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Anja Schwarz Termpaper
The Cat Other:
Between humanity and animality
Written by Philip Ketzel
Table of Content
1. 2. 3. 4.
Introduction ................................................................................................................. 3 Derrida‘s notion of the other with regard to the animal .............................................. 6 Thinking the other consciousness ............................................................................... 9 The anthropomorphized cat companion .................................................................... 11 4.1. Cats as artists......................................................................................................... 12 4.2. Cats on the internet ............................................................................................... 16 4.2.1. LOLcats ....................................................................................................... 16 4.2.2. Humorous internet videos of companion animals ....................................... 18
Conclusion................................................................................................................. 20 Works Cited............................................................................................................... 21
Human animal studies or just animal studies (AS), as it is also called, had been an unknown territory for the author before he attended the equally titled master‘s seminar, for which this term paper was written. According to the homepage of the research and educational organisation the Animals & Society Institute, AS can be understood as ―a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field that examines the complex and multidimensional relationships between humans and other animals.― Philip Armstrong and Laurence Simmons write that ―[r]esearchers in animal studies examine the cultural, philosophical, economic and social means by which humans and animals interact‖ (1). This scientific interest in human-animal relations could be understood as an evolution of what is called the western philosophical tradition, in which the relationship between animal and human had been quite clearly defined, broadly speaking, as that of the humanly master who controls the animal for his interest. Most noteworthy and influential for this traditional perspective on animality is Rene Descartes‘ notion of animals as natural automata (63) as well as the biblical Genesis chapter. Yet such positions have been identified as being anthropocentristic, which, as Clifton Flynn defines anthropocentrism, ―refers to the idea that humanity should be the measure of all things. Others and ―otherness‖ tend to be overlooked and fail to be taken into account‖ (78). Even though Immanuel Kant advocates ―to practise kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes also hard in his dealings with men‖ (46), his position towards animality is also anthropocentristic, since animals remain a thing, simply a means to be used by the rational human and are therefore excluded from the realm of ethics (ibid.). The ―otherness‖ of the animal in this case is also reduced to an object. In other words, the animal becomes merely a projection surface with which a person interacts in order to practice the Kantian humanistic ethics.
Ketzel 4 Bringing back the pushed aside notion of the animal‘s subjective ―otherness‖ into the philosophical and thereof resulting other discourses can be seen as the major aspect of AS. This usually entails criticising the traditional anthropocentristic positions, which has been done especially by those thinkers who have been associated with postmodern theories. 1 What it means to be human or what one should understand under the concept of humanity becomes less evident when taking into consideration that the grand narratives fail to provide fixed or absolute truths. Rethinking said truths and thereby the various established relations of human life and culture must consequently lead to a rethinking of the truths and relations between and of animals and humans. A major initiating influence of such a rethinking can be seen in Jeremy Benthams‘ An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation from 1781, in which he raised the important question of whether animals could suffer. A modern outcome of such a rethinking can also be seen in our daily life, for instance when recognizing a WWF or PETA campaign, or in reoccurring mass mediated debates about ‗inhumanity‘ in the domains of factory farming or the pharmaceutical industries. People have begun on a much broader scale to understand that the concept of humanity is deeply linked with the ways in which we interact with our environment (Umwelt). The present paper is also a rethinking of a certain relationship between humans and animals. Inspired by two texts that were read in the seminar which are Thomas Nagel‘s What is it like to be a bat? and Jacques Derrida‘s The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow), as well as the author‘s daily experiences with two cat brothers, this paper will focus on the relationship between people and their feline companion animals. For it is in the manifestations of the human relationship towards the companion animal in which one can see best the problem or paradox of anthropocentrism humans get pulled into when trying to understand the ―otherness‖ of animals. What is meant by the problem or paradox of anthropocentrism is
See Wolfe‘s introduction in Zoontologies for a more detailed listing of authors and texts.
