Ernst Jünger: Dog and Cat
Jünger's brilliant essay on the nature of cats and dogs and their relationships to man, including a lot of digressions on various other topics. My own translation.
Like all questions of taste and especially questions of sympathy, the dispute about the priority of the dog or the cat will never be decided. Deep inclinations and aversions come to light here. There are people, and they are not rare, in whom the proximity of a cat or a dog arouses physical discomfort.
Richelieu was infatuated with cats, especially very young ones. Bismarck preferred enormous Great Danes. It is hardly conceivable that Hitler would have befriended cats; he kept German shepherds, the last of which he had poisoned before his death.
In such comparisons there are a number of points of view. If we approach from the angle of nobility, in the sense of preserving one's own freedom, independence and dignity, the cat undoubtedly deserves the prize. It does not take orders; it does not get involved in anything unless it thinks that endeavor pleasant. It only allows itself to be lured and stroked when it wants to. Actually, it is the cat that caresses us; this was well seen by Baudelaire, who also dedicated beautiful poems to it.
Erebus would have used them as his gloomy steeds:
If their pride could let them stoop to bondage.
With gentlemen who expect and demand service, we are therefore more likely to find dogs and horses, and often in large numbers. This was true not too long ago; today you have to travel far to still find a kennel, a stable or even an enclosure of hunting falcons, and even on the outskirts they are almost only kept as showpieces. Horse riding has become a sport like any other. Sitting on horseback is no longer a badge, it does not delimit a gallant way of life. More important than the horse in the dynamic age is the number of equine forces (horsepower) that can be set in motion; they are quantifiable.
When Pückler wrote his travel letters, the Orient and Occident were still filled with horses and dogs. The fox hunt forms an important theme in these letters; Pückler tells of one of its fanatical lovers, a true reincarnation of the wild hunter, who kept two monstrous packs - with one he hunted the fox while the other rested. These hounds, and even more so the deerhounds, devoured incredible quantities of meat; the mere feeding of a pack cost more than a thousand pounds annually, and this at a time when even potatoes were in short supply in Ireland. The dog, especially its large and strong breeds, belongs in castles and palaces as the friend of the powerful and rich, of hunters, cavaliers and policemen; he is also found in the hells and abysses. The Bible knows nothing good to report of it, except that it licks Lazarus’ festering wounds. But he is also the faithful guardian and defender of his master, and often the last to stand by him.
Although they received vicious criticism during his lifetime, Pückler's letters are a treasure trove. Elegance is always suspect in Germany. Reading them is like walking through a masquerade ball where you can barely see the characters in a cloud of confetti. There are not only comic and vain ones, but also grotesque and archaic ones. In accordance with a fashion of the time, each chapter is preceded by a quintessence or consomme, a textbook example for feuilletonists on the subject: "The Headline". In the chapter mentioned here, in addition to "The Fox Hunt" and "The Famous Spiritual Fox Hunter", we find, among others, "Billy, the Rat Exterminator", "The Colors of the Days", "Anecdote of Walter Scott", "Street Mystificateurs ", "Disadvantage of the Sandlanders", or "A Ride in the Steam Mail Car".
This steam mail car formed one of the attractions in The Regent’s Park; it covered five miles an hour. Pückler, of course, was among the first curious people to dare to take a ride (in 1828). He found "the greasy iron smell, which also makes steamboats so unpleasant," doubly repugnant here. The horses and the sailing ships could hold out for another hundred years, until their rapid demise, but here the cavalier's scent sensed the enemy already in its beginnings. The passage corresponds to that in Wilhelm Meister, in which the first whistle of the machine is described. What is coming announces itself.
On the same day, the tireless prince also tried the "kite cart", the invention of a British schoolteacher, which he liked better. The vehicle was moved by a large paper kite. Pückler: "The sensation is very pleasant, as one glides over the small irregularities of the ground as if lifted above them. As a form of amusement in the countryside, the thing is at any rate highly recommended."
