I fight for the rights and liberation of all animals oppressed by human tyranny, but anyone who knows anything about me knows I have a special affinity for cats. I have, do, and always will care for as many rescue cats as come my way (it seems most find me, rather than the other way around). I don’t trust people who dislike cats — I find they lack sensitivity, depth, aesthetic appreciation, and respect for autonomy.
I have always thought there was a unique relation between artists and cats (although obviously many artists past and present have loved and shared warm relations with dogs and other animals), because cats are sleek, graceful, independent, mysterious, and possess so many other admirable qualities that would naturally appeal to the artist sensibility.
It has always seemed to me, for instance, that cats are proper material for poetry (e.g., Charles Baudelaire’s many gorgeous sonnets to cats), while dogs are more suitable subjects of short stories (e.g., Thomas Mann’s story, “A Man and His Dog,” as collected in his book, Death in Venice). But don’t hold me to that in any firm or absolute way.
To the point: below is a marvelous collection of vignettes of famous writers who loved cats and truly appreciated their singularly beautiful and spiritual qualities. I learned a lot from this article and gained new appreciation for many writers (although Hemingway’s affection for cats hardly redeems him in my eyes, given his bloodlust for hunting and bullfighting). The stories, pictures, quotes, and writing selections are priceless, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Cats – with all their mysteriousness and adorableness and softness – have served as muses for some of the most brilliant writers in the world for centuries. Some notable examples, amazing pictures, and charming quotes from 30 of the best kitty/writer combo deals.
French poet, novelist, and filmmaker (as well as playwright, designer, and artist) Jean Cocteau is most famous for his novel Les Enfants terribles (The Holy Terrors) and his films, including Blood of a Poet, Beauty and the Beast, and Orpheus. He was also famous for being part of elite social circle that included Pablo Picasso, Kenneth Anger, Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich, and Édith Piaf.
Cocteau was additionally a cat devotee who helped to found a club in Paris called the “Cat Friends Club” that had a membership pin and sponsored cat shows. Conclusion: Jean Cocteau would have been my ideal friend when I was twelve years old (and also now).
The Cat Friends Club membership pin designed by Jean Cocteau. Via: anamontielblog.blogspot.com
“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.”
– Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau and artist Tsuguharu Foujita with an award winning cat, at a cat show sponsored by the “Cat Friends” Club of Paris Source: catladiesproject.blogspot.com
Horror, fantasy, and science-fiction author Stephen King has written 49 novels, nine collections of short stories, and five non-fiction books. He is also well-known for the many films based on his work, including The Shining, Stand By Me, and Pet Semetary. Despite once writing in a short story that “it might be that the biggest division in the world isn’t men and women but folks who like cats and folks who like dogs,” it seems that the King family does in fact keep both cats and dogs as pets. Note that the cat in these (awesome) photos is wearing a name tag that reads “Clovis,” the name used in King’s screenplay Sleepwalkers for a cat who [spoilers] saves the day.
“Cats were the gangsters of the animal world, living outside the law and often dying there. There were a great many of them who never grew old by the fire.”
– Stephen King, Pet Semetary
Neil Gaiman, author of novels, short fiction, graphic novels, and more, is perhaps most well-known for his comic book series The Sandman, his young adult novelCoraline, his novel American Gods, and for being a total badass and a god among the best of nerds.
Neil Gaiman also really, really, really loves cats. He has multiple cats and often chronicles their adventures on his blog. The cats he’s had recently include Coconut, Hermione, Pod, Zoe, and the imitable Princess, who Gaiman describes thusly:
“I’ve grown so used to having a bad-tempered but beautiful cat that I need to warn visitors about. She’s outlasted all the cats I loved and all the cats I bonded with.
And I think she’s grown very used to me.
When Zoe died, it was really easy to explain to people how much you could miss a sweet, gentle cat who was nothing but a ball of utter love. I’m going to have a much harder time one day, months or even years from now, explaining why I miss the meanest, grumpiest and most dangerous cat I’ve ever encountered.”