Ketzel 5 the fact that also those positions or attitudes towards animals which include their ―otherness‖ and try to treat them rightfully by recognizing their subjectivity – like that between people and their domestic cats – cannot but always remain anthropocentristic in their expression. To substantiate this hypothesis, the present paper will discuss two examples in which this can be seen in various forms, namely domesticated cats as artist as well as cats on the internet. To back up this hypothesis theoretically, there shall be first a brief recapitulation of Derrida‘s notion of the other followed by a short elaboration of the role the consciousness plays with regard to the problem/paradox of anthropocentrism. The underlying definition of the concept anthropocentrism used for the present line of argumentation will be similar to Flynn‘s. Yet in order to grasp the problem/paradox of the hypothesis better, the definition of the MerriamWebster dictionary seems to be more appropriate. According to it, anthropocentristic can mean either ―considering human beings as the most significant entity of the universe‖, or ―interpreting or regarding the world in terms of human values and experiences.‖ It is especially the second meaning that resonates with the hypothesis. Due to the shortness of the paper however, the argumentation must remain exemplary and does not claim to be complete. A closer look at debates such as the one concerning anthropocentrism in what has been called Deep Ecology must be for instance left out. 2
In Anthropocentrism and Deep Ecology William Grey follows a similar approach when he defends anthropocentrism for the fact that there is no other option to interpret t he world. Yet the concept behind it should nevertheless be rethought in order to include nature properly into our sets of values because it simp ly is the basis for our existence.
2. Derrida’s notion of the other with regard to the animal
The text The Animal That therefore I Am (More to Follow), which was translated into English by David Wills, actually ―represents the first part of a ten- hour address Derrida gave at the third Cerisy-la-Salle conference devoted to his work, in July 1997‖, which had the title: L'Animal autobiographique (Wills 369). Wills points out that Derrida‘s title L'Animal que donc je suis (a suivre) marks an obvious word play on Descartes‘ concept of human consciousness represented by the sentence ―ego cogito ergo sum‖, and he suggests to translate this typical and throughout the text reoccurring Derridean word play also as ―The animal that therefore I follow after‖; hence the statement ―I am‖ should mostly be read as ―I follow‖ or ―I am (following)‖ (ibid.). Thereby and all through the whole text Derrida criticises in his deconstructive way the anthropocentristic point of view that so many thinkers in the tradition of Descartes have taken on. 3 In this critique anthropocentristic should be understood in the western philosophy tradition according to the first meaning given by Merriam-Webster. By stressing that he, as a human, is an animal, Derrida first of all acknowledges from an evolutionary standpoint that humans are also animals. This can already be seen as a broader understanding of the concept of humanity compared to the traditional one. Within the notion of being that animal who follows, he refers in a very condensed way to all the discourses which have established or legitimated the dichotomy of the terms/ideas human and animal. It is therefore of interest to unpack this in the next paragraphs a little bit. The starting point for his deconstruction concerning the difference between humans and animals is an example out of his personal experience, specifically the experience of being
See also the preface of the German edition where Marie -Louise Mallet writes: „Dieser Dekonstruktion der philosophischen Tradition, die die Tiere solcherart mißhandelt hat, geht es letzten Endes aber nicht nur um diese selbst. Weit davon entfernt einfach die Perspektive umzukehren und, zum Beispiel, „dem Tier― im Allgemeinen zurückzugeben, was ih m durch diese Tradit ion stets geraubt wurde, […], bringt die Dekon struktion mittels einer geduldigen Vervielfachung der Differenzen zu m Vo rschein, wie zerbrechlich und p orös diese unterstellten Grenzen des „Eigenen― sind, auf die man den klassischen Gegensatz zwischen „dem Menschen― und „dem Tier― so lange gründen glaubte.― (13)
Ketzel 7 gazed at by his cat while being naked. What kind of philosophical questions Derrida derives out of this experience can be seen quite well in the following passage: What does this bottomless gaze offer to my sight [donne á voir]? What does it "say" to me, demonstrating quite simply the naked truth of every gaze, given that that truth allows me to see and be seen through the eyes of the other, in the seeing and not just seen eyes of the other? (Derrida 381) These questions about being recognized by another being induced by such an experience had been left out by those people, ―for example Descartes, Kant, Heidegger, Lacan and Levinas‖, who thought about animality and humanity in the traditional western philosophical fashion as ―a theorem‖ (Derrida 382-383). Hence, the exclusion of the animal‘s ability to gaze has rendered it a passive entity, merely an object. 4 To think of the animal otherwise has been made quite hard, since this side of anthropocentrism is deeply embedded in our culture and la nguage, as Derrida shows for example in his re-reading of the Genesis section where God makes Adam the master of the animals (383-387). Also when one looks at the lexical generalisation of the term ‗the animal‘ it becomes clear how cruel such exclusion neglects the magnitude of animal life forms (Derrida 416). ―The animal is a word, it is an appellation that men have instituted, a name they have given themselves the right and the authority to give to another living creature [à l'autre vivant] (Derrida 392). Here, one can also see that Derrida‘s critique of the traditional anthropocentrism is closely related with that of the logocentrism. He acknowledges the fact that one cannot speak of the animal without falling into an anthropocentristic and logocentristic position, when he asks: ―Can one speak of the animal? Can one approach the animal? Can one from the vantage of the animal see oneself being looked at naked?‖ (Derrida 390) His strategy to avoid this pitfall of logocentrism is to speak hypothetically from the moment ―before original sin‖ (Derrida 387). With this rhetorical trick he refers to a state in which human and animal where equal in their nudity. For man was not
For another elaboration of this exclusion and oppression of animal alterity see Birgit Mütherich in Die soziale Konstruktion des Anderen – zur soziologischen Frage nach dem Tier.
