Fall 2011

Legend / Cat on Edge

The culture of perpetual threshold

Wayne Koestenbaum

“Legend” is a column by Wayne Koestenbaum in which he suggests one or more possible captions for an image provided by the editors of Cabinet.

As a cat, I question the concept of “vanishing point.” Western perspective gets me down. I prefer the simultaneous: I want all planes—all theaters of action and idea—to occur in gelid synchrony, like five chocolate layer cakes smashed together, or like civilization squeezed by Will and Ariel Durant into a sardine terrine. In my capacity as cat, I seek a culture of perpetual threshold—Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment, a Grand Canyon rim I’m always tonguing. Camus called it la chute, as in parachute. Dearie, I don’t need a parachute. I haven’t mastered foreshortening, so I, with a fur-ball intensity surpassed only by Henri Michaux in the annals of mescaline-girded feline bravado, can plunge directly into the lacustrine instant, the cartoon-bright “now,” superheroic as Roy Lichtenstein’s Richie Rich fresco, destroyed, alas, when the Mothers of Invention, between sets, puked and pissed on the delicate egg wash of its possibly forged surface.

As a cat, I specialize in “edging,” an orgasmic ceremony best performed in same-sex clusters of six or seven—a perversion that allows the sensation-seeking pilgrim to experiment with repeatedly approaching a spasm that need never arrive. A seasoned edger, I hover on the orgasmic precipice for hours but never surrender to the vulgarity of the petit mort itself; in the words of Peggy Guggenheim, “orgasm is for the birds,” and she knew from birds, her palazzo besieged by a blitzkrieg of avian droppings. Like Peggy, and like most cats, I tinker with thresholds but never cross them. I lack depth perception; I am free from that retinal affliction beloved by Brunelleschi. Unable to see depth and volume, I dwell in a kingdom of flat surfaces, slick as the studio dance-floor on which Debbie Reynolds slays her partner in the director’s cut of Singin’ in the Rain, the footage Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer doesn’t want us to know exists. Back Bay Brahmin anxieties shattered poor Debbie’s Fabian hopes for utopian jetées, soarings that I now practice as matutinal rituals, ascensions automatic and anodyne as a paw-licking version of Étant donnés, that confessional-booth-qua-glory-hole into which I pour my optimism, my feudalism, my kleptomania, and my refusal to kowtow to ordinary pharmaceutical dogmas of satiety. I am never satiated. My endlessness, as a cat, allies me with Duccio, whose portable altarpiece (the disputed Salem Madonna) hovers before me—like a visionary compromise between a Death Valley mirage and a breakfast treat—while I dictate this tiny account of how I came to occupy the asymptotic, gingham-sorrowing edge.

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