Neil with Zoe, who recently passed away. Via: journal.neilgaiman.com
Neil on Zoe: “And I’m wondering what it is about this small blind cat that inspires such behaviour — mine, Olga’s, Lorraine’s…. I’ve had cats in this house for 18 years, and there are cat-graves down by gazebo. Two cats died of old age last year. It wasn’t like this. I think it may be the love. Hers, once given, was yours, unconditionally and utterly.”
Jean Paul Sartre
Existentialist philosopher and author Jean Paul Sartre was a key figure in Marxism and 20th century french philosophy whose main thrust was that humans are “condemned to be free.” He did not believe that humans had a creator, and thought that we were fully responsible for our actions – “we are left alone, without excuse.”
Although Sartre’s relationship with cats isn’t well-documented, he is seen above holding a very handsome feline while at work. Sartre was also one of the obvious inspirations for Henri, the existential cat, and it is thought possible that all cats are, by nature, existentialists.
Jack Kerouac, author of On The Road, was a poet and novelist who was a pioneer of the “beat generation” and was famous for his spontaneous, free-flowing style and autobiographical honesty. He was an underground celebrity during his tragically short life (he died at age 47 of internal bleeding due to alcohol abuse), and has been a hero to teenagers and iconoclasts ever since.
Jack also loved cats, especially his cat Tyke, whose unfortunate passing he wrote about in loving detail in his memoir Big Sur.
“The next sign is in Frisco itself where after a night of perfect sleep in an old skid row hotel room I go to see Monsanto at his City Lights bookstore and he’s smiling and glad to see me, says ‘We were coming out to see you next weekend you should have waited,’ but there something else in his expression — When we’re alone he says, ‘Your mother wrote and said your cat is dead.’
Ordinarily the death of a cat means little to most men, a lot to fewer men, but to me, and that cat, it was exactly and no lie and sincerely like the death of my little brother — I loved Tyke with all my heart, he was my baby who as a kitten just slept in the palm of my hand and with his little head hanging down, or just purring for hours, just as long as I held him that way, walking or sitting — He was like a floppy fur wrap around my wrist, I just twist him around my wrist or drape him and he just purred and purred and even when he got big I still held him that way, I could even hold that big cat in both hands with my arms outstretched right over my head and he’d just purr, he had complete confidence in me — and when I’d left New York to come to my retreat in the woods I’d carefully kissed him and instructed him to wait for me ‘Attends pour mue kitigingoo’ — But my mother said in the letter he had died the NIGHT AFTER I LEFT.”
“Holding up my
purring cat to the moon
– Jack Kerouac, American Haiku, 1959
Edward Gorey, known for his macabre, gothic illustrated books including The Gashlycrumb Tinies and The Doubtful Guest, as well as for illustrating for others’ books such as T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Gorey’s personal diaries were feline-focused from a young age; one which dates back to March 20, 1938, reads “Kittens OK! Kittens 11 days old. Tiger kitten has one eye open. Awful cute.”
“It would be wrong to say that cats weren’t his first love,” said Ken Morton, Gorey’s cousin. “[Edward] said a few times that he liked cats more than people. He considered them his family.”
“Books. Cats. Life is good.”
– Edward Gorey
American author Ernest Hemingway published novels, journalism, and short stories, many of which are considered classics of American literature, including The Old Man And The Sea, A Farewell To Arms, and For Whom The Bell Tolls. He was a World War I veteran who was known for his hard-edged, masculine approach. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
Hemingway’s first cat, Snowball, was six-toed, and the author’s former home in Key West houses dozens of Snowball’s descendants – about half of which are also six-toed. Some people even refer to polydactyl (six-toed) cats as “Hemingway cats.” By the late ’40s, Hemingway had as many as 23 cats at any given time, and was known to refer to them as “purr factories” and “love sponges.”
In 1953, Hemingway’s cat Uncle Willie was hit by a car. He wrote a heartbreaking letter to his friend Giangranco Ivancich about his decision to put the animal out of his misery.
Just after I finished writing you and was putting the letter in the envelope Mary came down from the Torre and said, ‘Something terrible has happened to Willie.’ I went out and found Willie with both his right legs broken: one at the hip, the other below the knee. A car must have run over him or somebody hit him with a club. He had come all the way home on the two feet of one side. It was a multiple compound fracture with much dirt in the wound and fragments protruding. But he purred and seemed sure that I could fix it.