Ketzel 8 ashamed in paradise before the fall (ibid.). It is in that hypothetical state where man (‗der’ Mensch) can take on the point of view of the animal, ―[t]he point of view of the absolute other‖ (Derrida 380). Donald Turner writes about Derrida‘s ideas on the absolute alterity of the animal: For Derrida, description of an encounter with truly absolute alterity is a practical impossibility, for one cannot describe that which one can by definition have no comprehension—there must be some similarity for a self to recognize an other as existing at all (Bernasconi 128-131). (14) That similarity is given for Derrida in the fact that humans are also animals, as we have seen with respect to the title of the text. What distinguishes humans from animals is according to the philosophical tradition man‘s logocentrism after the fall. So one could say that Derrida refers with this hypothetical moment to all those moments in which one forgets ones logos, ones reason. It is a state of no words. One would be in a similar state of being as the animal, on would be truly a human animal. In that moment or state one can recognize the animal as a proper self because it stopped being the absolute other. From that point of view it is therefore undeniable to answer Bentham‘s question with a yes. Animals can suffer. Embedding Bentham‘s question and the implications of it in this deconstructive interpretation of his personal experience can be seen as the motif behind Derrida‘s ―chimerical discourse‖ (Derrida 392). By including animal alterity he gives an interpretation of what it means to be human that contrasts the traditional one, for he brings the animal ―otherness‖ back by reminding us of our own animality. On a level of instinct not of reason (the level of the logos) humans must recognize animals as others, as is implied when Derrida says: ―No one can deny the suffering, fear or panic, the terror or fright that humans witness in certain animals‖ (398). It is this possibility to empathise with animals on such a substantial level that renders Bentham‘s question to ―[t]he first and decisive question‖ (Derrida 396) in a philosophical discourse about animals and thereby redefines humanity. As Mallet wrote in her intro-
Ketzel 9 duction, Derrida shows with this deconstruction that our understanding of the line or abyss between humanity and animality is all but fixed.
3. Thinking the other consciousness
Another problem that arises when talking about the self is that of the consciousness. In the afore mentioned essay What is it like to be a bat? published in 1974, Thomas Nagel elaborates the fundamental problem of a reductionist approach to describe the idea of co nsciousness. He says that consciousness ―is not analyzable in terms of any explanatory system of functional states, or inte ntional states, since these could be ascribed to robots or automata that behaved like people though they experienced nothing. It is not analyzable in terms of the causal role of experiences in relation to typical human behavior—for similar reasons.‖ (1-2) The main problem to which he refers here is that when trying to understand consciousness one cannot ―exclude the phenomenological features of experience from a reduction‖ due to the fact ―that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view‖ (Nagel 2). As Nagel explains through the example of what it must be like to be a bat, when trying to comprehend the consciousness or ―subjective character of experience‖ (1) of another living being, one is always limited to a singular point of view due to ones physiology and psychology. One has to imagine what it is like to be that other living being. Even when staying within the scope of one‘s own species, the human, this can be a problematic task. However a shared physiology and more important the ability to speak, which permits one to refer to the feelings and experience one has, allow another person to take on or imagine one‘s particular point of view. With animals this becomes much more difficult. We neither share a similar physiology, nor a similar concept of speech nor a similar level of selfawareness (or so it seems). Therefore their point of view remains inaccessible to us. Although
Ketzel 10 one can determine objectively the sensual parameters with which another species experiences its environment (Umwelt), when trying to understand what it must be like to be that species, one always ascribes a notion of subjectivity onto it which is already based upon the human point of view, the human subjectivity. Thus one always falls back into an anthropocentric point of view.
