At the end of Feline Philosophy, Gray comes out, as it were, of the closet: he offers, as an epilogue, a brief series of analects, ostensibly the lessons that cats might teach us. “If you are unhappy, you may seek comfort in your misery, but you risk making it the meaning of your life. Do not become attached to your suffering and avoid those who do.” (Incidentally, as I think most of us would agree, avoiding people who have become attached to their suffering is more or less a full-time job.) “It is better to be indifferent to others than to feel you have to love them.” Gray has rarely been so openly instructive.
Feline Philosophy permits us to see more clearly than any of Gray’s previous books his true nature. He is not really the enemy of the prophets but their competitor. Where they seek to seduce the multitude, Gray seeks to console the few. His books are designed to strengthen you against the slings and arrows; to teach you to live, insofar as it’s possible, without the need for meaning.
What about the cats? Feline Philosophy collects many moving and provoking anecdotes about cats, real and imaginary: Mary Gaitskill’s Gattino, who appears in her memoir Lost Cat (2020); the kitten that the war reporter Jack Laurence rescued from the battlefield in Hue during the Vietnam War; Saha, the feline protagonist of Collette’s novella La Chatte (1933). But it behoves me to say that nothing here measures up to one throwaway line in Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift: “The cats came and glared through the window, humourless.”
In one word – humourless – Bellow makes what is, for me, an irrefutable argument for the human over the feline. Cats may not suffer from illusion or from the fear of death. But they are incapable of finding anything funny. (I find I can’t resist quoting another Bellow phrase, a few lines later, in which the cats enter the kitchen “bristling with night static”.) An aspiring cat himself, and a prophet for the contemplative few, John Gray does not do humour. He would probably suggest that jokes are merely another form of displacement activity – merely another illusion. And of course reality, seen from inside the Total Perspective Vortex, may not, in fact, be a particularly amusing thing to contemplate. But I can’t help suggesting, in valediction, that some illusions may be worth hanging on to, after all.
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