I had René get a bowl of milk for him and René held him and caressed him and Willie was drinking the milk while I shot him through the head. I don’t think he could have suffered and the nerves had been crushed so his legs had not begun to really hurt. Monstruo wished to shoot him for me, but I could not delegate the responsibility or leave a chance of Will knowing anybody was killing him…
Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and loved for eleven years. Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.”
“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”
– Ernest Hemingway
Edith Södergran was a Swedish-speaking Finnish poet, and one of the first modernists in Swedish literature. Edith was just 24 when she released her first collection of poems, Dikter. She died at age 31 after complications from the tuberculosis she contracted as a teenager.
“Of all our sunny world
I wish only for a garden sofa
where a cat is sunning itself.
There I should sit
with a letter at my breast,
a single small letter.
That is what my dream looks like.”
– Edith Södergran, A Wish, translated by David McDuff
A photo by Edith, of her beloved cats. Via: polarbearstale.blogspot.com
In Ozero Roshino, Russia, where she spent her summers, stands a monument to Södergran’s favorite cat Totti. Via:members.virtualtourist.com
“I have a luck cat in my arms,
it spins threads of luck.
Luck cat, luck cat,
make for me three things:
make for me a golden ring,
to tell me that I am lucky;
make for me a mirror
to tell me that I am beautiful;
make for me a fan
to waft away my cumbersome thoughts.
Luck cat, luck cat,
spin for me some news of my future!”
– Edith Södergran, Luck Cat, translated by David McDuff
William S. Burroughs
Postmodern novelist, short story writer, spoken word performer, and essayist William Burroughs is widely influential in both literature and pop culture, declared by Norman Mailer as “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius.” He wrote semi-autobiographical and memoir, drawing on his experiences as a heroin addict and his world travels. His most famous book, Naked Lunch, underwent a court case due to the U.S.’s anti-sodomy laws of the time.
Burroughs was a devout cat lover who called them his “psychic companions,” and described them as “natural enemies of the state.” He wrote a book, The Cat Inside, where he wrote lovingly of his companions such as Calico Jane, Fletch, Rooski, Wimpy, and Ed.
Burroughs perfectly summarizes why cats > dogs:
“Like most qualities, cuteness is delineated by what it isn’t. Most people aren’t cute at all, or if so they quickly outgrow their cuteness … Elegance, grace, delicacy, beauty, and a lack of self-consciousness: a creature who knows he is cute soon isn’t.”
-William S. Burroughs, The Cat Inside
“The cat does not offer services. The cat offers itself.”
– William S. Burroughs, The Cat Inside
Edgar Allan Poe
Drawing of Poe and cat by Charles Smeldon Via: writersandkitties.tumblr.com
Most famous for his short stories and poems, Edgar Allan Poe was an integral part of the American romantic movement, was one of the earliest American short story writers, and is believed to have basically invented the “detective fiction” genre. His interest in mystery and the macabre have led to his tales being celebrated as among the best “scary stories” of all time, beloved by children and goths alike to this day.
“I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.”
– Edgar Allan Poe
Poe was a cat lover and he and his wife/cousin Virginia had a cat named Catterina. One of his scariest stories, The Black Cat, tells the story of a narrator who loved his cat Pluto until he came home drunk, tries to grab at his cat, and gets a nip in return. The storyteller gouges out the cat’s eye with a pen knife and eventually hangs it in the garden. The cat’s doppelganger makes his way back into their life and enacts a slow revenge, eventually driving the man so crazy that he kills his wife with an axe in a fit of rage. When the police investigate the murder, a wailing cat leads them to his wife’s corpse, and the man is caught and condemned. Justice!
Finnish author, illustrator, and comic-strip author Tove Jansson is best known for herMoomin series of books for children and comic strips, which feature sweet, nature and adventure loving, whimsically illustrated creatures populating their own Moomin-world. She also wrote several books for adults, including The Summer Book, about a six-year-old girl living with her grandmother on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland.
