The Animal That
Therefore I Am
Jacques Derrida

Marie-Louise Mallet, Editor
David Wills, Translator

(Fordham University Press)
What can you say? It's Jacques Derrida, and it is the third of four ten-hour (sic) lectures that he gave in 1997. His primary question is this: what does your cat think when you stand naked before it?

You mean, that's it? Yep: it all comes down to Derrida's feeling of shame there bare-assed naked before Tabby's naked eyes.

After some meditations on "fleece" (Freud's "A Silkworm of One's Own"), he confesses that he feels "a shame of being ashamed of shame, the potential fault that consists in being ashamed of a fault about which I'll never know whether it was one."

    I am ashamed of almost always tending toward a gesture of shame when appearing naked before what one calls an animal, a cat, for example, a seeing animal naked down to its hair...

He then goes off, I swear to you, into a series of meditations on watching an animal sleep ... perhaps to dream. Does a cat dream? Does it think? If so, in what language? It all reminds us of that eternal question of Buddha's dog, the Universal Dog: "Does a dog have the Buddha-nature?"

§     §     §

Whoever put this one together for Fordham University Press thinks that The Animal That Therefore I Am has to do with the "modern industrialized treatment of animals." I doubt it. The real emphasis is the difference between you and me and our pet, kind Hodge ... clothed or unclothed.

John Bateson might have known. He argued that when you open the door of the refrigerator the cat says "Mrkrgnao" (Joyce's choice of words, not my own). This isn't to be translated as "milk" but rather as dependence.

Derrida quotes Porphyry, who meditated on the animal's capacity "to listen to a voice and respond to it." He tells of the Roman Crassus who had a lamprey that "would come to him when called by name." When the creature died, he "mourned more than Domitius Ahenobarbus upon the death of his three wives."

My friend Duke once told me that it makes no difference what you call your cat. You could name it "Hodge" (as did Samuel Johnson) or "Kitty" or "Yousonofabitch," and it would raise its tail and rub against your legs, especially if you were in the kitchen.

And Porphyry's story may not be so far-fetched. I have a friend, a real cat-lady, one of those with a house that stinks badly of cat. She not only feeds her own but as many strays as turn up at her door at the tocsin of the dinner-bell.

She swore to me, and she was not lying, I suspect, being an honorable lady with only a weakness for felines, that even slugs responded to her call.

"Slugs?" I said.

"Slugs are smarter than you think," she told me ... and who am I to doubt her?

--- Pamela Wylie
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