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Animal Revolt and Lines of Flight in Lucretius Book Five

Richard Hutchins

Princeton University

This paper makes use of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the “line of flight,” primarily from A Thousand Plateaus, to examine De rerum natura 5.1297-1349, a passage in which Lucretius describes abused animals revolting against their masters on the battlefield. In the animal revolt, Lucretius describes a series of abuses against animals that culminates in humans turning animal bodies, through prosthesis, into war technologies. As they are led onto the battlefield, the animals revolt against their “armed teachers and savage masters” (doctoribus armatis saevisque magistris, 1311) and the “animal contract,” described earlier at 5.855-77, breaks down completely. While Cyril Bailey described the animal revolt as “perhaps the most astonishing paragraph in the poem (1947, 1529),” it has received little attention aside from comments in Jo-Ann Shelton’s article “Lucretius on the Use and Abuse of Animals.”

What, then, is a ligne de fuite? According to Deleuze and Guattari, every assemblage of bodies is like a territory that however determinative or rigid-seeming nonetheless contains leaks, indeterminacies, and “flights/escapes” waiting to break out from within and reorganize that assemblage (ATP, 503; Dialogues, 135). Given Deleuze and Guattari’s commitment to non-transcendence, a line of flight looks at social change at the level of bodies. Any bodily assemblage (including animal bodies: ATP, 504) that has taken on too rigid of an identity (overly territorialized) liberates itself by forging new connections from within the indeterminacies/leaks of that social assemblage, thereby unleashing the latent forces repressed by that assemblage’s rigidity. For Deleuze and Guattari, “a line of flight does not come afterward; it is there from the beginning, even if it awaits its hour, and waits for the others to explode (ATP, 205).” The animal revolt in Lucretius enacts a line of flight, therefore, in the sense that rebel animals deterritorialize what Deleuze and Guattari would call a “molecular line”—an increasingly rigid arborescent line of development or aggregation of matter, typical of State repression (cf. Holmes 2012, 328).

The animal revolt in Lucretius Book Five, therefore, shows animals making use of the indeterminacy of their bodies-turned-weapons against an increasingly rigid, repressive civilization. They do this by actualizing the (latent) minoritarian powers of their bodies and turn them against their abusive masters. In specific, Lucretius describes how animals “turn” on their masters on the “cosmic battlefield” (for the term, see Gale 2000) in ways that, I argue, connote the “swerve,” or clinamen. Like the indeterminacy in an assemblage that allows a line of flight to break out, Lucretius portrays the assemblage of rebel animals on the battlefield “turning” on their masters through a kind of binocular vision, coding the animals’ swerve in both the language of atoms and in the language of social struggle (the animals represent both their own and nature’s revenge). Lucretius further emphasizes the deterritorializing effects of this animal clinamen through an extended pun on the verb turbare, which here means not so much “to disturb” (as most translators have it) as “to cause a turbo,” i.e. to cause a vortex of animal bodies on the cosmic battlefield. The animal revolt is, therefore, both a turba and a turbo (cf. Serres, 2000, 27-8 and ATP 361) that deterritorializes a civilization marked by animal abuse by using the very indeterminacies of their abused bodies to attack the attackers from within the assemblage that they have created. By invoking the clinamen, Lucretius is also suggesting that rebel animals are revolting out of a free will that, Lucretius believes, all living beings share (cf. DRN 2.256). The rebel animals are, therefore, not just “going wild,” “acting on instinct,” or “being animals” but choosing to resist (cf. Hribal 2010 for the distinction)—thereby deterritorializing an oppressive social assemblage and making possible more pleasurable interspecies concilia in the future.

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Deterritorializing Classics

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