‘For too long, cats…have been excluded from the reach of that loving revolutionary embrace,’ professor wrote
A City University of New York English professor’s new book presents a history of cats and capitalism, arguing for Marxism as an “interspecies project.”
“The history of Western capitalism can be told through the cat,” CUNY English Professor Leigh La Berge argued in “Marx for Cats: A Radical Bestiary.” The book proposes “a history in which class struggle and cat struggle intertwine.”
In “Marx for Cats,” La Berge (pictured) “draws on a twelve-hundred-year arc spanning capitalism’s feudal prehistory, its colonialist and imperialist ages, the bourgeois revolutions that supported capitalism, and the communist revolutions that opposed it to outline how cats have long been understood as creatures of economic critique and liberatory possibility,” according to the university publisher.
Other titles from Duke University Press’ most recent catalogue include “Sex Scandal: The Private Parts of Victorian Fiction,” “Nimrods: a fake-punk self-hurt anti-memoir” and “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded,” by the group INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence.
On September 5, The College Fix reached out via email to La Berge to schedule an interview as well as CUNY and all organizations acknowledged in “Marx for Cats” as supporting the endeavor to inquire about their support for other works on Marxism. No replies have been received.
La Berge critiqued ‘humanity’s relationship with nonhuman animals’
La Berge argued in “Marx for Cats” that “throughout the capitalist era…cats have signaled the transition from one regime of accumulation on a world scale to another.”
Through this telling, “a heretofore unrecognized animality at the heart of both Marx’s critique and Western Marxist critique” is revealed.
La Berge also challenged “humanity’s relationships with nonhuman animals” as “exploitative and unsustainable,” criticizing the “inhabitants of the Global North, and most Marxists,” for failing to recognize this.
“For too long, cats, indeed all animals, have been excluded from the reach of that loving revolutionary embrace,” La Berge continued. “The time has come to amend that exclusion.”
The bestiary genre cited in the book’s title hails from the Middle Ages, according to La Berge. A “bestiary” referred to a collection of animals depicted in illuminated manuscripts that “revealed crucial truths about the hierarchies that structured the God-made world,” according to La Berge.
“Marx for Cats,” unlike medieval bestiaries, does not have “a Christian moral lesson,” according to La Berge. The book offers a Marxist lesson instead.
La Berge described her academic research in the book’s “Acknowledgements” section.
“The material that I’ve molded here into a historical narrative was developed in conversation with Thyrza Nichols Goodeve (and her six cats); with students, visitors, and J. Morgan Puett herself at Mildred’s Lane [and] with glassblowers at Pilchuck,” La Berge wrote.
Mildred’s Lane is a “project site” in the Pennsylvania woods in which artists “coevolv[e] pedagogical strategies around contemporary topics that concern us,” according to its website. Pilchuk is “an international center for glass art education” in Washington State.
La Berge’s first book, “Scandals and Abstraction: Financial Fiction of the Long 1980s,” published by Oxford University Press, “tracked the contest between postmodern and realist fictions about finance in a nascent era of financialization,” according to her faculty bio.
In an essay last year for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, English scholar and First Things magazine Editor Mark Bauerlein wrote of English professors’ turn in the 1990s from traditional close reading and aesthetic appreciation to left-wing theories of power.
“The reigning theories of the ’90s abandoned literary language for the racy topics of sexuality, politics, and race,” Bauerlein wrote.
“Literature professors left literature and dove into social/political matters they weren’t trained to understand,” he continued.