The implications of Derrida‘s and Nagel‘s philosophical positions help to understand why and how humans engage with animals as companions. Being able to be recognized by and recognize the animal companion as an other establishes a relationship of the most substantial level. Derrida therefore speaks of ―the passion of the animal, my passion of the animal, my passion of the animal other‖ (381). It is a relationship in which the animal compa nion is accepted as a social partner, who shares the same basic needs and desires. Yet, this level is constantly overshadowed by the human consciousness as well as by the fact that the animal companion is in a position of dependence. It needs to somehow communicate its needs, like wanting to be fed. Unfortunately it is exactly that moment of engaging in a communication with the animal other in which one cannot but fall back into an anthropocentric position, because the communicative actions by which the animal signals its state of being have to be interpreted by the care taker. Caused by the will to take care of the dependant companion animal, the effect of this ‗fall‘ is anthropomorphism. As Serpell (2002) suggests, anthropomorphism should be understood as the ―attribution of human mental states (thoughts, feelings, motivations and beliefs) to nonhuman animals‖ (437). About the history of this phenomenon he writes: Anthropomorphism appears to have its roots in the human capacity for so called ―reflexive consciousness‖—that is, the ability to use self-knowledge, knowledge of what it is like to be a person, to understand and anticipate the behavior of others (Humphrey, 1983). Quite when this ability expanded outward to encompass nonhumans is anybody‘s guess, although the archaeologist Mithen (1996) claims that anthropomorphism
Ketzel 11 is one of the defining characteristics of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) and that it probably evolved no more than 40,000 years ago. (438) As one can see in this quote, anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism are concomitant. Engaging in a relationship with a companion animal means trying to understand and anticipate its behaviour, which is just possible by interpreting its behaviour as if it were human.
4. The anthropomorphized cat companion
It is very interesting that Derrida‘s experience has been with a cat, not a dog, neither a canary bird nor any other common pet 5 , because there is something about a cat‘s gaze, presence and behaviour that is intriguing. Speaking out of personal experience the author agrees with all the people owning a cat who say that one can clearly witness a cat‘s personality in its behaviour. Whether it is in the way the cat lets you know when s/he is hungry, thirsty, prancing around your feet wanting to be left out of the house or to be petted. The cat will let you know. S/he will let you know without being afraid of you or keeping an instinctive distance like wild and most other companion animals. A cat is not as mendicant like a dog, and s/he also most likely lacks the submissive character traits so typical for dogs. Although dependent on the care taker, a cat‘s dependence is usually quite small. Having a bowl of food, fresh water and litter box seems to be all the care take has to take care of. When or if a cat wants to interact is up to her/him. A cat needs her/his space. To acknowledge cats as subjects, as personalities, seems to be inevitably for all who have spent some time with (domesticated) cats and experienced their independent and unique behaviour. This aspect is also reflected in Janet and Steven Alger‘s Paper Bayond Mead: Symbolic Interaction between Humans and Felines.
I acknowledge the fact that the term pet is less politically correct than the term animal co mpanion but will use it synonymously nonetheless because of the fact that Belk points out when writing: ―Yet these animals, even when we treat them as quasi-human equals, did not freely choose to be with us. We chose them and most likely bought them in a manner similar to the way in which human slaves were once (and sometimes still are) bought and sold (Thomas, 1993, p. xx). They are more dependent on us than we are on them. Keeping the term pet recognizes this hierarchy of ownership as well as corresponds to the emic labels used by all informants.‖ (p. 123-124)
Ketzel 12 Although one must bear in mind that the point of view describing cat behaviour presented in their paper is by definition anthropocentristic, it becomes clear that cat owners see their feline companions as other individuals who show cognitive skills, such as playing-awareness, remembering past and anticipating future events as well as being able to recognize their human companions as others.
