplates "the moving Moon [that] went up the sky,/ And no where did abide" (IV: 263-264), a satellite whose beams "charm"(270) the sea before him with frost-like light. Like the homeless moon, he has been stripped of his moorings; with no ready-made ethic to provide safe port or comfort, he instead opens himself to an awareness of the moonlit ocean's beauty. Only in such a state of "extreme impoverishment" can the Mariner experience what Guattari characterizes as an aesthetic "recreation" of subjectivity:

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.

Oh happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

The selfsame moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea. (IV:272-291)

Transported by the water snakes' luminous traces, the mariner "endows his own elements with [their] relations of movement and rest," affects that make him become-animal, become intensively multiple. Each "track[-] of shining white" motion is a line of flight precipitated by a new awareness of the "beauty" and "happiness" of collectives previously denigrated as horrific pack intensities. It is aesthetic vision's powerful deterritorialization, its ability to "unframe" and "rupture" received notions (such as sea snakes' "sliminess" or the evil associated with serpents in Christian iconography) that creates a space for the Mariner's subjective transformation.

[33] Although the Mariner claims that the moment he blesses the sea-snakes "unaware" is the "self-same" one wherein he can at last pray (and begin a conventionally Christian process of redemption), the text's chronology makes it clear that a moment of aesthetic insight both precedes this "blessing" and makes it possible, rather than the reverse. Hence, the sailor's transformation primarily hinges upon his ability to open himself to existential "unawareness" rather than any capacity to embrace foundational religious orthodoxy, a flight from self and from given codes which, paradoxically, creates a condition of possibility for the sea-snakes to be transported from an ethical space "beyond" the shadow of the ship to one fully "within" its sphere of ethical import. It is no accident that the sea snakes which inspire the Mariner's aesthetic experience of becoming-other are multiple and, unlike humanity's mammalian cousins (such as donkeys) possess an "alien" reptilian quality that typically resists sentimental identification. Only when the Mariner is able to transfer an appreciation of the "beauty" he once reserved for the ship's human crew onto this initially alien pack intensity does he embrace truly radical otherness, both in the wider world and in himself. Via an aesthetic line of flight, the Mariner releases himself to multiplicity in order to lift the curse of his isolated existence, a burden that is also alleviated by sharing what he has learned with other human beings. Bearing witness to what has transpired connects the Mariner with others, translating what might otherwise remain a private or idiosyncratic experience into a communal, ideally transformative, one.

[34] In sum, the poem's ethical enfranchisement of animals is properly "ecological" in its scope rather than reductively sentimental or individualistic. Moreover, it imagines an aesthetic means of transforming subjectivity that represents an alternative to moral foundationalism and to "rights" theories based upon essentialist premises. As I hope has become apparent in this study, our ongoing quest to discover reasons for treating non-human entities ethically cannot be reduced to a matter of simply transferring humanist individualism onto non-human "others." Such an approach is not only ecologically inadequate, but also represents a missed opportunity to address what Michel Foucault characterized as "the political, ethical, social [and] philosophical problem of our days"; namely, our "[liberation] both from the state and from the type of individuation which is linked to the state." [32] Deleuze and Guattari's theory of "multiplicity" and "becoming-animal" represents a powerful deconstruction of such individuation, the ecological import of which scholars are only beginning to contemplate.


[1] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 240. Hereafter referred to by the abbreviation ATP.

[2] Luc Ferry, The New Ecological Order, trans. Carol Volk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), XXVIII.

[3] Mark Halsey, Deleuze and Environmental Damage: Violence of the Text (Burlington: Ashgate, 2006).

[4] Mark Halsey, "Ecology and Machinic Thought: Nietzsche, Deleuze, Guattari," Angelaki December 2005: 49.

[5] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 173. In this text, the authors make it clear that scientific and philosophical, as well as artistic, discourse is capable of unframing our received opinions about reality. However, art's mode of operation --its ability to "preserve" (161) "compound[s] of sensation" wherein fictional subjects (and art consumers) "pass into ... landscapes" (169) in order to truly "perceive" them—enables modes of "becoming" with particular relevance to ecological ethics. In part, this is because art invites us to "become-other" by fully immersing us within affective states that blur boundaries between the perceiver and the perceived, rather than insisting upon the subject's distance from what he/she contemplates (as in traditional scientific discourse). Aesthetic communication also invites us to experience "multiplicity" in ways I will be analyzing at length in this paper. What the authors say of Melville's Ahab applies equally to Coleridge's Ancient Mariner: [he] really does have perceptions of the sea, but only because he has entered into a relationship with Moby Dick [an animal other] that makes him a becoming-whale [in the Mariner's case, a becoming-sea snakes] and forms a compound of sensations that no longer needs anyone: ocean."

