Jacques Derrida’s Cat
On discovering one is being looked-at, rather than looking-at
Jacques Derrida in his book, The Animal That Therefore I Am, discusses the expectation before him to talk about animals, but, instead of “talking about”, and instead of describing animal as a generality, or even as an assortment of species, he describes an incident, a specific moment with a singular and real cat, with his cat, Logos. He described a moment of being naked in the presence of this cat, with the cat looking at him. He described a sense, of discomfort, even shame from this experience of having his naked body gazed upon by his cat. Derrida saw that he was not so much looking as he was being looked at, and not by some global category of “animal”, but by an all-too-present, staring feline.
Derrida continues, always returning to the cat, his cat, the specific cat staring at his naked body. He reminds us that the experience of being looked upon by an animal is almost never the vantage point from which animals are talked about in both science and philosophy.Instead, the gaze is repeatedly and consistently from the human eyes upon the body of the animal. We, the humans (and in particular, we the philosophers, the scientists, and other institutional players) are the observers, and from the position of looking upon the animal we also find ourselves with the privilege of being the ones who name, who examine, and who interpret the animal. The scientific and philisophical eye never expects the animal to be examining the examiner.
[This review was originally posted by Christopher Kinman on his blog.]