Thursday, January 26, 2006
Great Feline Authors: the indigestible furball of the poem
Cats get their say in Poetry for Cats
Villard Books, 1994
In the annals of feline literature, few members of my species have actually gotten credit for their own work. Henry Beard, who put together this anthology, recognizes that felines' literary accomplishments stretch back for centuries; the poems are not just for cats, but by cats.
Beginning with "Grendel's Dog," an excerpt from the Old English Beocat, and ending with "Meowl!," a cry for freedom from a cat of the Beat generation, Poetry for Cats illustrates the development of literary style from a feline point of view.
In perusing these nimble verses, I couldn't help but notice how these accomplished cats influenced the content of their catted ones' famous works. From Shakespeare's cat:
To go outside, and there perchance to stay,And from Allen Ginsberg's cat:
Or to remain within: that is the question...
with the indigestible furball of the poem in the heart coughed up out of their own bodies onto the absolute center of the immaculate carpet of life.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Annals of catymology: The thing under the bed
Amanuensis sent this ground-level picture of something really fishy under her bed, where she is vacationing in California. I do not know what to make of it, but my friend who is feeding me this week, says it might be some phone books with a bowl on top.
Sleep well, amanuensis, but please don't move around too much on this fishy platform!
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Legendary Felines: Missipeshu, Mishi Peshu or Mishipashoo
Underwater cat? I'm trying to imagine myself underwater, like the great panther of Ojibwe lore: Missipeshu, Mishi Peshu or Mishipashoo.
Missipeshu lives in Lake Superior and embodies the power of that great lake. Storms come up quickly on Lake Superior, and an inattentive human can easily be caught in Missipeshu’s powerful claws. Ojibwe people offered tobacco and prayer to Missipeshu before they ventured out onto the waters in their canoes.
Cats, as we know, are famous for their ability to inspire artistic endeavors. Missipeshu has inspired artists for centuries. A spectacular image of Missipeshu can be seen on a rock in Agawa Bay, Lake Superior National Park, in northern Ontario, north of Sault Ste. Marie. Norval Morriseau, an accomplished Canadian Ojibwe artist, depicted Missipeshu in his magical transformation paintings.
Missipeshu is more than a simple cat. His back is spiked like a dinosaur's. His face is like a lynx or panther, while his body resembles a sea serpent. Despite his terrifying appearance, Missipeshu is not evil. The idea that he is an evil spirit seems to have come from Christian missionaries, who likened this horned “monster” to Satan.
Thanks to amanuensis' friend Judith Niemi for pointing out the stories and pictures of Missipeshu. May the great cat protect all of us in our journeys.
Tags: cats folklore
Labels: legendary felines
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
A dearth of hyperpurr, but not hyperpure
You might imagine that hyperpurr owes its origin to hypertext, without which you would not be reading Catymology. In reality, the word comes from the common SF word hyperspace. A hyperpurr is more than a really big purr. To hyperpurr is to purr at the speed of light.
It’s a good day for catymology when I’ve dreamed up a new word, and I hereby lay claim to hyperpurr, even if the coinage is not hyperpure.
tags: etymology cats
Monday, January 16, 2006
Games for Catymology: The Interactive Schrodinger's Cat
The Interactive Schrodinger's Cat: "The 'rather silly' part of 'A Rather Silly Experiment In Quantum Physics'? You're soaking in it. Now here's the 'interactive' bit. By pressing the button you 'simulate' all that probability half life decay-jibberish by enacting a simple script. This will accordingly choose LIFE or DEATH for our wee quantum furball.
Go ahead -- hit the button below to discover the potential fate of Schrodinger's kitty...
Intrigued, I pounced upon the mouse and was relieved to find out that Schrodinger's cat lives! Nine lives are their own reward.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Annals of Catymology: Purrs in fact and in litterary theory
I was just appropriating this cool new basket when amanuensis began muttering something in a foreign language:
Die Katzensprache! Das Miauen! Nichts Miauen! Wo ist das Schnurren?
