Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages

By Jeffrey Jerome Cohen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
The Body Hybrid
Giants, Dog-Men, and Becoming Inhuman

The Church has always burned sorcerers, or reintegrated anchorites into
the toned-down images of a series of saints whose only remaining
relation to animals is strangely familiar, domestic.

— Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 248


Canicular Days

In an intriguing short story, Vladimir Slepian writes of a man who decides to become a dog.' One limb, one organ at a time, he transforms himself, mapping the affects of the canine body across a human form in the strangest kind of diagramming. Dogs are quadrupedal, and so he ties shoes to hands and feet. When his new paws prevent him from lacing the fourth shoe, he uses his mouth, which becomes a dog's clever snout. His metamorphosis almost succeeds, but then he comes to the tail and can find no somatic analogue. For him to involve his sexual organ in this wild fit of becoming would tear him completely from the cultural meaning system that he has begun to flee; who would he be, if the signs of his identity were not readable from his anatomy? In the end, he chooses being a man over becoming something other, something freakish or monstrous. A “psychoanalytic drift” descends, and he is flooded with childhood memories—”all the cliches about the tail, the mother” (A Thousand Plateaus, 259). Suddenly it becomes clear what human limit he was attempting to flee: “Oedipus, phallocentrism, molar personhood itself” (Brian Massumi, User's Guide, 94). The man's becoming-dog fails, perhaps because he maps his escape across a body already too constrained: no freedom animates the household dog. Canine bodies, like human bodies, receive their meaning-in-being only to the extent to which they are Oedipalized, made to signify within a geometry of familial relations.

What would success have been like? Massumi offers one vision: “Having superposed human and canine affects” onto a mongrel form, Slepian's man-dog must resist the psychoanalytic temptation to retreat back into the stasis of a “molar identity,” man or dog. As a body enraptured by an unstable, nonteleological process of transformation, he could “keep moving toward the great dissipative outside stretching uncertainly on the wild side of the welcome mat,” never looking back as he sets out on a singular,

-119-

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