When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?
In an earlier Friday Companion Species post, I wondered what would happen to Donna Haraway’s ideas about relating to the other if they were modelled on cats rather than dogs. I wrote that the constant mutual attention that Haraway proposes from her experience of training dogs, perhaps is simply not in a catâ€™s nature.
This week, I came across an announcement for a posthumous book by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, published one and a half years after his death, this spring. It is entitled L’Animal que donc je suis. Derrida in the book similarly sees the animal as Other, and Derrida was more of a man for cats than for dogs. The French newspaper LibÃ©ration writes:
Derrida Ã©voque son Â«petit chatÂ» un vrai chat, pas une allÃ©gorie : Â«Souvent je me demande, moi, pour voir, qui je suis moment oÃ¹, surpris nu, en silence, par le regard d’un animal, par exemple les yeux d’un chat, j’ai du mal, oui, du mal Ã surmonter une gÃªne. Pourquoi ce mal ? […] Devant le chat qui me regarde nu, aurais-je honte comme une bÃªte qui n’a plus le sens de sa nuditÃ© ? Ou au contraire honte comme un homme qui garde le sens de sa nuditÃ© ?Â» On ne peut le demander qu’Ã l’autre. Mais qui est ici l’autre, pouvant, et me rÃ©pondre et rÃ©pondre de moi ? L’animal, altÃ©ritÃ© absolue.
Derrida writes about his “little cat” as a real cat, not as an allegory. He often asks himself who he is at the moment that he is surprised, naked, in silence, by the eyes of his cat, when he finds it difficult to surmount a certain shame. Is he ashamed like an animal who no longer has a sense of his nudity, or, on the contrary, like a man who maintains that sense of nudity? One cannot ask anyone but the other. But who is the other here, who can respond and take responsibility for me? The animal, the absolute Other.
Unlike Haraway, then, Derrida does not look for a mutual relation with his little cat, but sees it as an Other that cannot be related to. Also unlike Haraway, he thinks it a sheer impossibility to think about the Other without anthropomorphizing the animal. Donald L. Turner writes that in Derrida’s view our language forces us to see the other in terms of our selves:
Derrida questions any claim to transcend a humanistic or anthropocentric frame of mind, arguing that reliance on language â€œceaselessly reinstates the new terrain on the oldest ground,â€ re-establishing one â€œmore naively and more strictly than everâ€ inside the realm one purports to transcend (Margins 135). […] For Derrida, description of an encounter with truly absolute alterity is a practical impossibility, for one cannot describe that which one can by definition have no comprehension â€” there must be some similarity for a self to recognize an other as existing at all. 
Donald L. Turner, “The Animal Other: Civility and Animality in and Beyond Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida” in Disclosure 12.