When one starts to look at the world out of a perspective sensitised by Animal Studies or plainly with an attitude that includes animal ‗otherness‘ in daily life, it seems like new facts about human-animal relations are around every corner. Probably this has to do with a co mmon observer paradox, in which one sees or notices that which one is looking for, even if unconsciously. Yet maybe it is more plausible that one just becomes aware of the traditional anthropocentristic perspective which is so deeply embedded in our culture. It was due to such a perspective shift that the author stumbled across a book in his partner‘s shelf called Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics and started to gain interest for the internet phenomenon of the LOLcats.
4.1. Cats as artists
Cat keeping can be traced back to ancient Egypt and has become more and more popular in Europe and North America (Dennis Turner 190). This gain of popularity can be seen in the ways in which cat keeping manifests within culture. One of such a manifestations is the book Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics 6 by Heather Bush and Burton Silver from 1994, in which a history of feline painting is redrawn and modern examples of feline artist are given alongside with interpretations of their work. To say it upfront, the book is a spoof. There is no such thing as cats that paint, or at least not in the way that is depicted within the
The present paper cites fro m the German edit ion of this book.
Ketzel 13 book. On the one hand this becomes obvious throughout the whole book, especially within the description and interpretation of the cat artists and their work. On the other hand, Silver has admitted in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times: "It's a spoof. A cat is totally its own person, like an artist is totally his own person. You can't force a cat to paint." (qtd. in Emery 2007). Silver is actually a cartoonist, parodist, art critic and writer from New Zealand (Wikipedia 7 ). However, this book is a great example of how human cat owners interpret the behaviour of their cats in anthropomorphic ways. The underlying fact which makes this spoof believable at first is that cats mark their territory in ways like scratching trees or scraping lines into their litter box, or into the sand close to where they leave their excrements. 8 Silver and Bush use this fact in order to argue that this behaviour of cats is in fact a way of artistic expression and thereby mock cat owners who over-interpret the behaviour of their felines. Also, this book is a mocking of contemporary art criticism in that it parodies the ways in which art critics tend to over- interpret art referring to the artists‘ biographical and other contexts. By using fake examples of historical artefacts, such as the Xois-Papyros or middle-age German tarot cards, 9 they try to legitimate their position by making it seem like a proper scholarly study. Nevertheless, there are certain aspects in their argumentation that clearly mark the parodistic character and at the same time display some stereotyped facts about the relationship between cats and their owners/care takers/human companions. One of such marker can be seen for example when Bush and Silver cite findings of a Dr. Peter Williams from the Rudkin College in Dallas. However there is neither such a college nor a Dr. Peter Williams. According to this ‗findings‘ cats are supposed to have the ability to sense electromagnetic fields that puts them in a relaxed mood or gives them positive vibra7
Even though Wikipedia is heavily criticized as a source for scholarly work, it is believed to be a credible enough source when it co mes to basic biographical facts such as this one. 8 This has been witnessed by the author plenty of times. 9 The author believes these artefacts to be fake since the sources given by Silver and Bush are untraceable and also because of Silver‘s profession.
Ketzel 14 tion, which is why cats sometimes sit in awkward spaces purring with half closed eyes (Silver & Bush 30-35). Referring to this fake reference, they argue that cats like to sit or lay in such ―meridians‖ or ―Points of Harmonic Resonance‖ in order to contemplate or meditate and thereby accumulate the muse and inspiration for their artistic expressions (35). A little later in the book this theory is then used to interpret for instance the picture Elektrische Ströme drawn by Tiger ―the spontaneous reductionist‖ as follows: Dieses Diagramm von A. Goldsworthy[ 10 ] interpretiert das Bild im Zusammenhang mit der Theorie über harmonische Resonanzpunkte. Goldsworthy erklärt die Darste llung als eine Art Landkarte, die die Energiewellen zeigt, die auf die Katze einwirken. (52) When reading something like that, one cannot but feel reminded of stereotypical talk by people that have been associated with the new age movement or similar esoteric trends. It are precisely those kinds of statements that lead one to picture the care takers of such cat ‗artists‘ as stereotypes. What is meant by this is the stereotype of the ‗cat- lady‘, people (typically women) who consider their cats as fully sufficient social partners to provide them with attention and love, or even regard them as more valuable than humans in terms of such social benefits respectively affirmation. 11 Another aspect that marks the parody of the book can be seen in the descriptions of the cat artists and their work. First of all there are the subtitles given to each cat artist, which display the unique technique with which the cat artist work. There are for example: Tiger – the afore mentioned spontaneous reductionist, Misty – the formal expansionist – who likes to include the whole house as a canvas (55), Minnie – the abstract expressionist (58), or Smokey – the romantic ruralist – who likes to drug himself with cat mint before painting (61). Secondly, some specific pieces of work by the cat artist are depicted and interpreted citing fake identities of art collectors, museums and critics. It is also noteworthy that to the end of the
This is also quite an obvious and funny fake identity. See Kiri Blakeley‘s article Crazy Cat Ladies on the Forbes website for a similar description.
