Babette Babich is Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, New York City.
writes on Nietzsche, Heidegger, Adorno, Illich, Anders, specifically philosophy of science, technology, epistemology, digital media, poetry, art (etc.).
She also writes on the analytic-continental divide, taking the side of continental philosophy. E.g., see, with the game designer and philosopher, Chris Bateman:
2 thoughts on “About”
Few films of the twenty-first century capture the joy of existence like Babich’s “Cat With Eggplant”. In this forty-two-second masterpiece we are exposed to a torrent of themes ranging from ontology and the nature of consciousness to the phenomenon of presence-through-absence and a demonstration of care that is before language.
The fact that the narrator cannot at first remember the name of the cat – or, more precisely, is confused in naming the cat – indicates that she “has” more than one cat and is a cat lover. Thus, the hiccup with naming is rather like that of a careful mother who, calling out to a particular child, recites a litany of her entire litter: “Brian, David, Stephen!” when she means to call Stephen. Or, “David, Stephen, Brian!” when she is calling Brian. This confusion is anything but an inattentive failure to distinguish between those in one’s care. The narrator’s apparent confusion of “Tyrone Troll” with “The George Cat” is a gathering of both animals in a bracket of care in which the distinction of name, personality or even existence as an “individual” is rendered inconsequential because of the greater bestowing that is expressed.
Immediately, we are aware that the invisible narrator is convivial. We see the evidence of a range of wine bottles – red, white, rose (though one suspects “blush”), sparkling wine (possibly Champagne, though the label does not correspond with those of any of the established houses) – which denote the presence of others, equally absent in the film, but whose possibility is indicated by the presence of the bottles. This presence has the temporal qualities of past (for the bottles are partially consumed) and future (a horizon defined by the meal whose preparation is in progress).
In the “characters” of the eggplant and heirloom tomato (so aptly named, as the heir of a process of development that follows from seed to fruit to table), we find examples of the narrator’s concern with the ontology of the vegetable world. In an interaction of woman and nature, the eggplant and the tomato proceed from their potentiality contained in seed and plant, moving towards their destiny as vegetable and fruit that will ripen, mature, be harvested. Here, the narrator gives meaning to their ultimate destiny by means of recipe choice. Is the eggplant going to be part of a Provencal dish, perhaps, featuring tomatoes? No. Is it going to be transformed into eggplant parmesan? No. It is simply going to be fried. The film does not tell us what its ultimate fate may be; but it demonstrates brilliantly the relationship between woman and food as a becoming and as a demonstration of will and intentionality related to the conviviality already spoken of by the existence of the bottles of wine.
So, too, the tomato makes its way from seed to vine to harvest to table, only to find its final transformation (an end that is really a beginning) as the narrator wields the knife that spells “tomato salad”. Philosophically speaking, it is a scene that makes one think of the film of Capote’s In Cold Blood. When certain objects are laid next to one another, potential outcomes begin to take shape. It is as if objects themselves – a knife, a roll of tape, some rope – can indicate a path of human intention. Here, happy to say, the outcome promises to be one born of care rather than a potentiality for violence.
Care is also indicated in the presence of the cat Tyrone Troll who engages in the behavior of countertop-sitting; a behavior which is tolerated (encouraged?) by the narrator. This sense of comfortable-ness with the animal-other indicates a living relationship/partnership in which the narrator – as evidenced through her speaking to the cat – enjoys a partial engagement in a pre-linguistic world of being. The animal is before language, and so we may surmise is the subject’s love of him (for the animal, once named and loved, ceases to be an “it”, but rather takes on a character that is before human, but not necessarily before some level of consciousness). But the cat is also after language. It provides a sense of comfort and silent – purring aside – return to the self, after the chatter of conviviality.
In this film we are struck at every turn by the implied other: the implied eaters, as Iser might have named them. We marvel at the narrator’s elaboration of facticity, of the background against which the anticipated meal occurs: the Iron Man video (which has no immediate use as equipment in Heideggarian or any other terms, but provokes our imagination) and the knife (a tool without which the meal would be impossible). The knife is the equipment by means of which the intentions of the narrator are executed.
All in all, one cannot help thinking of the eternal return. The bottles of wine, which are the “packaged” harvests of fruit from another time, come to fruition (as it were!), completing their journey as their bouquet is released, their palate sensed, their finish enjoyed. The wine, along with the food, will go back to the soil from which it sprung (from the intentions of growers and the help of hands), only to be renewed again and again.