An excerpt from The Cat,, a chapter from The Summer Book by Tove Jansson:
“It was a tiny kitten when it came and could drink its milk only from a nipple. Fortunately, they still had Sophia’s baby bottle in the attic. In the beginning, the kitten slept in a tea cozy to keep warm, but when it found its legs they let it sleep in the cottage in Sophia’s bed. It had its own pillow, next to hers.
It was a gray fisherman’s cat and it grew fast. One day, it left the cottage and moved into the house, where it spent its nights under the bed in the box where they kept the dirty dishes. It had odd ideas of its own even then. Sophia carried the cat back to the cottage and tried as hard as she could to ingratiate herself, but the more love she gave it, the quicker it fled back to the dish box. When the box got too full, the cat would howl and someone would have to wash the dishes. Its name was Ma Petite, but they called it Moppy.
“It’s funny about love,” Sophia said. “The more you love someone, the less he likes you back.”
“That’s very true,” Grandmother observed. “And so what do you do?”
“You go on loving,” said Sophia threateningly. “You love harder and harder.”
Colette was a French novelist, most famous for her novel Gigi, which was adapted even more famously for stage and screen. She was also notoriously sensuous, having numerous affairs with both women and men, including her second husband’s son. She also “discovered” Audrey Hepburn when she cast the then unknown actress on sight to play the lead in Gigi after she saw her walking across the lobby of a hotel.
She has also been described as “the original Cat Woman,” and had a lifelong love affair with cats. She also loved dogs, after growing up surrounded by animals brought to the house by her mother, who “boasted of her ability to housebreak pets and children.” Colette wrote a novel entitled “The Cat,” which is about the engagement and honeymoon of a couple who is divided over the man’s helpless devotion to his cat, Saha. Colette’s cat lover, Alain, muses in the book “It wasn’t just a little cat I was carrying at that moment,” Alain mused. “It was the incarnate nobility of the whole cat race, her limitless indifference, her tact, her bond of union with the human aristocrat.”
“There are no ordinary cats.”
“My cat does not talk as respectfully to me as I do to her.”
Raymond Chandler got his start as a writer at age 44, after being fired from his oil company job during the Depression. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939 and introduced the first-person narrator/detective Philip Marlowe, who would become famous and be featured in many of Chandler’s later books. He continued to publish shorts stories and novels throughout the ’40s and ’50s, but also began collaborating on screenplays including Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, andThe Blue Dahlia.
Chandler was an avid cat fancier who often wrote about his cats and even wrote letters as his cat, Taki. An excerpt (Taki writing to one of Chandler’s friend’s feline companions): “Come around sometime when your face is clean and we shall discuss the state of the world, the foolishness of humans, the prevalence of horsemeat, although we prefer the tenderloin side of a porterhouse, and our common difficulty in getting doors opened at the right time and meals served at more frequent intervals. I have got my staff up to five a day, but there is still room for improvement.”
Raymond Chandler’s agent H.N. Swanson, said that Chandler’s cat “‘knew more about him than anybody else.”
“I said something which gave you to think I hated cats. But gad, sir, I am one of the most fanatical cat lovers in the business. If you hate them, I may learn to hate you. If your allergies hate them, I will tolerate the situation to the best of my ability.”
-Raymond Chandler, in another letter
William Carlos Williams
Poet and doctor William Carlos Williams “worked harder at being a writer than he did at being a physician,” but miraculously managed both. He began as a member of the Imagist movement, a group of poets in the early 20th century who were devoted to “clarity of expression through the use of precise visual images.” Later, he experimented with new techniques and influences, eventually settling on a unique personal style that centered on the daily life of ‘common’ people.
“Outside, the north wind, coming and passing, swelling and dying, lifts the frozen sand drives it a-rattle against the lidless windows and we may dear sit stroking the cat stroking the cat and smiling sleepily, prrrr.”
– William Carlos Williams
“As the cat
the top of
first the right
then the hind
into the pit of
-William Carlos Williams, Poem (As the cat)
Truman Capote, American author of short stories, novels, nonfiction, and plays – including Breakfast At Tiffany’s and the true-crime novel In Cold Blood. He was a great friend of author Harper Lee and they often helped one another on projects, including Capote serving as inspiration for the character Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird. Capote was openly homosexual and an active socialite. Gore Vidal was quoted as saying “Truman Capote has tried, with some success, to get into a world that I have tried, with some success, to get out of.”