Ketzel 15 book there is a digression in other artistic expression methods of cats, such as their habit of scratching furniture and other items or posing in awkward positions. These methods are also interpreted as the cats‘ aesthetic expression of their perception of reality (81-86) This elaborated and illustrated presentation of the cat as artists reinforces a position which considers cats to be fully fletched personalities with a sense of aesthetics as well as a reflexive consciousness necessary for such a sense. One can thereby see the obvious anthropocentristic interpretation of the cat other which anthropomorphises cats in so far it ascribes them these properties. Even though it is a parody after all the parody works just because there is some cultural truth in it. What can be considered culturally true is the fact that cat owners tend to over- interpret the behaviour of cats in a very anthropomorphic way, for there is a reason why for example the stereotype of the crazy cat lady has emerged. Another fact that proves this truth aspect is that some people seem to take the book by Silver and Bush seriously, as it can be seen on the website daily- meowing.com.
4.2. Cats on the internet 4.2.1. LOLcats
Taken fro m: http://www.wired.com/table_of_ malcontents/2007/ 04/ im_ in_yr_x_ying/
Sharing pictures and videos via the internet has been very popular as one can see in the cultural impact of websites such as youtube.com or flickr.com. Using animal pictures as content and especially cat picture makes up a big part of that (Rutkoff 2007). Most noteworthy for this trend seems to be a phenomenon labelled LOLcats that came into existence between 2006 and 2007 and goes back to the blog icanhascheezburger.com (Grossman 2007). According to the urban dictionary the term LOLcat refers to: 1. ―A photo of a cat doing a seemingly- innocuous thing, with large text superimposed‖
2. ―Photographs of cats in compromising situations with captions describing the inner monologue of the pictured cat. The text is usually grammatically incorrect and relies on internet slang or "im" [instant messaging] speak.‖
Ketzel 17 What is meant in the second definition by internet slang or instant messaging talk can be seen quite obviously in the acronym LOL which stands for laughing out loud. So the name of this phenomenon already reflects the function of these pictures, namely to amuse the recip ient. But why is a picture of a cat ―doing a seemingly- innocuous thing‖ funny? It becomes funny mostly because of the caption, which is an anthropomorphic manifestation of the anthropocentric way in which the consciousness or mind of domesticated cats is stereotypically interpreted. However that is not all to it. As one can see in the example above, these LOLcat pictures are also quite often referring to context far from normal interactions of domesticated cats. In this case it is a self-reflective context concerning the LOLcat phenomenon itself, which has most likely to do with its source, an article about this very phenomenon of the technology-centred Wired magazine. Rutkoff therefore states that ―[w]hat makes lolcats appealing is that it's simultaneously obscure and accessible. It's an inside joke told in an online lingua franca‖. Another example, where a cat is sitting in a refrigerator looking surprised that has the caption ―IM IN UR FRIDGE EATIN UR F00DZ‖, refers to what can be seen as the roots of this phenomenon that is the online gaming community (Grossman). Nevertheless, what all LOLcat pictures have in common is the underlying concept of a self-aware cat. One the one hand it is this stereotypical perception of domesticated cats as individuals, with their own mind similar to humans but of course different from them as indicated by the wrong spelling and grammar, which has made the LOLcats so popular. Yet on the other hand what has been called the ―cute response‖, which, as Serpell restates, refers to ―the idea that pets are simply social parasites who have perfected the art of releasing and exploiting our innate parental instincts‖ (441), must also be taken into account. Because it is most likely the case that the cats depicted in the LOLcat pictures are rather young and cute, or literally belittled by the captions and thereby made more adorable (Lischka 2008).
