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Cat is Art Spelled Wrong

  • Subtitle: Essays
  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Anthology Edited
  • by: Caroline Casey, Chris Fischbach, Sarah Schultz
  • Date Published: September 2015
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-56689-411-1
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 208pp
  • Price: $16.95
  • Review by: Patricia Contino
The January 16, 2016 episode of Saturday Night Live included the skit “America’s Funniest Cats.” The week’s guest host Adam Driver played the emcee of a TV program spoofing the long-running America’s Funniest Home Videos, only here the felines’ dignity prevailed whatever their selfie-obsessed humans did to them. Driver’s two guests (SNL regulars Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon) played hosts of an artsy French, existential spin-off. While the blond-wigged Driver and the two series regulars were silly, the audience audibly cooed and giggled over the cats’ antics.

Cat is Art Spelled Wrong taps into this sentiment. Edited by Caroline Casey, Chris Fischbach, and Sarah Schultz in collaboration with Coffee House Press and the Walker Art Center, these 14 essays examine cat videos. The feline Festschrift is in all seriousness because the center hosts CatVidFest. Now in its fourth year, the festival is popular enough to merit tours in the United States and abroad. As curator Sarah Schultz explains in the essay “There was a Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis, and it was Glorious,” “it isn’t about watching cat videos. It’s about watching cat videos together.”

Cat videos are a confirmed cultural phenomenon. YouTube catalogues 32,200,000 cat videos. A Google search of “cat video” turns up 593,000,000 hits while “Donald Trump” yields 218,000,000 and the ubiquitous “Kardashians” net only 207,000,000. Movie and television executives would sacrifice nine lives for numbers like that. One, the permanently snarky-faced Grumpy Cat, even crossed over to cable for her own Christmas show. Grumpy’s sourpuss was already on stuffed animals, stickers and stationary, calendars, and tee shirts; the special was yet another marketing coup. Ander Monson made several interesting observations about Grumpy Cat in “The Internet is a Cat Video Library,” first by mentioning the “thousands” who mob her in-cat appearances—and that her owners have “spoken publically about taxidermy as an option when she dies.” Several entertainment generations ago, singing cowboy Roy Rodgers did exactly that to his horse Trigger.

Several essays mention Christopher Smart’s “Jubilate Agno (Rejoice in the Lamb).” Written in the 1760s when the author was in an insane asylum, 74 of the 1500-verse work is devoted to his cat Jeoffry. Elena Passarello studied and responded to Smart’s Ode. Here are two examples of her impressive re-reading:
Line 722:
Smart: “For he is of the tribe of Tiger.”
Passarello: “Let, after this, Jeoffry rebuff traffic with any suspect stripe.”
Line #763:
Smart: “For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.”
Passarello: “Let a line of Cats waggling against the ceaseless prayer of love.” 
Passarello very sweetly uses Lines #756 through #761 to spell out Jeoffry’s name.

In considering Cat is Art Spelled Wrong, the big question isn’t so much the elephant in the room . . . but if other animal lovers will enjoy it. The Internet’s impact on culture is still more conjecture than fact. The authors unabashedly love cats but make valid points about viewing and observing them in an evolving platform. Because cats are popular subjects, analyzing them in this context makes perfect sense. Besides, the book itself proves that the printed word is always valuable—even when kitty plays nice with the squirrel.
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Review Posted on February 01, 2016

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