The encounter of homo ludens with homo faber merges at the edges; technology can take on forms of play and vice versa. Freedom hardens; life flows into the puppets. The little machines in the bistros: you insert a coin, let the ball fly, bob with the pinball machines, hear it ring and ignite, see digits appear, lights glow, and walk away again. One has now flown to Jupiter, won a race, or sunk a hundred thousand tons. These are prayer wheels.
Back to the cats. Their proximity is good for people of a quiet, contemplative way of life. The old women love them very much. Rome is also a residence of cats, which dwell in great numbers half-wild in the Forum, at the Marcellus Theater and in other places. The ruins with their dilapidated vaults offer them shelter. Often I saw there a scantily dressed old woman who fed the animals something nice from a basket. They would then come out of the high grass or from behind the rubble and columns at the call, emitting little cries of recognition, purring and stroking themselves with bent backs against the giving hand.
Paul Léautaud provided a similar pleasure to the cats of the Luxembourg together with his friend, the "Panthère". He had a butcher in the Rue de Seine prepare small pies for them.
The cat keeps the man of artistic temperament better company than the dog. It does not disturb thoughts, dreams, and fantasies. It even fosters them with its sphinx-like charisma. Albrecht Erich Günther, a great lover of cats, considered them to be hostile to demons and attributed their invaluable contribution to the comfort of the home to this.
It is true that the cat is not attached to the person; it is not faithful like the dog. Slavish devotion is foreign to the cat. Both the dog's and the cat's names are used as swear words. However, this applies to almost all domestic animals and many others down to the worm and the snail and testifies ex negativo deep relationships. The free and powerful ones are chosen as totem animals - the lion, the bear, the buffalo, the eagle, the hawk, and also the snake. It is strange that the cat is not mentioned in the Bible, although the Jews must have known it well, at least because of their stay in Egypt, where it was among the animals that were divinely revered.
Thus, the cat is not so much attached to the person as to the house. However, man also plays a role. When I observe Manda, who has kept me company for almost four years and again this January 1969, I admire her sense of being in the right place at the right time. She likes to come to my study in the mornings because it is quietest there. In the hallway, it's restless; in the kitchen, dishes clatter or the dishwasher starts up, which she particularly dislikes. She could go on the floor, but she prefers the inhabited space. Most of the time she remains invisible on a chair under the tabletop. Cover from above is important to her. When the sun shines, she stretches on the window sill; she jumps on the mantelpiece or even on my lap, if she is more comfortable there. It also happens that she lies down on her back on the floor, which means that she wants to be stroked.
Why does the enjoyment of such a being touch us so deeply, why does it refreshes and exhilarate us in a way that has a stronger effect than its individual affection? Certainly: it is beautiful when the dog looks at us, as if he would like to guess something in our eyes, hoping for a sign to cross the immense gulf. But even if he understood our language, we could not answer his question. I had a dog only once, a shepherdess; and it was strange how strongly the animal knew that it belonged to me, although I missed much about it. It died of distemper at the foot of my cot in one of the World War I quarters. I sat before it and felt deep regret, as I have always done and had reason to do when one says goodbye forever. It was a silent hour as the shadows lengthened, peaceful, almost out of time. Luxi had golden brown eyes and showered me with tenderness until her last breath. What had I done to deserve this? There was something going on that I could only guess at and that she understood a lot better than I did.
The cat’s gaze is more distant and strange; their eyes are yellow like amber, blue like sapphire, green like turquoise. Manda's eyes are of a blue that is rarely found elsewhere in nature, not even in coral fish and birds of paradise. The iris reminds me of the blue of the morning glory on a warm, windless day.
Manda is a born mistress; she takes my affection and service for granted. Her power is great because it is based on beauty, of which she is sure. If she has an inkling of destiny, perhaps it is that I am a temple slave destined to her service. Luxi, on the other hand, perhaps took me for her god.
It also happens that Manda licks my hand, but then out of a kind of curiosity, certainly not out of pure tenderness. If she is not served according to her wishes, she emits horrible sounds, for example, when the food does not come in time. She demands raw, roughly cut lungs, reluctantly spleen, occasionally a piece of fish.
