The centrality of cats—and the act of drawing cats—to the nineteenth-century architect Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s modus operandi as an architectural theorist and restorer is evident from the beginning to the very end of his career. He took great pleasure in interacting with cats, observing their habits, and learning from their supple, graceful movements. In Chatography, Aron Vinegar studies the Château de Pierrefonds, restored in the mid-nineteenth century by Viollet-le-Duc, and argues that the crucial issues at stake in Viollet-le-Duc’s understanding of restoration may be gleaned from his drawings of cats and war machines that demonstrate an interest in movement, unruly forces, and affect, rather than equilibrium and balance. This reading enables us to question the prevalent understanding of Viollet-le-Duc as a structural rationalist, and to appreciate the complex relation between architecture and representation.

And all that under the eyes of a Cat.

—Chris Marker, The Case of the Grinning Cat1

Upon entering the courtyard of the Château de Pierrefonds, a building that the architect and theorist Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc restored for Napoleon III between 1858 and 1870, the visitor begins to notice an entire flora and fauna that extends from the lowest portions of the walls and banisters of the stairs all the way up to the grillwork that crowns the roof (Figure 1). It is an ecosystem of unnatural kinds—a veritable bestiary of fantastic creatures, many of them unnameable and forged through stunning feats of artistic teratogeny—and more familiar natural kinds, such as monkeys, fox, cows, roosters, snakes, lizards, and eagles. Upon tilting one’s head upward, a sculpted cat can be spotted occupying the side of a gable surrounding one of the courtyard windows (Figure 2). Soon another cat on the opposite side of the window pops into view, and then another, and another. These chats perchées, as the French filmmaker Chris Marker might call them, are organized one on either side of each of the sixteen dormer windows projecting out from the walls of the courtyard, each cat facing another on the adjacent window (Figure 3). This remarkable group of thirty-two cats overlooks the interior courtyard of the château (see Figure 1, Figure 4). The attention paid to a single animal and a domesticated animal at that, is unequalled anywhere in the château, apart from the ubiquitous eagle—the imperial state animal of Napoleon III—that is found in an astonishing variation of materials and morphology throughout the restored building.2

Figure 1

Château de Pierrefonds, Pierrefonds, France, view of the interior courtyard (

Figure 1

Château de Pierrefonds, Pierrefonds, France, view of the interior courtyard (

Figure 2

Château de Pierrefonds, sculpted cat, after design of Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

Figure 2

Château de Pierrefonds, sculpted cat, after design of Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

Figure 3

Château de Pierrefonds, cats on dormer windows, after design of Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

Figure 3

Château de Pierrefonds, cats on dormer windows, after design of Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

Figure 4

Château de Pierrefonds, two cats confronting each other, after design of Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

Figure 4

Château de Pierrefonds, two cats confronting each other, after design of Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

The centrality of cats to Viollet-le-Duc’s modus operandi as an architectural theorist and restorer is evident throughout his career, from his early letters written to his family during his travels to Italy in the 1830s (Figure 5); to the thirty-two sculpted cats he designed for the courtyard of the Château de Pierrefonds in the 1860s (see Figures 2, 3 and 4); to the drawing of a cat attacking Toy Soldiers, from a planned suite of twelve engravings for a children’s book in the 1870s (Figure 6); to his last book, Learning How to Draw (1879), which begins with a scene of a boy drawing a simple outline figure of a cat (Figure 7). Viollet-le-Duc also designed a floor mosaic of four cats hunting a mouse surrounding a heraldic owl, for the antechamber to his home and office at 68 Rue de Condorcet in Paris (Figures 8, 9). Those who knew and worked with him attested to his predilection for felines, and carefully noted that one was always a “veritable companion in work.”3 Champfleury wrote that the famed architect took time away from his busy schedule to produce a portrait of his “favorite du logis,” which took pride of place in the author’s popular Les Chats (1869) (Figure 10).4

Figure 5

Viollet-le-Duc, letter to his father from Rome, 3 Dec. 1836 (from Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Lettres d’Italie, 1836–1837: adressées à sa famille, ed. Geneviève Viollet-le-Duc [Paris: Léonce Laget,1971], 251)

Figure 5

Viollet-le-Duc, letter to his father from Rome, 3 Dec. 1836 (from Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Lettres d’Italie, 1836–1837: adressées à sa famille, ed. Geneviève Viollet-le-Duc [Paris: Léonce Laget,1971], 251)

Figure 6

Viollet-le-Duc, sketch of a cat attacking toy soldiers, ca. 1875 (from Claude Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné [Paris: Vve. Morel, 1880], 102)

