Sunday, November 16, 2008

here kitty kitty

If you've ever been trapped in a car or at a dinner table with cat people for very long, you know that we like to engage in casually speculative feline psychology. "Cats do such weird things!" we observe tirelessly. "Why do they do such weird things?" Then we proceed to document for one another the special weird things that our particular cats do, offering evolutionary or developmental guessplanations for these profoundly enigmatic behaviors. "Princess Fluffy always dips her left paw into the toilet water, never her right paw! She must have fallen into the toilet on her right side when she was a kitten!"

I've come to appreciate the inverse corollary to this practice. I like to think that cats are similarly watching us, acquiring data to support shaky conjectures about causal origins of our own bizarre activities. My roommate's cats watch me constantly. Wendy the cat will sit motionless at the foot of my bed for thirty minutes straight, staring as I read a book. (This can be extraordinarily creepy at night, especially when she maintains exactly that pose after I've turned off the lights.)

Jake, Wendy's brother, loves to watch me get dressed, prepare food, put on makeup, comb my hair, or do any other bit of morning maintenance that has no precise analog in the feline world. (Jake's own morning ritual involves yowling until he's fed and then licking himself.) He is especially obsessed with precise motor behavior involving repetitious employment of a small instrument, such as the brushing of teeth or the application of mascara.

I imagine that when I'm at work Jake and Wendy sit around discussing my behavior, and arguing about its underlying import. "Isn't it weird that she puts on jeans one leg at a time, rather than just jumping into both at once? She must have had an accident as a child." "Why does she always react so readily when that alarm clock makes noise? Humans must have been prey to gigantic buzzing digital displays in their ancestral environment!"

This is perhaps a part of the attraction of cats. Something about them - their panopticon eyes, their ability to purr contentedly in your arms mere seconds before violently and inexplicably perforating several square inches of your epidermis - suggests an intelligence keen enough to engage in something like psychological theorizing and a sentiment alien enough to motivate perplexed curiosity as to the ways of hairless bipedal apes.

A cat's unbroken gaze invites you to see yourself from the outside, to wonder how your own behaviors might appear to someone suitably distanced from your own point of view. Dogs, as wonderful as they are, seem to accept our actions enthusiastically and uncritically. "If Human is doing X, then there must be some darn good reason to do X!" No one takes cats to go hunting in the woods; they wouldn't stand for it.

Cats are living mirrors whose observant presence reminds us that there are other ways of seeing, and other ways of being. Sometimes that is enough to put obstacles in front of a rampant ego. And sometimes it is enough to remind the abstractly rambling subject that it is also a curiously concrete object.

No comments:

Post a Comment