Today, January 20, 1969, it's about noon, she has been lying next to me under the table on her spot since morning, exhausted from nightly debauchery. These are the nights when the March kittens are made. From the afternoon on, she is bothering us with her roaring and her mating calls, throwing herself on her back and scratching the armchairs until I can't stand it anymore and let her out. A gray tomcat is already waiting in the shade of the wooden hutch. She escapes from my hands, shoots through the snow towards him, cooing deeply. Both disappear in the darkness; one hears from the gardens their demonic machinations. The screams of the Siamese are more frightening than those of the village cats. A farmer from the outskirts of the village, who could not sleep because of her, said: "If I didn't know it was yours, I would have put her down." He had already lost a set of chicks in the summer because of her.
There is an aura around every animal; it stands as well in the center of the world as we do. When I watch the chickens in the semi-darkness of the threshing floor, but also in the full sun in their vigilant, powerful intrusion into the forbidden garden, this impression becomes strong. Two years ago, walking with a little bull, I came upon an abandoned village in the interior of Angola. It was about the noon hour; the negroes were planting or hunting. Few huts and storehouses bordered the village square; the golden yellow sand glowed in the vertical rays. There the chickens scratched in great silence; it was a village of animals, not of men anymore.
The power of the animal is tremendous; the cosmos stands closely behind it. I could name painters and poets who still have access to that which has been closed to the theologians for a long time. What one learns there of the lamb and the dove and also of the snake are allegories without juice and strength. This reminds of the sexless angels of paradises where boredom reigns.
With the Jews began the demythification, not only of the gods, but of all nature, the mineralization of the serpent, the contempt of the heights where trees and animals were worshipped. The Christians have followed them in this.
The cat lacks the immediate strong sympathy with the person that is given to the dog. He is the companion of the active, vigilant man, especially of the hunter and the shepherd - already at the earliest campfires he must have joined him. This is real symbiosis, a close coexistence and also something more.
The dog took part in the journeys of man. We find him with the natives of the tropics as with the Eskimos. Already his wild forms hunt sociably and over long distances.
The cat, on the other hand, is an animal not of the campfire but of the hearth. With the cat, not the way of life of man, but his residence created the community; they do not live together, they dwell together; less symbiosis than synozie. Probably now and then a young one was caught and became accustomed. Thus, on the Krosigks' farm in the Libolo, I saw a genet brought by a hunter, an animal as elegant as it was timid, which took refuge on a cupboard or under the desk at the slightest approach. Only the daughter of the house, a girl of twelve years, was allowed to touch it. From her it also accepted food. There are always people who through their inner warmth overcome degrees of separation and are thus called to taming. The spark jumps over with the contact.
I often saw the genet jumping over the road: as a shadow in whose greenish lights the headlights were reflected. It can creep across the ground like a lizard; Brehm says of it that it seems to move a hundred joints. In these genets and civets many a domestic animal may still be concealed; the dainty tiger civet is praised as a particularly pleasant companion.
The dog hunts by day, the cat by night. It is not only an animal of the hearth, but also of the night. The eyes, the ears, the tactile hairs, the inaudible, supple nature, the day sleep testify to it. It does not hunt in packs and needs no guidance; it feels comfortable in solitude.
It is therefore in the nature of things that the cat seeks the company of the lonely. It belongs to the other side of man - there, where he comfortably enjoys leisure, where he pursues ideas, writes poetry and dreams. There she sleeps the day away, not without dreaming herself, as I notice in Manda, who sometimes stirs her jaws in her sleep as if she were listening to a mouse, or stirs her tail as if a dog were approaching. Sometimes she lets out a sigh of deepest comfort.
It is not in movement but in rest that her power gathers; and the comfort, the sympathy evoked by this, is deeper and more general than mere affection can grant.
Here, too, contact happens, but it brings more than warmth; the assembled power begins to weave through the space and communicate, its background emerges. Timeless, desireless things dawn.
