Although I do not think Eliot is trying to get back to the realm of the
Imaginary--he was very dismissive of psychoanalysts for one thing and
chose Vittoz, by his own claim, because Vittoz was not one--I think this
discussion of animal sounds is both fascinating and important in itself.

Anyone who not only lives with but pays a great deal of attention to an
animal (in my case cats) knows that they do more than simply respond in
automatic ways to certain sounds and that they engage in something that
is like a verbal exchange.  They don't make the sounds we do, but their
sounds seem highly complex and varied to me, and I am always astounded
when a scientist "discovers," for example, empathy in animals or glee at
being tickled in a rat.  Given that our DNA is only slightly different
from theirs, it would seem more unlikely that they would be so totally

One of my Siamese cats--now, alas, dead--loved to talk on the phone.  A
friend would say "let me talk to Fritz," and would then say all sorts of
amusing cat things while I held the phone up.  He got so used to it that
when the phone rang, he would run to sit by me and would wait for his
turn.  If no one talked to him, he would sooner or later set up a
Siamese protest (if you've had one, you know the sound) until he heard
his name and talk over the phone.  My friends got used to being asked if
they wanted to talk with Fritz.  This could be called just a response to
a sign, but he knew it meant someone saying his name and other words to
him, and he instantly purred.  He was quite aware that it called for
response.  I'm not sure how different our response to the phone is.

That Eliot recognized the wonderful personalities of cats, and did not
simply anthropomorphize them but just enjoyed them as cats who shared
many homo sapiens characteristics, is so evident in OLD POSSUM'S BOOK OF


Ken, thanks for pointing me to the Percy volumes. And yes, I believe our
view of nature is anthropocentric. For example, Kenneally said that,
although it has been demonstrated through laboratory experiments that
animals can develop the language-comprehension ability of a 6-year old
human, they do not have the ability to communicate. But they don't have
our physiiognomy -- their mouths are not structured like ours. They
cannot make our sounds. Maybe it's our deficiency that gives rise to
this opinion - our inability to decipher subtle meanings in whale songs,
dolphin sounds, or even animal gestures and body language. Diana

>>> Diana Manister <[log in to unmask]> 07/25/07 12:21 PM >>>