The Baltic Notebooks of Anthony Blunt
The Cat is on the Table. A potential neologism
Page 7 of 8
PB: That’s my point. The rabbit signifies the pastoral, while the cat is a creature serenading the moon. It may imply a hierarchy of domestication, but I think eating cats indicates the poverty of the city, as well as its necessary alienation from the production of food.
CF: I see, so you’re saying that when “the cat is on the table” the state of economic affairs is at its worst.
AK: In Poland we say that if there is a shortage of fish, a cancer can also pass as a fish.
PB: During the First and Second World Wars cats were nicknamed “roof rabbit”. I wonder if the person who first inserted “the cat is on the table” into these language programs your talking about wasn’t actually making a subtle joke in reference to nineteenth-century French cuisine. Apparently masquerading cat meat as “gibelotte de lapin” became almost a cliché during this period. The scandal of felicide for stew was a common subject in the news. A restaurant historian wrote about it well in Cabinet.
DM: When the cat is walking on the table, the cat is waiting to be killed. “The cat is on the table” could also refer to some notion or idea of stupidity.
PB: I agree a table’s not a safe heaven. It’s a dangerous place for a cat, except maybe for a cat at the poet’s house Gintaras mentioned. But cats know what they’re doing, although they pretend not to know.
CF: I do like Derrida’s lecture about the time his cat saw him naked. Its eyes became some sort of mirror, and he apparently felt embarrassed standing there, then even more embarrassed by his embarrassment.
PB: Meta-embarrassment.
NM: Projecting human thoughts onto a cat is about as enticing as eating one. And Derrida’s projecting sexual thoughts too, which is gross.
KLP: Now we have to deal with this putatively nonsense phrase by taking an obvious route, which is both Freudian and spoonerist. In swapping pussy for cat and extending “on the table” to “to lay one’s cards on the table” there’s a crude, but clear rendering of “laying one’s pussy on the table”.
PB: So “the cat is on the table” is a cougar’s cry? A cat in heat makes insane noises, but it’s speech. And a cougar is a type of cat, very wild, but only up to a certain age, then it’s “Grimalkin”. That’s what one of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth calls her cat. The “Gri” means “grey” and the “malkin” part means “cat”, but altogether it refers to a promiscuous or eccentric woman, an evil looking cat and an elderly woman. Also, the word “malkin” evolved over years from representing a floor-mop to grey pubic hair.
NM: Is that where the estranged, spinster cat lady comes from?
PB: Hundreds of years ago, many, many cat ladies were burnt at the stake.
CF: Right, cats have a long history with magic and witchcraft, which could be an inroad for us. I still remember Isobel Gowdie’s old formula for shape shifting into a cat:
 I shall goe intill ane catt,
 With sorrow, and sych, and a blak shott;
 And I sall goe in the Divellis nam,
 Ay will I com hom againe.
NM: You should probably switch back now; you’re allergic.
PB: Honestly Chris, after all this maybe a new idiom just isn’t ambitious enough. Do you know the term “snow-clone”? It’s a kind of infinitely moveable phrase, a cliché defined by its multi-use. Snowclones are statements like, “grey is the new black.” That’s a emplate that’s so familiar you can substitute just about anything for “grey” and people will get the reference. It’s a rhetorical trope, like “to X or not to X”, or “I’m not an X but I lay one on TV.”