|Prelude to a disquisition on The Draby Portion
"But I must freely confess, that the many Virtues of those excellent Quadrupeds
placed in oppposite View to human Corruptions, had so far opened my Eyes, and enlarged my Understanding, that I began to view the Actions and Passions of Man in a very different Light; and to think the Honour of my own kind not worth managing; which, besides, it was impossible for me to do before a Person of so acute a Judgment as my Master, who daily convinced me of a thousand Faults in my self, whereof I had not the least Perception before, and which with us would never be numbered even among human Infirmities."
, Jonathan Swift
|A Metaphysical Paradox
Though complex in his sundry rituals and neuroses, Sam is a relatively simple creature in his beliefs. Like most of his domestic status (and here I am speaking of valetudinarians, infants, and dowager queens), he relies upon the basic call-and-response mechanism for his everyday needs and wants: When he desires to leave a closed room, he mewls; if these primary signals are ignored, he positions himself beneath the nearest dresser or desk with tacitly spiteful intent; if this gesture is also ignored by his would-be captor, our small agitator will inevitably spring with an incensed mewl to the very top of the already threatened dresser or desk and precede to systematically paw and push any objects (jewelry, thumbtacks, pens, medicine bottles, deodorant sticks, small change, ancient artifacts, antique vases, etc.) atop the now hostage piece of furniture to their crashing demise. He remains assured that, inevitably, at some stage in his Skinnerian proceedings, the door will open and he will pass through it on his merry way. Similarly, when he has determined that the water in his water bowl has reached an unsuitable temperature, he has little doubt that his thrusting himself beneath the faucet of the bathroom sink will result in the replacement of the unacceptably tepid water with a bowlful of fresh.
Thus for a creature who anticipates the satisfaction of his earthly wants with the kind of unblinking certainty with which pre-Copernican peoples accepted their planetary centrality, the modernist prospect of a non-unified self causes considerable consternation. Certain amongst us had long noticed that, upon confronting our otherwise complacent house mammal with the tufts of his own fur that drift off as one strokes his broad backside, he will rise up with nearly unprecedented avidity, sniffing and prodding the proffered artifact with increasing alarm until, in a spiral of epistemological vertigo and ontological despair, he will literally attempt to ingest the fugitive scrap of self as if to reinstate the order of his once unified, now perilously fragmented self. (This attempt is rarely permitted, however, due to a tendency on his part to cultivate hairballs.)
Sam’s horror of and refusal to accept the possibility of the fragmented self, then, seemed the most likely motivation for the defacement of my bed sheets that I discovered one afternoon, returning home after a night’s absence. I found the door to my bedroom closed—an anomaly in itself—and upon its opening was greeted by the deranged cries of my feline friend and a distinctly unpleasant odor. I soon surmised that the door, normally propped open in my absence in order to grant ease of ingress and egress to all inhabitants lacking opposable thumbs, had been slammed shut by an untimely gust of wind, effectively sealing Sam within the narrow confines of the bedroom—a room that lacks such amenities as a litter box. Ostensibly, at some time during his unplanned confinement, Nature had called, and our quadruped hero, lacking the usual facilities with which to answer it, had instead relieved himself on my bed. However, I came to suspect a rather different and indeed more metaphysical motivation behind my stained and reeking bed sheets. In the aftermath, while stripping the bed of these offending linens, I was struck by the thickness of accumulated cat hair; the bed being a favorite lounging spot of Sam’s, its sheets had acquired something of the consistency of a hair shirt. It struck me that, trapped for hours in a small room, Sam grew to actively loathe and fear the paradox of fragmented self that the cat hair fleeced sheets presented (“if this is me, and that’s me, and this is me, but that’s me, too…). Like a firefighter rushing to extinguish the flames of a burning building, Sam, after several hours of identity-threatening bewilderment, had sprayed the offending party with his own urine. As he had inevitably intended, the act resulted, upon my return, in the hasty removal of those wretched and taunting sheets. Sam, freed of his prison and metaphysical angst, removed himself to the kitchen, where he proceeded to further solidify his self with a bowl of kibble.