The Baltic Notebooks of Anthony Blunt
The Cat is on the Table. A potential neologism
Page 4 of 8
DC: One New Zealander I know complained that language courses don’t work for “people like us.”
NM: What are we like?
DC: We’re interested in language structurally and want to talk about whatever the hell Derrida was talking about and not “the cat sat on the hat.” It’s a funnier story with her accent…
CF: Sometimes we’re too interested in meta-self-reflexivity as well. How does that swampiness sit with you, W.P., being a linguist and all?
WPM: Unlike other sciences, well, at least more so than other sciences, the object of study in linguistics is the thing that makes the study possible. You write articles in standard grammat-ical English about the grammatical standards of English. I personally don’t like to make too much of this particular variety of tail-swallowing because I find it quickly leads down a goopey, mystical, how-can-we-really-say-anything philosophical rat hole which – aside from being so totally sophomore year – is specifically uninteresting to linguists, since it hinges on a paradox that is the starting point of our work, and not some mind-blowing conclusion. Nevertheless, linguists are aware of the distinction between the language that they study and the meta-language they employ to study it.
CF: Sophomore year has a big pull in the art field, for better or worse. I guess “the cat is on the table” is more like kindergarten and the New Zealander reminds me of the mat under the table illustration. The cat is under the table, the cat is on the mat, the mat is under the table, and the mat is under the cat. Sometimes I think language instructors are just secretly fucking with us. If we can decide on what it means, do you think we can get “the cat is on the table” inserted into one of those pocket translation phrasebooks for tourists?
PB: Of course.
DD: Let’s face it, yes, it’s true that sometimes cats can be on tables, but it’s more common for books to be on tables. When I learned English, it was “the book is on the table”, but a cat and a book can sometimes both be on the table. Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where Kramer invents a coffee table book about coffee table books that has also four foldable legs, so it could turn into a coffee table, too?
RM: A cat can be a table, yes.

PB: The feet, the four-legged-ness, of cats and tables might be important. A cat might be a table from time to time, but a cat on a table is always a cat on a pedestal, elevated, put on display. They have the same aspirations to verticality that we do.
GD: There’s a scene from the diaries of the Lithuanian poet Alfonsas Nyka-Nyliūnas, whose work I enjoy reading a lot; whenever he’d try to read a book, his cat would come next to him on the table and casually sit on the open book and make herself comfortable. The cat would go to sleep very soon after. I’m convinced that the intimacy we experience while reading a book is attractive to a mute intellect. A cat on a table is an idiom said in a cat’s language.