I Am a Cat

by Kinnosuke Natsume

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Why does the cat in I Am a Cat believe faces should be covered with hair and perceive the student's face as greatly protruding?

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A cat would assume that all faces should be covered with hair because that is true of its own face. Likewise, a cat would perceive the center of the student's face as protruding to a great extent because, compared to its own nose, the human nose does protrude to a great extent.

This explanation supposes that other animals, like humans, assume their own physical features to be normal and use their own physical features as a point of reference when considering the appearances of other animals. Thus, if we, as humans, were to describe a cat's face, we might describe its eyes as large. This is because a cat's eyes are large compared to the size of a human's eyes. However, if an owl were to describe a cat's face, it would likely describe the eyes as small, because compared to the eyes of an owl, a cat's eyes are indeed small.

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From its own perspective, why would a cat assume faces should be covered with hair? Why would it perceive the center of the student's face as protruding to a great extent?

I Am a Cat employs a technique of satire which is now generally known as "Defamiliarization." The Russian term "Ostranenie" is also sometimes used, as the technique was described by the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky in his 1917 essay "Art as Device." Although many formalist writers adopted this technique, it would be quite wrong to think of it as beginning with them, since it is also used in eighteenth-century satirical works such as Gulliver's Travels.

Defamiliarization involves an attempt to make the reader think differently about the world by describing it from an unfamiliar perspective. It is particularly used to describe aspects of everyday life which we generally think are mundane or do not think about at all. Kinnosuke Natsume achieves this effect by making the narrator a cat and describing human behavior and appearances from the cat's perspective. Just as we think that our view of the world is the default position, so does the cat. The cat assumes that it is natural for faces to be covered with hair because this is what a cat's face is like. Similarly, a human nose would seem like an exceptionally long protuberance to a cat, or most other animals except elephants and tapirs. Looking at the world and ourselves as a cat might do allows us to see our own strangeness.

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