(Cat language! Meowing! No meowing! Where is the purr?)
She'd been hunting round the World Wide Web again. (And didn't I wish that I could play with that vast ball of twine?) She calls it "research."
I mentioned before that amanuensis studied for a Ph.D. in literature. Of course, she had to study literary theory. "I left that field," amanuensis confided. "It was claustrophobic. There wasn't enough room to swing Schrodinger's cat."
Now, she'd found out that a clever grad student, Elizabeth Brunner, wrote an essay in which the author adopts three feral cats--surely a cataclysmic decision. Trying to get advice on how to live with the beasts, Elizabeth accidentally connects with an enigmatic figure who reminds her of the literary theorist Paul De Man. This guy was a deconstructionist. That means he liked to contradict himself, when he wasn't swinging from chandeliers.
Laughing wildly, amanuensis quoted:
The deconstructionist spoke: "Those cats are simultaneously somewhere and everywhere and nowhere."And that's exactly how I see myself, of course: conspicuous, complex, and enigmatic. But the perversity of the deconstructionist made my fur stand on end:
Pointing at the latest disaster, I asked, "Any suggestions on handling these feral cats?"
"If feral implies outdoors, but the cats are indoors now, then un-feral. And wild, certainly wild, yet not of the wilderness, so un-wild. The polarities of inside and outside have been reversed but they are still the same polarities..." I started to ask for clarification, but the mad rampage of three fur-balls flashed past us, knocking over a stereo speaker and a pile of books. He continued, "Conspicuous, complex, and enigmatic."
"The sign of the purr signifies that the purr-er in the intertext of purring really doesn't want to purr at all but intends to counter-purr. Don't be deluded that a low vibratory noise from the heart of a cat means pleasure -- this kitty utterance shows hostility as the unspoken intent. The cat purrs as a seductive trick to escape from captivity. Or, at best, the purr is something which means nothing, absolutely no-thing."As a practitioner of catymology, I am always interested in hearing about Die Katzensprache. In fact, some scientists have actually studied why cats purr. An article in an old issue of the Cornell vet school Chronicle reports on real research on the matter of how we felines train our catted ones to do our bidding:
"No matter what we like to believe, cats are probably not using language," said Nicholas Nicastro, a self-described cat person who has documented hundreds of different feline vocalizations in the common house cat (Felis catus) and its ancestor, the African wild cat (Felis silvestris lybica). His study, which he described at the June 5  143rd meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, in Pittsburgh, "shows that some very effective cat-to-human communication is going on," he said. "Though they lack language, cats have become very skilled at managing humans to get what they want -- basically food, shelter and a little human affection."
Not using language? What does Nicholas know? Sure, he's a scientist, but has he asked his cats? I climbed up on amanuensis' lap. She was at the computer again. I figured she was writing about me. I purred.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Annals of Catymology: a really rancid random text generator
I'm always fascinated by rancidness. In his post today on Stupid machine-generated spiritual blather Geoffrey Pullum of Language Log noses into a mother-load of rancidness:
The site established by the Devi Press (find them if you want at
http://www.devipress.com/, but I am damned if I am going to
give them a link) for the purpose of advertising its books on Christian,
gnostic, and mystical topics has a set of pages containing 1,185 articles
on religious topics, each with an accompanying link to a page advertising
a book called The Mystic Christ. The article titles, indexed in
ASCII order, run from "1 John God Is Love" and "A Love Sent From God
Above" down to "Youth Group Devotions" and "Zohar Kabbalah". And a
typical piece of prose from one of them looks like this:
Abounding opposites present a few pages but he was carried out of members
who went to our conversation ends where it really fulminating on
ecumenically united states . . .
If I weren't such a shy, unassuming bachelor cat, I might have thought of that self-referential technique myself.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Annals of catymology: Do cats snore? Are cats still better than dogs?
