Cats & Words - Wilma Cruise
We have shut our ears to their primal screams, their rumbles, hisses, purrs.
The encounter with his cat, in his shower when she saw him naked is a key moment in the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida’s exposition of The Animal That Therefore I Am. In this text Derrida explores the boundary between human and “animal”.Inexplicably he felt uncomfortable and ashamed before her inscrutable gaze. He found himself looking deep into the eyes of God. “I hear the cat or God ask itself, ask me: Is he going to call me, is he going to address me?” The cat did this without “breathing a word”. Derrida realised, “The animal looks at us, and we are naked before it. I am the animal that my cat sees” (Derrida 2008:118). He admitted to the possibility that the animal thinks and to experience an animal looking back at us challenges the confidence of our own gaze — we lose our unquestioned privilege in the universe. The startling effect of the cat’s gaze on Derrida was due to it occurring within a milieu where the scientific or and philosophical eye never expected the animal being observed or interpreted to examine the examiner.
It is important to note that Derrida did not pose a philosophical question to his audience in the vacuum of abstract thought. Instead he based his query on a real experience: being faced with his own little cat, his “pussy cat”, in the bathroom. She was neither a generic animal nor a generic cat symbolising the characteristics with which our culture has always charged the feline race. Derrida emphasised this by stating, “If I say, ‘it is a real cat’ that sees me naked, this is in order to mark its unsubstitutable singularity” (Derrida 2008:9).
But, philosophical machinations aside, cats are playful creatures as every cat lover knows. It is this aspect that I tried to capture in this coterie of cats scampering through the grounds of the delicatessen at Tokara. The cats are cloned from three prototypes made in three different materials. Boxed was made from cardboard, Brillo from steel wool and Scribble, the cat (the comma matters), from clay. They were submitted to their bronze forms and variously patinated.
The playfulness is not dependent on logos, or a symbolic language but a recognition of emotion in the other. At this point, both the observed and the observer are responding beyond the reach of words.