No3 [Literature] I am a cat


The narrator of this tale is a cat who belongs to an English teacher ill at ease with himself and who suffers from depression and stomach pain. He observes the sick society of the Meiji era all sorts of intellectuals parading through the house of his master, meditating on the meaning of life. While one struggles to develop theses on things such as suicide by hanging and the workings of a frog’s eyes, another amuses himself playing around with exotic European words and customs that nobody has ever heard of. There is even a Zen monk who has made a vow of renunciation and prays that the master will do likewise. This whole class of out-of-work intellectuals has to submit to competition from money thirsty materialists such as the master’s neighbour, who represents the new emerging industrialist class in Japan. I am a cat talks about such eclectic subjects as marriage, a theory on the eyesight of frogs, baseball, stomach pain, and Zen philosophy! This story was first published as a serial between 1905 and 1906, which explains the unusual layout of the chapters: each a little sketch that describe an episode or a day in the English teacher’s life. This is a book that you should read and re-read over the summer.

Gabriel Bernard
I am a Cat, Natsume Soseki, translated by Ito Aiko,