The more we get involved with time and rush along with it, the further it distances us from the eternal. This is also true of the animals; never has one known more and less about them. Never did we know more about their anatomy and their behavior. Never did we know less about their holy being, their untouched shine of creation, which fairy tales and myths recognized as miracles and cults saw as divine.
Partial blindness, coupled with high acumen, characterizes homo faber, no matter whether he directs his eyes to the stars, the human being or the atom. His power is based on it - his suffering, of course, also, perhaps his downfall.
The North, the active world, the melancholy, the dog, the beer go together, as well as the South, the dream, the wine, the cat, the Dionysian serenity. We can form such chains and extend them at will like molecules of organic chemistry. These are subtle, yet also untenable affinities. We notice it immediately, if we turn to the individual case. There are only variants, only exceptions.
For example: that Bismarck and Hitler must have loved strong dogs is obvious - as well as that Bismarck and Pückler had a sense for dogs and horses. Bismarck and Hitler led campaigns against France. Richelieu was in love with cats; Clemenceau liked to hear himself called "the tiger." Both waged wars against the Reich.
That Hitler did not like horses was not only in his nature, but was also epochal, for our time is unfavorable to the horse. It is in general, and this is becoming more and more threateningly visible, hostile to the animal and the plant, but the role of the horse is, moreover, that of a symbol of status. Only in the sport it is still tolerated, that is, where labor penetrates into play. It survives in a similar way to the sailing ship.
Hitler decimated the aristocracy and would have exterminated it if he had had enough time. Gladly he would have waged the war with technicians and functionaries instead of officers. That he introduced political commissars into the army was one approach to this.
A young soldier returning from Narvik told me that a gun breech was missing up there. Hitler, upon hearing of this, immediately named the warehouse in which it could be found. Such things make an impression on technicians.
Similar to his aversion to horses, Hitler also had an aversion to beer. Even the smell of people who had drunk beer was unpleasant to him. This, in turn, was closely related to his vegetarian habits, which usually presuppose a special sensitivity. This characteristic was useful to him in that it warned him of danger and allowed him to escape attacks. There are reports of changes in itineraries and fixed plans that indicate very fine tactile traits. Hysterical traits are not absent, however. The image of the mother is amazing; a prime example of the lunar, somnambulist type. Then, in addition, the father: a constable.
"When this colonel looks at me with his one eye, I always feel uneasy" - this he said early on about Stauffenberg. When he presents himself alone, for example when walking down a front, he tries to cover the pudendal artery, either with his cap or with his hand. A striking trait, evidenced by many pictures. A defect, also castration anxiety could be implied in it. It seems that the corpse was still carefully examined, although one had not spared with gasoline. The desire to be untraceable after death he had in common with Sade; and although the motives of both differ greatly, there is a point of contact.
To the sensitive side belongs the sniffing, the disgusted expression that lifts the upper lip and which he has in common with many great persecutors - with Stalin, Beria, Himmler and others.
Chaplin did not need much of a mask to portray the dictator: both are peers, almost to the day. Here the connection is in the timidity. It is one step from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it is also only a step from the ridiculous to the terrible. Chaplin is, by the way, more potent; he penetrates deeper. Even laughter can shake foundations and tear down walls. Hitler fought with dynamite; Chaplin even used it for heating.
That is a topic for itself. Here it is important to mention that the assignment to types like "dog and cat" describes only rough differences. With Bismarck one would have to add the bear, with Clemenceau the cock. And so finer and finer differentiations are necessary before one arrives at the individual. This was easier when one was still sure of the totem and differentiated according to it. A strong consciousness led back not to characters but to types; it presupposes encounters in which not only the similarity but the identity with the animal was experienced.
This unity has been lost for a long time; one of the last signs of it is the removal of plants and animals from shields and flags, like that of the lily and the eagle from the coats of arms and field signs. That it is a loss can to be seen by the strength of the desire it left behind. It urges to search, to find oneself again, even if it is by a detour through Mexico.