A bit of old man excogitation and cat consideration

Natasha 2The cat was up early this morning. She jumped up on the bed at a few minutes past 4 AM, apparently cold or lonely rather than hungry. When I got up a few minutes later, she stayed there. She soon came out and wandered around but did not beg for food. Now she’s off in some corner asleep again, having accomplished her purpose of getting me up.

She may feel satisfaction at arousing me, but she has no right. I had looked at the clock at 4:02 and was of two minds about getting up. A moment comes when I know it’s useless to try to go back to sleep. I have to make a choice. Get up, take an Ambien, and sleep until 6, or get up at 4:03. Almost always the latter wins out.

My guess is the cat almost never wakes me up. Rather, if she is prowling at 4 AM, unable to sleep herself—a bizarre realization for a cat, I should think—and hears my breathing change from sleeping to waking, she comes instantly to let me know it’s time. She doesn’t want to be the only one awake, so she’s determined to see that I don’t go back to sleep.

However, once I’m up, the coffee is brewing, and I’ve booted up the computer, she has accomplished her mission and goes back to sleep, comfortably nestled in some warm corner, waiting until her inner clock wakes her at 5:30 to tell me it’s breakfast time.

Convention and personal habit demand that I quote Christopher Smart. No cat lover in the known universe would forgive me if I didn’t.

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his Way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer. . . .
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
  — (Christopher Smart, Jubilate Agno (“Rejoice in the Lamb”) 1759—1763.

Smart was in the House of Bedlam, institution for the insane, at the time he wrote Rejoice in the Lamb. When I wrote about Christopher

The House of Bedlam

The House of Bedlam

Smart not too long ago, I realized if I had never read the entire poem Jubilate Agno, I had forgotten how Jeoffry fits into it. So I looked it up. (I say that because I don’t want to leave the impression that I knew the following from being a scholar of English poetry, which I am not.)

The cat section of the enormously long poem is the most easily comprehended. The total is hundreds of lines of word play and allusions to Biblical and mythical and historical events and entities that none of us knows enough to understand.

The section of the poem immediately preceding the “my cat Jeoffry section is the “Bull” section, a long list of lines about the “Bull” which are obscure and baffling.  Clement Hawes explains that Smart’s word play is

Possibly punning on Greek boule, meaning “will,” because God’s will is the first manifestation of creation. . . and almost certainly alluding as well to the bull as one of the four cherubim of Ezekiel’s vision, Smart assigns to the word “bull” a great importance:

For Bull in the first place is of the word of Almighty God.
For he is a creature of infinite magnitude in the height.
For there are many words under Bull.
For
Bul is under it (1).

(Bul is the eighth month of the Old Hebrew calendar, from Hebrew būl, of Canaanite origin.)

Since I looked it up the first time, I’ve been thinking of buying Hawes’s book, but it’s $49 from B&N, and there’s no ebook. The sections I’m quoting are from the excerpts found on Google books.

I’ve been excogitating (1) Smart’s poem off and on since I wrote of it before and reading what I have of Hawes’s book. Here’s the paragraph I copied then and have excogitated since:

The complexity of Smart’s rhetoric at this point depends on the extraordinary extent to which he identifies himself with the words of his own text. What he calls his “existimation,” borrowing from Latin existimatio and combining “existence” and “estimation,” means a self, an “I,” considered entirely as an object of discourse: something viewed, judged, estimated, esteemed. . . . Smart thus becomes, at the moment of his writing, what he imagines he will have been to his readers in the future. . . (2).

Who is a Michel Foucault?

Who is a Michel Foucault?

That, I will be arrogant enough to say, I understand. We know Smart because of his writing. Michel Foucault, in 1969, wrote his famous essay, What is an author? He says, the “author” (I’m not an “author, but I try to be a “writer”—there is a vast difference) has disappeared from her writing, that

Our culture has metamorphosed this idea of narrative, or writing, as something designed to ward off death. . . . it is now a voluntary effacement . . . The work, which once had the duty of providing immortality, now possesses . . . to be its author’s murderer . . .[the writer] cancels out the signs of his particular individuality. . . . (4).

We tell writing students to keep the first person out of their writing. But I write about the cat and me in the morning. I tell you what I’m thinking about, and I upload myself all over the internet. So, by the post-modern or whoever Foucault represents, I am not an author. OK. I’m just a writer. Really, not even that. I keep a journal and put it here in my blog (and on Facebook), and I live in cyberspace.

Not really. I am, at least to myself, an existimation—like but not as interesting as Smart.
__________
(1) ex·cog·i·tate verb. “To study intently and carefully in order to grasp or comprehend fully.” 1520–30; <Latin excōgitātus  past participle of excōgitāre.  to devise, invent, think out.” Dictionary.com.
(2) Hawes, Clement. Mania and Literary Style: The Rhetoric of Enthusiasm from the Ranters to Christopher Smart. Cambridge University Press (1996), 172.
(3) Hawes, 174.
(4) Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” 1969.

One Response to A bit of old man excogitation and cat consideration

  1. Pingback: What is an author (anyway)? | Me, senescent

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