[6] Cary Wolfe, Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species and Posthumanist Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003) 40-42.

[7] Tom Regan, "The Case for Animal Rights" in In Defense of Animals, ed. Peter Singer (New York: Harper and

Row, 1985), 22.

[8] Jacques Derrida, "The Animal That Therefore I am (More to Follow)," Critical Inquiry 28 (winter 2002): 396.

[9] Debora Slicer, "Your Daughter or Your Dog? A Feminist Assessment of the Animal Research Issue," Hypatia 6, I (spring 1991): 111.

[10] David Clark, "On Being 'The Last Kantian in Nazi Germany': Dwelling with Animals after Levinas," in Animal Acts: Configuring the Human in Western History, ed. Jennifer Ham and Matthew Senior (New York: Routledge, 1997), 168.

[11] David Perkins, Romanticism and Animal Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

[12] For example, see Moira Ferguson, Animal Advocacy and Englishwomen 1780-1900: Patriots, Nation and Empire (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001) and Ronald Morrison, "Coleridge's 'To a Young Ass' Reconsidered: Abolition, the Early British Humane Movement and the Body Politic," Kentucky Philological Review 18 (2004): 15-21.

[13] William Wordsworth, The Prelude 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth et al (New York: Norton, 1979), 234.

[14] Percy Bysshe Shelley, "The Triumph of Life" in Shelley's Poetry and Prose, ed. Donald Reiman and Sharon Powers (New York: Norton, 1977), 453-470.

[15] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "To a Young Ass," in The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E.H. Coleridge vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912), 74-76. Hereafter referred to parenthetically by line numbers.

[16] Anna Barbauld, "The Mouse's Petition," in The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld, ed. William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1994), 36-37.

[17] David Chandler, "Coleridge's 'To a Young Jack-Ass': a note on the poetic and political context," Notes and Queries June 1995: 179-180.

[18] Onno Dag Oerlemans, " 'The Meanest Thing that Feels': Anthropomorhizing Animals in Romanticism," Mosaic March 1994: 15-16.

[19] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley et al (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 33.

[20] Nicholas Roe, Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 113.

[21] Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, The Fall of Robespierre in The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. J.C.C. Mays (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969-2002), Kathleen Cobum Gen. Ed., vol. 16, 3-44. Hereafter referred to parenthetically by line numbers.

[22] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lectures 1795 On Politics and Religion, in The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Lewis Patton and Peter Mann, vol. 1, 244.

[23] Anna Barbauld, "The Caterpillar," in The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld, 172-173. Hereafter referred to parenthetically by line numbers.

[24] Alice G. Den Otter, "Pests, Parasites and Positionality: Anna Letitia Barbauld and 'The Caterpillar," Studies in Romanticism 43 (summer 2004): 225.

[25] Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 128.

[26] As examples of such studies, see Michael Zimmerman "Eco-fascism: An Enduring Temptation" and J. Baird Collicott, "Holistic Environmental Ethics and the Problem of Ecofascism" in Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, ed. Michael Zimmerman et al, 4th Ed. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2005).

[27] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," in Coleridge's Poetry and Prose, ed. Nicholas Halmi et al (New York: Norton, 2004), 59-99. Hereafter referred to parenthetically by section and line numbers.

[28] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk, ed. Carl Woodring, The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, vol. 14, 272-273.

[29] For an overview of such critical assessments, see Richard Gravil's "The Whale and the Albatross," Wordsworth Circle 28 (winter 1997): 2-10.

[30] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Coburn, vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957-2002), entry 2090 (no pagination).

[31] See, for example, Peter Kitson's "Coleridge, the French Revolution, and 'The Ancient Mariner': Collective Guilt and Individual Salvation," Yearbook of English Studies 19 (1989): 197-207. A notable exception to human-centered readings of the Mariner's alienation is Daniel Dombrowski's "The Ancient Mariner, God, and Animals," Between the Species 2 (summer 1986): 111-115. Therein, Dombrowski argues that the Mariner's ability to overcome "the burden of speciesism" (113) is a prerequisite to comprehending Christianity.

[32] Michel Foucault, "Afterword: The Subject and Power" in Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, H.L. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, Eds (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 216.