Although Capote’s own cat love isn’t well documented, the nameless feline inBreakfast At Tiffany’s plays a major part in the heart of the story. Holly sums up the novella nicely with the quote “If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s, then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.”
“She was still hugging the cat. “Poor slob,” she said, tickling his head, “poor slob without a name. It’s a little inconvenient, his not having a name. But I haven’t any right to give him one: He’ll have to wait until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of hooked up by the river one day, we don’t belong to each other. He’s an independent, and so am I. I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found a place where me and things belong together.”
-Truman Capote, Breakfat At Tiffany’s
Journalist/writer/editor/actor George Plimpton co-founded the Paris Review and was particularly well known for his immersive take on sports writing, often involving himself competing in professional sporting events and then recording the event. He pitched an exhibition game for the American League, on a team managed by Mickey Mantle, attended pre-season training and played in a scrimmage for the Detroit Lions of the NFL, trained in a National Hockey League preseason game as a goalie, and sparred for three rounds with Sugar Ray Robinson while working for Sports Illustrated.
The cat pictured above was named Mr. Puss. Goerge’s son Taylor recalled that “my father enjoyed nothing more than holding the beast high in the ait and making strange, affectionate sounds in that distinguished voice: “Yeanngghh, Puss… Yeaannngh Puss Puss Puss.”
Hermann Hesse – novelist, poet, and painter – most famous for writing the spiritual journey of Siddhartha and the semi-autobiographical Steppenwolf. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. At the time of his death, Hesse was practically unknown in the United States, but in the mid-’60s, Hesse’s works became bestsellers, celebrated among the counter-culture hippie movement.
I could not find a scrap of information regarding Hesse and his cat, but I do know that these two pictures of him with a feline friend make me smile.
“There is a single magic, a single power, a single salvation, and a single happiness, and that is called loving.”
– Hermann Hesse
Non-fiction author, environmental activist, and novelist Peter Matthiessen is perhaps best known for a book that is sort of about cats – but not of the household variety. His book The Snow Leopard, about a journey in the company of zoologist George Schaller into the heart of the Himalayas, seeking the snow leopard, a creature so rarely spotted as to be nearly mythical. Matthiessen never actually sees a snow leopard and mused “we’ve seen so much, maybe it’s better if there are some things that we don’t see.”
Argentine novelist, essayist, and short story writer Julio Cortázar has been called “a modern master of the short story” and was known as one of the founders of the ‘Latin American Boom’ that brought latin literature to a much broader audience in Europe and America – a movement which also included Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda. Cortázar was known for his use of interior monologue and stream of consciousness, and he was interested in surrealist art, and improvisatory jazz. His most famous novel is Hopscotch.
Cortázar was a cat lover who owned a cat named Theodor W. Adorno who he wrote about extensively in the book Around the Day in Eighty Worlds.
“I sometimes longed for someone who, like me, had not adjusted perfectly with his age, and such a person was hard to find; but I soon discovered cats, in which I could imagine a condition like mine, and books, where I found it quite often.”
– Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds
A young Sylvia Plath with her cat, “Daddy.” Via: kitapcafe.com
Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist, and short story author who suffered from depression and wrote extensively about her illness. Her work was confessional and raw. She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956 and their marriage was famously tumultious; she committed suicide in 1963, at age 30.
Although Plath’s relationship with cats isn’t well-documented, her recently (2011) unearthed drawings included the charming depiction of a “curious french cat,” below.
A drawing by Sylvia Plath Source: i.telegraph.co.uk
The poet Wystan Hugh Auden, born in England but later an American citizen, is regarded by many as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. He also wrote essays and reviews. Auden published over four hundred poems, including two book-length long form works, and also including ballads, limericks, doggerel, haiku, villanelles, and baroque eclogue. He began writing poems at age thirteen, discovered T.S. Eliot at age 18, and wrote the first of his poems that would later be published at age 20.
“Cats can be very funny, and have the oddest ways of showing they’re glad to see you. Rudimace always peed in our shoes.”