4.2.2. Humorous internet videos of companion animals
In a slightly different way yet similar to the LOLcat phenomenon, humorous videos of companion animals on the internet on platforms such as youtube.com can be seen as manifestations of an anthropocentric interpretation of animal behaviour. Such videos are not just sowing cats. Most common pets are being filmed in comic situations. However, the fact that cats are more individualistic and independent than most other animals is reflected in the situations recorded. If one takes for example the video of a cat running through a card house that is being built by who is presumably its care taker (animalsbeingdicks.com), the footage as well as the caption – ―Snowball knew that, with just one more card, his record for tallest house of cards would be broken. (ibid.)‖ – imply a that the cat destroys the card house on purpose. In this video the cat stops its run shortly after having torn down the card house and looks back as if satisfied. It is on the one hand due to the very way in which this video portrays just a small section of cat- human interaction that leads one to such an assumption. What if the cat was scared beforehand and the card house just happened to be in the way of its escape route and the puzzled look afterwards is just a reaction to the unexpected collision? Even though this might be a reasonable explanation the humour of this video works along the first interpretation because cat owners are familiar with the unexpected behaviour of cats. Speaking out of personal experience with the two cat brothers Udo and Ralf the author of this paper knows for a fact that cats are capable of exactly such behaviour without any reasonable cause, without any signs of danger that could have scared the cat in this example. Therefore one is very much tempted to interpret such behaviour in the mentioned anthropomorphic manner. Another example of how care takes interpret their cats‘ behaviour as human-like can be found in the Youtube video titled Cats Playing Patty-cake, what they were saying... uploaded by the user JustinCElliott. In that video two cats are sitting on their backsides and move their
Ketzel 19 front paws so that they touch each others‘ front paws in rhythmic intervals. This playing is interrupted by one of the cats at some times and results into shorts slaps, a similar defensive posture or of one of the two. This video is dubbed by two male speakers who each take on the role of one of the cats lending them their voices and make a humorous argument play out of the footage. What starts out as a chanting typical for the children game patty-cake results, due to the slapping between the two cats, into a verbalised argument in which one of the cats accuses the other of breaking the rules of the game and other ill behaviour. This video depicts the mentioned unexplainable behaviour specific for cats. It seems to be an example of the drive to play commonly attributed to that species. Being fascinated by this action that seems to have no particular purpose, one is curious about what is going on the minds of these two when seeing the footage. The humorous and anthropomorphic interpretation by the two male speakers may not be the interpretation of everybody but it definitely works intersubjectively due to the anthropocentric position one is inevitably falling into when trying to interpret such behaviour.
The present paper has argued that humans can view or accept non-human animals as others in a interpersonal relationship because of the basic awareness of being as Derrida has proposed. Yet in the discussed example of the relationship between the cat companion and humans, this relation takes on an even deeper degree due to the specific behaviour of cats, which can be described as a form of individualism and independency. According to the chosen examples and with regard to Nagel‘s critique of the reductions perspective on the co nsciousness of non-human animals, it was shown that such behaviour can only be interpreted by anthropomorphising the cat companions. To understand the cat companion as an other in an interpersonal relationship different than from an anthropocentric position is impossible. Nevertheless, to view this limitation as a negative attribute of the human species would mean to neglect a defining aspect of how we perceive the world. As Derrida and others have shown it is not this limitation that has been causing cruelty towards animals but the interpretation of said anthropocentrism. In consensus with Grey the author believes that it is best to rethink our understanding of the concept of anthropocentrism so that the alterity of nature and animality is less seen as something that has to be controlled but rather as something that defines us by its inaccessibility for the mind yet at the same time very part of our existence. A possible way to do so can be found not only in the modern critical movements for less cruelty towards animality or sustainable ways to use natural resources but also those traditions cultures, philosophies or religions which have been treating this alterity with the respect it deserves. If we conquer all the natural space around us, there will be not much space left to be able to see what we really are – human animals.
6. Works Cited
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