Our cat, Christopher, sometimes bites. He bites when he is mad, when is playing, and when he is happy. Often there is no warning, much to my husband’s chagrin. Christopher will be purring contentedly on my husband’s lap, then suddenly chomp down on the hand that is petting him. Not done with malice, but it hurts regardless, leading to all kinds of familial commotion.
Sometimes, of course, I instigate such things. I mess with him, offering my own hand as a tempting target, then pulling it away so his mouth closes on empty air. He enjoys playing this game for a while, but then usually ends up biting a conciliatory object, which is more often than not a body part of my poor caught-in-the-crossfire husband.
Christopher recently placed a paw on my arm, wanting my attention. I was mulling over Merleau-Ponty and other progressive thinkers I read in the philosophy of mind course I took last spring. Our body is more than an instrument our mind uses to accomplish its goals. For the creation of the goals themselves come out of the way the body is constructed. We reach out into the world as our bodies allow. Towards such ends, our fingers seem key, as we not only grasp objects, but our individual digits differentiate so many things at once. At our fingertips is more than a trite phrase, but rather an expression of accessing the world and making it intelligible.
A cat’s paw, though it has five digits, doesn’t allow for human-like dexterity. It can swat things and flex and claw, but it doesn’t seem to allow for complex input by simply touching. It doesn’t glide its paw over objects to assess them. Christopher doesn’t seem to be aware of his paw beyond its either touching something or not. His mouth on the other hand…
His mouth seems to be one of his most important gateways to the world. Where we test things by touching them with our fingers, he bites them. Like with the touches of our fingers, his bites surely have a variety of meanings that the contact imparts to him. Such thoughts do not quell the pain caused by a mouth full of sharp feline teeth. But still, I can’t help but think about his expressive body reaching out into the universe and the wondrous, if painful, response of my own expressive body meeting him halfway.