“Pangur, white Pangur,
How happy we are
Alone together, Scholar and cat.
Each has his own work to do daily;
For you it is hunting, for me, study.
Your shining eye watches the wall;
My feeble eye is fixed on a book.
You rejoice when your claws entrap a mouse;
I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem.
Pleased with his own art
Neither hinders the other;
Thus we live ever
Without tedium and envy.
Pangur, white Pangur,
How happy we are,
Alone together, Scholar and cat.”
–The Monk and His Cat, adapted by W. H. Auden from an 8th or 9th century anonymous Irish text
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is an American author who has published over fifty novels. She also writes poetry, nonfiction, and short stories. Her novels Black Water, What I Lived For, and Blonde (a fictional biography of Marilyn Monroe) were all nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and her novel them won the National Book Award in 1969. She is a professor at Princeton.
“I write so much because my cat sits on my lap. She purrs so I don’t want to get up. She’s so much more calming than my husband.”
– Joyce Carol Oates
Novelist, poet, playwright, short story writer, and biographer Doris May Lessing was born in Iran (then Persia) to English parents who lived in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) as a child. She was self-educated from age 14 on, and began work as a nursemaid when she was just 15 years old. She began writing after taking an interest in communist politics and sociology. Later on, she adopted the Sufi religion and wrote a series of science fiction novels called the “Canopus in Argos” series.
Lessing became fascinated by cats at a young age, when she came across the semi-feral felines on the African farm where she grew up. As an adult, she had many cats, notably the awkwardly majestic El Magnifico, who she wrote about lovingly in the short memoir The Old Age of El Magnifico. When asked about her efforts to communicate with cats in an interview, she said “the cat I communicated with best was El Magnifico. He was such a clever cat. We used to have sessions when we tried to be on each other’s level. He knew we were trying. When push came to shove, though, the communication was pretty limited.”
“What a luxury a cat is, the moments of shocking and startling pleasure in a day, the feel of the beast, the soft sleekness under your palm, the warmth when you wake on a cold night, the grace and charm even in a quite ordinary workaday puss. Cat walks across your room, and in that lonely stalk you see leopard or even panther, or it turns its head to acknowledge you and the yellow blaze of those eyes tells you what an exotic visitor you have here, in this household friend, the cat who purrs as you stroke, or rub his chin, or scratch his head.”
– Doris Lessing, The Old Age of El Magnifico
Philip K. Dick
Science-fiction master Philip K. Dick wrote novels, short stories, and essays which explored transcendental experiences, metaphyics, theology, sociology, and politics. Although Dick was never all that successful financially while he was alive, ten of his works have been made into a variety of successful films, including Blad Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, and Minority Report.
Not much is known about PKD’s cat, but his name was Magnificat!
Patricia Highsmith, 1921-1995, wrote widely-acclaimed psychological thrillers, including Strangers On A Train, famously adapted by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951, andThe Talented Mr. Ripley. The protagonist/serial murderer in the latter, Tom Ripley, was featured in four more novels by Highsmith, known as the ‘Ripliad.’
Highsmith was an animal lover who kept pets of both cats and hundreds of pet snails. Urich Weber, the curator of Highsmith’s archive, once explained that “she was very happy among cats. They gave her a closeness that she could not bear in the long-term from people. She needed cats for her psychological balance.”
“Everything human is alien to me.”
A statue in tribute to Johnson’s beloved cat, Hodge Via: katherinebarber.blogspot.com
Devout Anglican and English author Samuel Johnson wrote poetry, essays, criticisms, and published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, described as “one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship.” Johnson was also very famous for his critical philosophy, and his belief that the best poetry relied on contemporary language (as opposed to purposefully old-timey/decorative verse). He was also the subject of perhaps the most famous biography of all time, James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, which is among the works that have described Johnson’s odd tics and gestures in sich a way that has led to a posthumous diagnosis of Tourette syndrome.
