As I violated my 2-post-a-week resolution last week, I figured I should make amends in a manner sensitive to the cultural mores of the internet. Internet, I present to you by way of apology this menagerie of philosophical and theological cats. I’m terribly sorry; I’m as guilty as the second cat in this video:
If I could find a sufficiently large cat picture, and a font size that was highly readable even when very tiny, and I felt like opening up a graphics editor, I would make the following Nietzsche quote into the best philosophical cat meme ever.
Since I’m lazy, you’ll have to settle for this adorable cat picture and Nietzsche’s explanation of what your cat is really thinking. (Technically he’s describing a herd of cows but, you know, same diff…)
This is a hard sight for man to see; for, though he thinks himself better than the animals because he is human, he cannot help envying them their happiness … A human being may well ask an animal: ‘Why do you not speak to me of your happiness but only stand and gaze at me?’ The animal would like to answer, and say: ‘The reason is I always forget what I was going to say’—but then he forgot this answer too, and stayed silent: so that the human being was left wondering.
But he also wonders at himself, that he cannot learn to forget but clings relentlessly to the past: however far and fast he may run, this chain runs with him … A leaf flutters from the scroll of time, floats away—and suddenly floats back again and falls into the man’s lap. Then the man says ‘I remember’ and envies the animal, who at once forgets and for whom every moment really dies, sinks back into night and fog and is extinguished for ever. Thus the animal lives unhistorically: for it is contained in the present, like a number without any awkward fraction left over. —Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life”
From the fabulous Tumblr, “Writers and Kitties,” this photo of Jacques Derrida and his cat:
Derrida famously reformulated “Who is my neighbour?” as “Why do I feed my cat but not other cats?” He also took Nietzsche’s observations about the unsettling gaze of the animal a step further to answer “Why is it so creepy when your cat stares at you when you come out of the shower?” (Cat v. Human asks roughly the same question here and points to that other awkward cat-in-bathroom thing):
Since so long ago, can we say that the animal has been looking at us?
What animal? The other.
I often ask myself, just to see, who I am—and who I am (following) at the moment when, caught naked, in silence, by the gaze of an animal, for example the eyes of a cat, I have trouble, yes, a bad time overcoming my embarrassment.
Whence this malaise?
I have trouble repressing a reflex dictated by immodesty. Trouble keeping silent within me a protest against the indecency. Against the impropriety that comes of finding oneself naked, one’s sex exposed, stark naked before a cat that looks at you without moving, just to see. The impropriety [malséance] of a certain animal nude before the other animal, from that point one might call it an animalséance: the single, incomparable and original experience of the impropriety that would come from appearing in truth naked, in front of the insistent gaze of the animal, a benevolent or piteous gaze, surprised or cognizant. The gaze of a seer, visionary, or extra-lucid blind person. It is as if I were ashamed therefore, naked in front of this cat, but also ashamed for being ashamed. A reflected shame, the mirror of a shame ashamed of itself, a shame that is at the same time spectacular, unjustifiable, and unable to be admitted to. At the optical center of this reflection would appear this thing—and in my eyes the focus of this incomparable experience—that is called nudity. And about which it is beloved to man, that is to say foreign to animals, naked as they are, or so it is thought, without the slightest inkling of being so.
—Jacques Derrida, “The Animal That Therefore I Am”
From phenomenology to existentialism, Sartre and his cat (also thanks to Writers and Kitties):
Clearly, Henri, le Chat Noir, is the great-great-grandson of Sartre’s kitty:
Onward from philosophical cats to theological (or at least biblical) cats. I discovered that there’s an entry in the Catholic Encylopedia for “cat”:
CAT. — Mention of this animal occurs only once in the Bible, namely Bar., vi, 21. The original text of Baruchbeing lost, we possess no indication as to what the Hebrew name of the cat may have been. Possibly there was not any; for although the cat was very familiar to the Egyptians, it seems to have been altogether unknown to the Jews, as well as to the Assyrians and Babylonians, even to the Greeks and Romans before the conquest of Egypt. These and other reasons have led some commentators to believe that the word cat, in the above cited place of Baruch, might not unlikely stand for another name now impossible to restore.
Incidentally, Baruch is one of the books of that does not appear in most Protestant bibles. Thus, if you’re Catholic and in the mood to give a good-natured ribbing to your Protestant friends, you can always remind them that our Bible has cats! (N.B.: If the Protestant in question is a dog person, this otherwise perfectly sound bit of Catholic apologetics may fall flat).
The verse occurs within a lengthy passage condemning idol worship: “ Bats and swallows alight on their bodies and heads—any bird, and cats as well.  Know, therefore, that they are not gods; do not fear them.”
Speaking of cats alighting on the heads of idols:
From (of course!), the Tumblr Morrissey with Cats.
I know, I know, not everything from the middle ages is necessarily theological—whatever. Just check out the work of a feline scribe on this medieval manuscript, which was discovered by historian Eric O. Filipóvic as he was doing research at the Dubrovnik State Archives:
Read more about its discovery—and its going viral—here.
In closing, here’s Gertrude of Nivelles who—according to the Catholic Encyclopedia—is “invoked against fever, rats, and mice, particularly field-mice.” This may well explain why she is often considered the “patron saint of cats.”
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