The Baltic Notebooks of Anthony Blunt
The Cat is on the Table. A potential neologism
Page 5 of 8
CF: But if it were translated into English, would the cat be saying something like, “I am also a book, it’s time to read me” or “I will now go to sleep, watch me read through osmosis”? When “the cat is on the table” I can imagine one parent griping to another about their attention-starved child who won’t leave them alone.
GD: I’m not sure how much I should try to explain. Claude Lévi-Strauss already ended one of the best books ever written with a sentence about the exchange of winks between a human and a cat.
CF: That’s Tristes Tropiques, right? Maybe “the cat is on the table” could acknowledge those rare, fleeting, affective moments that can’t be expressed, when we allow ourselves to interrupt our own distractions.
GD: It’s an expression performed, instead of told.
KK: You see something similar ritualized at CFA-compliant cat shows, where you often hear the saying “the cat is on the table.” The showing of the cat has been compared to the moment in the Catholic Mass when the wafer of bread and the chalice of wine become, literally, the body and blood of Christ. I’m sure you know the moment at which the cat is moved from cage to grooming table then lifted to the show table to endure the scrutiny of a few hundred strangers.
CF: Actually, I’ve never been to a cat show.
KK: When you do, try not to move a muscle and, if you’re on your cell phone, just text in, “The cat is on the table” and the guy on the other line, if he has any heart at all, will type in, “Got it, bye” and you can silently palm it, or pocket it, while you watch the judges circle the table the requisite three times, perhaps posing some brief, apropos and above all well-modulated questions to the trainer.
CF: You’ve experienced this more than once?
KK: In my life there have been a few special times of hush, my original circumcision for one, the birth of my son for another, meeting John Cage on Folsom Street just by chance, and also, any time the cat is on the table.
CF: So the phrase may have originated through the Cat Fanciers’ Association, but is also used, more figuratively – and sort of like Gintaras’ hinting at Lévi-Strauss’ winking – to describe any moment of taciturn pause?
KK: Stemming from CFA circles, I think it’s more like exaggerated respect. Respect exaggerated beyond ordinary conventions of courtesy – perhaps something of camp to it?
CF: A more extreme example of the vernaculars would be “house signs.” Deaf children who are unable to communicate with their parents will invent their own gestural language. I wonder what “the cat is on the table” looks like in sign language?
NM: Ask Koko.
CF: The gorilla?
NM: Yeah, she loves Manxes. These cats have no tails, sort of like gorillas. Koko probably liked that.
CF: What is it with you and Koko?