In Boswell’s biography of Johnson, he describes the great thinker’s relationship with his cat, Hodge. “Nor would it be just, under this head, to omit the fondness which he showed for animals which he had taken under his protection. I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’”
Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and wrote short-stories, essays, and poems, including the acclaimed books Ficciones and The Aleph, compilations of interconnected short stories that are bound by themes of dreams, labyrinths, animals, mirrors, and God. He is known as a “magical realist,” and was in fact the first author described using that term, by critic Angel Flores. Writer J.M. Coetzee said of Borges that “he, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists.”
“Mirrors are not more silent
nor the creeping dawn more secretive;
in the moonlight, you are that panther
we catch sight of from afar.
By the inexplicable workings of a divine law,
we look for you in vain;
More remote, even, than the Ganges or the setting sun,
yours is the solitude, yours the secret.
Your haunch allows the lingering
caress of my hand. You have accepted,
since that long forgotten past,
the love of the distrustful hand.
You belong to another time. You are lord
of a place bounded like a dream.”
-Jorge Luis Borges, To A Cat
Celebrated postmodern French philosopher Jacques Derrida developed a form of analysis known as “deconstruction,” which involved the assertion that all writing was full of confusion because of the inherent contradictions of language itself. Deconstruction requires thinking in a dual way about everything, analyzing and breaking down the conceptual opposites in language, art, and, ethics. In the ’90s, Derrida’s work took a turn towards ethics, such as in The Gift of Death, when he began to apply the principles of deconstructionism in interpreting passages from the bible. Derrida wrote in a paper in 1993 that “deconstruction, if there is such a thing, takes place as the experience of the impossible.”
Jacques Derrida was – unsurprisingly to anyone who has pieced together a semblance of an understanding of both deconstructionism and cats – a cat person. He wrote extensively of the feline gaze in an essay (originally delivered as a ten-hour lecture) titled The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)’. The essay focuses on a moment when a “real cat, truly, believe me, a little cat” catches the philosopher in the bathroom as he steps out of the shower and ‘stares’ at him, which causes Derrida to question the logic and ethics of establishing or assuming a boundary that distinguishes the human from the animal. He wrote at the end of that lecture “The same question then becomes whether I should show myself but in the process see myself naked (that is reflect my image in a mirror) when, concerning me, looking at me, is this living creature, this cat than can find itself caught in the same mirror? Is there animal narcissism? But cannot this cat also be, deep within her eyes, my primary mirror?”
German-born American Charles Bukowski was a poet, novelist, and short story writer who was influenced by the ordinary lives of lower-class Americans, alcohol, women, and drudgery. Bukowski was described by Time in 1986 as the “laureate of American lowlife.” He wrote thousands of works, publishing over sixty books, many of them focusing on his home, the city of Los Angeles. His most famous books include his many poetry collections, plus the novels Factotum, Ham on Rye and Women.
He also loved cats and was quoted as saying that “having a bunch of cats around is good. If you’re feeling bad, you just look at the cats, you’ll feel better, because they know everything is, just as it is. There’s nothing to get excited about. They just know. They’re saviors. The more cats you have, the longer you live. If you have a hundred cats, you’ll live ten times longer than if you have ten. Someday this will be discovered, and people will have a thousand cats and live forever. It’s truly ridiculous.”
“I know. I know.
they are limited, have different
but I watch and learn from them.
I like the little they know,
which is so
they complain but never
they walk with a surprising dignity.
they sleep with a direct simplicity that
humans just can’t
their eyes are more
beautiful than our eyes.
and they can sleep 20 hours
when I am feeling
all I have to do is
watch my cats
I study these
they are my
-Charles Bukowski, My Cats
Samuel Clemens, pen-name Mark Twain, is one of the best-known American authors and humorists in history, most famous among many other works for writing the booksThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its even more acclaimed and revered ‘sequel’Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain also penned numerous short stories and essays, and was described by William Faulkner as “the father of American literature,” a label that few seem to debate.
Mark Twain was also rather besotted with cats. In 1898, Twain’s relationship with his cats was reported “Twain would call the cats to ‘come up’ on the chair, and they would all jump up on the seat. He would tell them to ‘go to sleep,’ and instantly the group were all fast asleep. They would remain so until he called ‘Wide awake!’ when in a twinkling up would go their ears and wide open their eyes.”
“When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.”