A surprising number of people seem to be interested in whether or not cats snore--almost as many as are interested in confirming their suspicions that cats are better than dogs. At least, that's if you believe the stats on the number of people who look at Catymology after searching various search engines on one of these subjects or another. While I haven't been overrun with traffic from such truth seekers, I have benefitted from their curiosity.
I've already commented on both these issues, but for the record, the answers are as follows:
Yes, cats snore. Dogs snore too. But cats are still better than dogs.
Friday, January 06, 2006
Catnapping with El Gato
I was minding my own business, snoozing away the afternoon, when this shiny, smooth cat from south of the border sneaked up beside me. Naturally, I pretended that I was sound asleep.
Then it turned out that the interloper was a magical feline. Such beasts figure in a charming children’s book by Matthew Gollub,
The Twenty-five Mixtec Cats. Illustrated by Leovigildo Martínez
Set in an indigenous Mixtec village in the artist's own Oaxaca, the story involves an evil healer, a good healer and his extraordinary feline pets. Though some people fear the cats will eat everything in sight--and maybe even set fire to fields--the animals soon prove their worth and win their way into the villagers' hearts.
I think I’m going to be nice to El Gato in the future. Who knows when I will need his help? And amanuensis reminds me that the Governor of Minnesota thinks immigrants are a drain on our economy. I am as conservative as any cat, but I know that just isn’t right. There are mice enough for all, and each cat deserves to earn a living.
tags: cats folklore immigrants
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Great Feline Authors: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
Gold Standard for Poets of Catymology
Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
Faber and Faber, 1940
The original pictures by Nicolas Bentley in this book charmed me much more than Edward Gorey's 1982 illustrations. Dancing on the cover, the dapper Jellicle Cats suggest Mr. Bentley had more of a smattering of catymological education.
As for the poet Eliot himself, who could resist the wry wisdom of "The Naming of Cats?" Of course, a self-respecting cat must have three different names, as the poet says. There's the everyday name--in my case, Aloysius Katz. Then, there's the "more dignified" name: mine is Aloysius Pangur Ban. Even though Eliot says this name "never belongs to more than one cat," I find it quite comfortining to know that I represent only the latest incarnation of a long line. (For the English translation of the popular Gaelic poem "Pangur Ban," and links to some of the many versions in other languages, see my post of October 6, 2005.)
And then we come to the secret name, the name that only the cat himself knows:
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,Eliot's word play reminds me of the way I play with mice, teasing them until they manage to escape into a crack in the floor.
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
I could go on and on about the joys of this immortal collection of poems, but it's almost time for my midday nap. Let me just say that Eliot, like many practitioners of catymology, has a fetish for invisible cats. Witness the rakish Macavity, who--whenever a feline crime takes place--is never to be found.
Tags: cats book reviews
Great Feline Authors: Funny Cats
The Cat is in the Director's Chair
Edited by J.C. Suares
Test by Jane Martin
Welcome Enterprises, 1995
One of the perks of being a feline author is that my more ailurophiliac friends have started giving me books by and about felines. (Thanks, Rick!) It's obvious what's going on in this 1945 photo by an unknown artist: the cat is in the director's chair, so to speak.
This book is an inspriation to cat bloggers everywere. The black-and-white photos are top quality, many by well-known photographers. Jane Martin's witty text is filled with tasty morsels about the cat models and their catted ones. Be sure to seek out other books by J.C. Suares, too, such as The Illustrated Cat and The Literary Cat.
Tags: cats book reviews
Great Feline Authors: The Cat User's Manual
In this handy technical document, I found just what I was looking for: an online guide for the newly catted. Here's an excerpt from the specs for Cat 7.0,manufactured by MOMCAT:
- User Friendly
- Mouse Driven
- Self Cleaning
- Energy Saving Standby Mode When Not In Use
- Self Portable Operation
- Dual Video
- Bi-directional Audio Input/Output
- Primary and secondary output ports: high-speed serial port for streaming data and standard parallel port for data blocks.
- Auto search Routines for Input Data
- Autocracy for Output Bin
- Instant Transition (<2>