Multi-Species Poetics in Modern Sinophone Literature and Media
3: Felinity and Femininity: Gendered Humanimal in City of Cats as a Way of Seeing
Saturday, March 26, 2022
12:30pm – 2:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 316C
New York University, United States
From 1932 to 1933, Lao She (1899-1966) serialized his novel City of Cats, featuring a Chinese astronaut who crash-lands on a planet and encounters humanoids he refers to as "cat people" with feline faces and human-like bodies. While City of Cats problematizes modernity, materiality, and knowledge production through the prism of the feline-human interaction, this essay focuses on the mutual gaze between humans and cat people, with an emphasis on felinity and femininity. Rather than only being seen through human and male eyes, cat women assert their agency through their gaze back at human beings, transforming themselves into a way of seeing.
By examining the dynamics of seeing, this article explores a frequently overlooked facet of the novel: how do cat women view their female humanimal bodies, particularly after learning about gender roles in human society through a teleological and human-male-centered historical narrative? In other words, cats and humans on Earth coexist but are not coeval. While John Berger notes the marginalization, displacement, and disappearance of animals in modern days, does the reproduction of animals in literary representation reinstall them to human sight or further alienate them as illusory and imaginary spectacle? This article aims to pave the road for non-anthropocentric reading, writing, and understanding of gender and animality in modern Chinese literature, which may shed light upon the relations among species coexisting in the Anthropocene.