The Black Cat

I read Poe’s The Black Cat a few days ago and, while it didn’t really stick with me at the time, on longer reflection it has become more and more interesting.

The main question is how the black cat wins. Concepts of shock, revelation, awareness, reversal, tie this with other works that I’ve recently been intersted in, Sleepaway Camp, Zimmerman trials, A Rose for EmilyPsycho. I don’t want to go into great detail here with the links beetween these works… well, it’s probably fairly obvious.

Now, we are basically the killer in this work, or rather, the killer is the human, the normal human being. We are all psychotic, let’s not kid ourselves — we all wish to see and not be seen. We all have our crimes, are defined more or less by our crimes, and by our lies, white or otherwise, conscious or unconscious. Genuine honesty is not so much impossible as moot. I think, umm, the infamous quote from Castlevania, for Nintendo, is “What is man? A miserable pile of secrets.”

The idea of the cat there is the possibility of a further emptying out, as I conceive of it, a kind of “flat” visibility, a kind of omniscience, but not of our deepest intentions, but rather, of the way in which we manipulate the world. I suppose that we can start with some notion of denotation and connotation, traditional terms in referring to the primary and secondary meaning of a work. But these terms are all but useless when we consider that one reads, really, with a kind of expectation of what is to happen. Maybe there is a twist ending but we expected that twist ending, maybe our minds are changed but we had indeed expected this — so much so that the real shock is all but forgotten. Connotation and denotation really just refer to what we can get away with, in a sense.

Our fear isn’t so much, then, of being known, or being understood, but rather of being caught. Having fooled the police, and indeed, of all of society (but this raises the question, of what really it means to fool society, if society really expects this fooling?), the psycho killer raps on the wall within which the body is hidden — not expecting a response, but also, indeed, expecting one, so that the whole point of him rapping was to prove to himself of his absolute safety. And so there emerges from within the wall, a horrifying scream as from the pits of hell, so that what makes the killer all but faint from shock is, oddly enough, precisely what he had feared or expected all along. The police then tear down the wall to see the body of the victim with the black cat perched atop her head, who the murderer had accidentally walled up.

It’s odd that there are two supernatural elements at the end — the voice of his dead wife and the voice of the cat, I mean, simultaneous with. The former is a ghoul who has come back to take revenge, the latter is an animal that manages to outwit the killer. The animal is characterized, perhaps, by this “flat visibility”, in the sense that it is all but impossible, really, to deceive an animal — isn’t it? I mean — I get the feeling that animals, in this context at least, understand humans commnicate to one another and lie to one another but without an intimate understanding of the details. The cat, as an onlooker, sees us hiding and sees us manipulating ourselves or manipulating the clues so that we can hide ourselves. I mean, we are able to deceive and lie mostly by taking advantage of genre awareness. Let’s just get out of the way the fact that perception is not immediate, that the term perception might be deceptive, that perception is really hinged on expectation, anticipation, context, and so on.

As a criminal, we are required to manipulate our appearances to the police, or to others. Maybe there is a touch of nihilism here. The ordinary human being, the normal person, is something that none of us lives up to but which we all hide behind. This is how, for example, you get away with a crime or not get fired from a job. The whole thing with Zimmerman and Martin — let me just get the out of the way the fact that I believe the court decision is 100% correct, and even more, that Zimmerman is 100% … well, 99% … innocent — well, one of the ideas there is that Zimmerman could manipulate the situation into looking like a “normal person”. Any normal person would shoot when assaulted by an aggressor in the dark, if armed — but none of us are normal people. Any normal person would have those motives. This normal person isn’t even one that is politically correct. Any normal person is “racist” and would certainly judge a black person differently than a white person, especially when it comes to threat level, and they would be correct in doing so. But the fact is that none of us are normal, all of us are psychotic — and I am far from saying that Zimmerman manipulated the situation so that he could shoot. But it does reveal that law is based on some narrative that absolutely depends on a normalcy that tries to, but can never, fully incorporate the irrational and the illogical (but still normal). It is normal to be insane, to be frightened, to act before judgment, etc. — and this is what self-defense laws are based on. And — as a last word, this is fine, and unavoidable, and not a bad thing — it encourages us to be “professional” in our daily lives, especially in public, and especially around strangers.

Here is what I want to say: that the flat understanding of the black cat allows for a new form of vulnerability that differs from mere “genre-awareness” of normalcy, above.

TBC

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