Full of Kitten

I read an interesting book this week by a political theorist named Jane Bennett called The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics.  It’s basically an argument against the Weberian theory that modern life is characterized above all by “disenchantment.”  One of the categories of modern “enchantment” she considers concerns what she calls cross- or inter-species encounters:

Their magic lies in their mobility, that is, in their capacity to travel, fly, or transform themselves; in their morphing transits…. Metamorphosing creatures enact the very possibility of change; their presence carries with it the trace of dangerous but also exciting and exhilarating migrations.  To live among or as a crossing is to have motion called to mind, and this reminding is also a somatic event.  My hunch is this: hybrids enchant for the same reason that moving one’s body in space can carry one away — think of dancing or the rush after a hard push on the swing.

Living with cats allows a kind of cross-species enchantment.  Everything in the house that means one thing for us, the people, means something different for the cats: couch, rug, chair are caves and bridges; bottle cap, shoe, sweater are prey or toy.  Having cats in the house means continual unexpected transformation and movement.  I think maybe there’s something fundamentally anti-depressant in this quality, the way the inert domestic space is animated and enlivened by surprising movements, leaps and jumps, stretches.  (And sounds: light thumps, coos, tussles, mieows.)  Anywhere you look you might find a creature prowling or patrolling; motion is called to mind.  This can be true of any domestic pet allowed free run of the house, but compared to dogs, cats seem to me more unpredictably other in their species-being and habits, in their own world.

I put my foot out yesterday to push down a corner of the rug that had bunched up, and it turned out that Pot Luck was curled up inside it.

The other day Celie picked up both cats on the porch to bring them inside and asked me to open the door: “I’m full of kitten,” she said.

Christopher Smart:

For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion….

For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede.

7 thoughts on “Full of Kitten”

  1. Not to follow that up by being utterly unenchanting… but …

    So is Bennett arguing against Weber–rejecting the original disenchantment thesis–or she supplementing it with a theory of new modern forms of (re)enchantment?

  2. the latter… she’s arguing that the disenchantment thesis is too monolithic and that we fail to recognize various forms of “enchantment” in modern life, including in technology (like robots and games)… weirdly in the final pages she throws in baseball as another example.

  3. Ivan, you’ve quoted one of your grandpa Karl’s very favorite poems, Christopher Smart’s “My Cat Geoffrey”. I’m so glad yours is a house where one can be full of kitten.

  4. My Cat Geoffrey was maybe the first “grown-up” poem I was enamored of. I remember vividly as a girl petting my napping cat and feeling full of envy for her worry-free life. How surprised I was when my own children, when they were younger, articulated the same feeling while observing their cats.

  5. I love the Smart poem too–think it is enchanted–but especially the line,

    “For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer,”

    both wonderfully generous and wonderfully clunky (try to say the word “clamberer”).

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