A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Sometimes one really wonders why cats are such existentialist creatures.It surely occurs in other places, but it first caught my attention in the Netherlands. Walking around the city, one cannot but be surprised by the large number of cats that sit by a window in bourgeois domestic comfort, gazing out into a free space of the wild unknown. Is this a person posing as a cat or is it a cat masquerading as a person? It is indeed difficult to square this circle of solitude.
It is the stately poise and carefree attitude of the Dutch windowshop cat that seems the most intriguing. Is the cat’s disdain for the world expressive of the utmost care and dignity accorded to it by its urban owners? Or is it the ennui borne of the poetics of space and action, screened off and sexually isolated as the cats are in their cozy interior? Or is it perhaps a more profound Kafkaesque fear of the unknown?
The govering impulses in the attitudes of our windowshop cats can be best dissected through the exchange of looks between cats and humans. Cats and humans gaze at each other, as John Berger notes, across a “narrow abyss of non-comprehension” where the cat, like the human, looks with wary attention across everyday ignorance and fear. Even when tamed, it is paradoxically “its lack of common language, its silence, its distance, its distinctness, its exclusion, from and of man” that renders it amenable to the accordance of familiarity by man. Thus pets provided unspeaking companionship, but also offered explanations for that which was essentially mysterious. But today, the keeping of pets for its own sake rather than for the purposes for which they were domesticated, reflects the way in which they have been sterilised as supplements and mirrors to the owners’ personality and character. That charmingly contemplative cat at the wayside window, whose gaze flickers and passes on to look blindly beyond, has in other words been dulled to encounter and mirrors the urban anomia of their owners. For a more vivid account, see the tale of Henri le Chat Noir: http://www.youtube.com/user/henrilechatnoir