Joseph Epstein, cat dancer.Jun 22, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 39 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Roughly four years ago I reported on the acquisition of a calico kitten named Hermione. I began by writing that she was asleep in my inbox. Now four years later, too large for my inbox, she sleeps in the chair next to mine in the room in our apartment I call my office. I ended my earlier scribble about her by saying that whatever disorder she might bring into my life I judged to be worth it. I now have to report that she has brought no disorder whatsoever, and instead her becalming company has brought only contentment, pleasure, and delight.
In all the time she has lived chez Epstein, Hermione has caused no destruction of any kind. She has knocked nothing off any counter or table. She never attempts to eat any but her own food, with the exception of her taste for tuna, a small amount of which I parcel out to her when I prepare tuna salad. On the “it’s alimentary, my dear Watson” front, she has never failed to use her box and, given her constant bathing, is doubtless cleaner than I. Her only known vice is a passion for rubber bands, which I prevent her from indulging out of fear of her swallowing one.
Hermione is a house, or in our case a sixth-floor-apartment, cat. Apart from a few trips to the veterinarian, since living with us she has not been out of doors. Only once has she been left, for a week, in a vet’s kennel for cats, and, though she survived the ordeal well enough, with luck she will never have to do that again. I have decided that she is the feline equivalent of a Christian Scientist, at least on that religion’s medical aspect, which is to say, I have determined to dispense with regular visits for her for checkups, shots, and the rest. She is—touch wood—bountifully healthy.
When I first saw Hermione, she was the runt of a litter of 11 kittens, all of whom had lost their mother and were lodging in a local pet store as what were called rescue animals. Runtish no more, she is, without being overweight, a full-figured girl, though with a small and elegant head. Hermione is lengthy, and, gracefully passing from room to room, she sometimes reminds me of one of those accordion-connected double buses.
Hermione sleeps a lot, in various locations. (Is this, I wonder, because I bore her?) One of her favorite locations is atop our kitchen counter in a square box, now filled with tissue paper, that once contained a pair of boots. Although she is not a lap cat, she will squiggle up at my feet or sometimes atop my head when I’m napping. Evenings, when we are watching television, usually some old BBC drama now on DVD, she joins us on the couch and agrees to allow petting, which she prefers behind the ears and under the chin, though she will accept strokes along her back. She spends most nights asleep at the foot of our bed.
Apart from a dish of dry food, and a quarter can of moist food served twice daily, and a bowl of cold water (known locally as Walden Pond) set out to the right of the kitchen sink, she has no regular requirements. Some mornings she will appear at my desk, mewling lightly, a signal that she wishes to be brushed. Other times she will roll over on her back, paws raised, which means she wants to play with the toy called Cat Dancer: a length of wire with bits of rolled cardboard at each end, with which she tussles and rolls about.
I cheerfully accede to Hermione’s few demands not only because of my deep affection for her but because I sometimes worry that she has had a bad deal in life. Here, as I see it, is the deal. Hermione has been spayed and for company been restricted to two adults, who, though quite mad about her, can communicate with her only in a limited way. In exchange for the loss of freedom and a life among her own species in the larger world, she has been given warm shelter, a guaranteed supply of food, and safety from the harsh depredations of nature and malevolent humankind. In this deal, she is likely to live three or four times as long as she figures to do out on her own in a cold climate. All in all, she has been offered a gentler if more extreme version of the welfare state, in place of the life that Hobbes described as nasty, brutish, and short.
Would you take such a deal? I’m far from certain that I would. That’s why Hermione, for all her days, has only to ask for a brushing or a cat dance workout and she shall receive.
The more he learned, declared Michael Oakeshott, the less he knew. Jun 15, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 38 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Philosophers, held Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990), are of two kinds: didactic and contemplative. The former tend to have minds that gravitate to the formation of bold and graspable ideas, the latter to thoughts less readily summarized. Aristotle’s golden mean, Descartes’s cogito, Kant’s categorical imperative, Hegel’s dialectic, and Marx’s economic determinism are examples of the first kind of philosopher.
On the rise of Hillary Clinton and other underdogsMay 18, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 34 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Our virtues lose themselves in selfishness
as rivers are lost in the sea.
