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The Cat and Derrida

The Cat and Derrida

caleb.eckert's picture

A “first thoughts” post for Haraway is a bit of a misnomer for me: there’s so much (both academically dense and conceptually rich) in this first chapter that I hardly know where to start these “first thoughts.” I’m feeling a little intellectual overflow—lots of ideas bouncing around, some too slippery to catch onto without spilling in a new direction. Haraway’s and your (Purple Finch’s) words about Derrida and the little cat struck me, so I’ll float down that stream.


I think the shame Derrida felt is somewhat irrelevant in Haraway's eyes because he doesn’t have much curiosity for how the little cat responds to this interaction (20). The little cat is left as “Other,” (18) made into a generic symbol, turned into a stand-in, not thought of as a being with an identity. Without a genuine engagement with an-other, or even a curiosity about what another feels, I lose my ability to empathize or sympathize with another being. Derrida’s way of interacting with “other”—at best a form of pity (22)—reaffirms anthropocentric values: the grandness of his intellectualizing and the inferiority of the cat itself. Derrida highlights not his “becoming with” the little cat in the everyday and ordinary, but his use of the cat as an intellectual venture. The cat, now "a cat", is left in the dust, perhaps wondering why its human behaved so erratically while putting on that “thinking face”. Or maybe why the human spent countless hours indoors writing about the nature of things while the world outside was already so miraculous.


Distilling that runaway slippery thought: I think Haraway wants us to not just attempt to see through a cat’s eyes or place ourselves in a horse’s hooves but to let ourselves partake in direct “response and respect” (19) that seems to elude our intellectual imaginings. A direct engagement with “other” invites us to challenge the self-oriented statement of “You are not-I,” and turn instead to dialogue, a face-to-face questioning: “Who are you?” This, it seems, is a form of dialogue, of conversation, of openness to mutual change. Maybe Haraway wants us to question our mode of interaction and discover a new one, one that informs/is informed by our thinking and is, fundamentally, a mutual lived empathy for/with/by the people we come into contact with (nonhuman and human alike).


At the same time, I found it somewhat ironic (maybe even slightly contradictory?) that “becoming worldly,” examining the ordinary, and focusing on intimate everyday exchange is still entangled here in pretty dense academic language. I became somewhat lost with Haraway and some of her own intellectual musings. She emphasizes being grounded in our ordinary day-to-day interactions, but at times I had to very intentionally reflect on my own examples of such interactions (or lack thereof). I think this process—flipping between theory and the form (though both are connected)—is also reflective of my own struggle with transforming the “ecological thought” into ecological living. Maybe I’m jumping too quickly into the inviting waters of pragmatism, but I’m curious about how Haraway will weld together those philosophical musings into concrete experiences—and not just those of academics and scientists.

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