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Derrida's Cat (Who Am I?)

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image of Research in Phenomenology

What is it to be seen (naked) by one's cat? In “L'animal que donc je suis” (2006), the first of several lectures that he presented at a conference on the “autobiographical animal,” Jacques Derrida tells of his discomfort when, emerging from his shower one day, he found himself being looked at by his cat. Th experience leads him, by way of reflections on the question of the animal, to what is arguably the question of his philosophy: Who am I? It is not so much that Derrida wants to answer this question as to be free of it. His task here is to determine the sense of it— where it leads, for example, when it comes to the nature of the diff erence between himself and his cat. Unlike animal rights activists (and unlike philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Cora Diamond, who have recently addressed this issue), Derrida does not want to erase this difference but wants to multiply it in order (among other things) to affirm the absolute alterity or singularity of his cat, which cannot be subsumed by any category (such as the animal). His cat is an Other in a way that no human being (supposing there to be such a thing, which Derrida is not prepared to grant) could ever be. And here is where “the question who?” leads as well, namely, to a path of escape from absorption into any identity-machine. As Derrida puts it in A Taste for the Secret: Who am I when I am not one of you? In a hospitable world one would be free not to answer.

Affiliations: 1: University of Notre Dame


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