Joseph Epstein has issues.May 4, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 32 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
I have an issue with issue—with the word, that is. It pops up everywhere, meaning everything and meaning nothing. One hears of a pitcher who has rotator-cuff issues, of a landlord who has issues with pets in his buildings, of a bill up before Congress that poses jurisdictional issues. A weather reporter informs me that dressing warmly in a snowstorm is the main issue. The issue over reinstating the draft is whether soldiers serving only two years can be of serious military use.
A report from the battlefield in the war on clichésJan 26, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 19 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
"Mother,” asks 10-year-old Johnny upon returning from school, “do I have a cliché on my face?”
“A cliché on your face? Whatever do you mean, Johnny?”
“A cliché,” he answers, “you know, a tired expression.”
Joseph Epstein, Yeah Man
Jan 19, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 18 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
I once appeared on a panel at the National Endowment for the Humanities with two women who talked about the importance of their secondary education. One was German and spoke reverently of the gymnasium she was fortunate enough to attend. The other, an American, spent her adolescence in France and mentioned her deep debt to the lycée that gave her so sound a grounding in the classics. When my turn came, I remarked how I envied them, and allowed that I had myself gone to a public high school in Chicago notable for its disadvantaged teachers.
Herodotus and the human dimension in the pastOct 20, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 06 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Herodotus, the first Greek and thereby the first Western historian, had bad press long before there was anything resembling a press. Aristotle referred to him as a “story-teller,” which was no honorific. What he meant was that Herodotus made things up, another word for which is “liar.” Thucydides had little good to say about Herodotus and thought his attempt to recapture the long-gone past foolhardy.
Joseph Epstein; a fan's notes.Oct 13, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 05 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Sometime in mid-February, after the long winter, baseball fans are delighted to read, usually over a two-paragraph-long story buried beneath the fold in the sports pages, the tag line Pitchers and Catchers Report. They are reporting, of course, to spring training two or three weeks ahead of the rest of their teams, and the announcement bodes the first news of the lengthy and leisurely baseball season ahead.
Joseph Epstein contra voguishnessJul 28, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 43 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
In past years I have taken to print to attack two words—focus and icon—that drove me bonkers. Focus, a metaphor from the world of cameras and microscopes, replaced the words concentrate and emphasize. Suddenly everywhere ballplayers lost their focus, students were encouraged to find theirs, schools, companies, nations began focusing on this or that problem. Hocus-pocus, I used to -mutter to myself, please, drop the focus. Nobody did, and the word today has still not lessened in popularity.
Joseph Epstein sees himself through four eyes.Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Of late, the last four years or so, I rarely go out for long without being praised. I am praised not for my writing, my perspicacity, my elegant bearing, my youthful good looks, my extreme modesty, but for my eyeglasses. “Nice glasses,” strangers say to me. “Like your glasses,” they say. “Love those glasses,” is a refrain I hear at least once a week. “Where did you get those glasses?” people wearing glasses of their own often ask me. “Thank you for your kind words about these glasses,” I have taken to answering. “They are my best feature.”
Jun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Our friend and contributor Joseph Epstein once called himself a “serious dilettante,” which he defined as “someone who feels he needs to know nearly everything, but not all that much of any one thing in particular and certainly nothing in the kind of depth that will weigh him down.”
Erich Auerbach and the understanding of literature. Jun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
T.S. Eliot thought that the first requisite for being a literary critic is to be very intelligent. The second, I should say, is to have a well-stocked mind, which means having knowledge of literatures and literary traditions other than that into which one was born; possessing several languages; and acquiring a more than nodding acquaintance with history, philosophy, and theology—to be, in brief, learned. To be both highly intelligent and learned is not all that common. Eliot claimed for himself—and this by implication, for he was a modest man—only the former.
From ‘student-athletes’ to ‘worker-athletes’?Apr 28, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 31 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
The great American fraud that dare not speak its name, though anyone who owns a television set is aware of it, is college athletics. Amateur though they are supposed to be, the only thing truly amateur about them is that they do not pay the (supposed) students who play them, at least not directly.