Figure 6

Viollet-le-Duc, sketch of a cat attacking toy soldiers, ca. 1875 (from Claude Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné [Paris: Vve. Morel, 1880], 102)

Figure 7

Viollet-le-Duc, Petit Jean’s Drawing of a cat (from Viollet-le-Duc, Histoire d’un dessinateur: Comment on apprend à dessiner [Paris: Bibliothèque et de Recreation, J. Hetzel], 5, fig.1)

Figure 7

Viollet-le-Duc, Petit Jean’s Drawing of a cat (from Viollet-le-Duc, Histoire d’un dessinateur: Comment on apprend à dessiner [Paris: Bibliothèque et de Recreation, J. Hetzel], 5, fig.1)

Figure 8

Viollet-le-Duc, home and office/studio, 68 Rue de Condorcet, Paris, ca. 1863, antechamber floor mosaic (author’s photo)

Figure 8

Viollet-le-Duc, home and office/studio, 68 Rue de Condorcet, Paris, ca. 1863, antechamber floor mosaic (author’s photo)

Figure 9

Viollet-le-Duc, floor mosaic, detail of figure 8 (author’s photo)

Figure 9

Viollet-le-Duc, floor mosaic, detail of figure 8 (author’s photo)

Figure 10

Engraving after Viollet-le-Duc’s drawing of his cat, ca. 1868 (from Champfleury, Les Chats, 2nd ed. [Paris: J. Rothschild, 1869], 226)

Figure 10

Engraving after Viollet-le-Duc’s drawing of his cat, ca. 1868 (from Champfleury, Les Chats, 2nd ed. [Paris: J. Rothschild, 1869], 226)

Viollet-le-Duc’s devotion to cats was matched only by his lifelong friend and mentor Prosper Mérimée, and by the modern-day French filmmaker Chris Marker’s obsession with cats, which emanated from a love for his feline companion Guillaume-en-Egypte. As curator and critic Bill Horrigan has noted: “Those who love Marker’s work know that in his cosmology, cats and owls are the presiding deities, vaunted above mere humans.”5 Apparently they were Viollet-le-Duc’s presiding deities as well: a sculpted life-size owl is the only figurative element on the otherwise bare and planar façade of his home and office, and one also appears as the central element in the cat floor mosaic (Figures 11, 12). As such, it forms a canting arms, punning on the owner’s name, as this owl is the species hibou grand duc, known as the great horned owl, and colloquially as the “cat owl.”6 These “winged brothers of the cat,” as Thoreau referred to them, kept watch while the architect was at work inside.7 And like Chris Marker’s, the architect’s relationship to cats meant engaging in the deepest thoughts on the nature of violence, war, power, politics, ethics, and aesthetics. These are the issues at stake in Viollet-le-Duc’s understanding of architectural restoration, and they are posed in the form of cats.

Figure 11

Viollet-le-Duc, home and office/studio, 68 rue de Condorcet, Paris, ca. 1863, owl from façade (hibou grand-duc) (author’s photo)

Figure 11

Viollet-le-Duc, home and office/studio, 68 rue de Condorcet, Paris, ca. 1863, owl from façade (hibou grand-duc) (author’s photo)

Figure 12

Viollet-le-Duc, floor mosaic, detail of figure 8 (author’s photo)

Figure 12

Viollet-le-Duc, floor mosaic, detail of figure 8 (author’s photo)

Viollet-le-Duc’s interest in cats is not iconographic; it is never a motif in Panofsky’s sense of that term.8Rather, he was attuned to the cat’s movements, modulation of forces, and intensities of affect. He approaches the cat as a modern-day ethologist might, closely observing its habits and behaviors. But his practice of amateur ethology shifts that scientific discipline away from its tendency to valorize functional determinism to a practice concerned with unhinging energies, life forces, and intensities of affect from their strictly functional constraints. It can be seen as a move toward the Spinozist ethology that Gilles Deleuze has developed, which would emphasize that animals, including humans, should be understood less in terms of their forms, organs, and functions, and more in terms of what a body can do, with an emphasis on relations of motion and rest, slowness and speed, and their affective and effective capacities.9

Viollet-le-Duc’s interest in cats shifts our understanding of his theory and practice of restoration away from issues of functional determinism and structural rationalism, a characterization of his work that has dominated the genealogy of modernist architecture. Instead, we find an architect and theorist who is much more invested in issues of territory, art, violence, and unruly forces and figures, than in claims for equilibrium and balance that are at the heart of the structural rationalist position. Viollet-le-Duc’s work also requires us to think about acts of architectural representation in terms of dispositions and in relationship to methexis and becoming rather than to simplistic notions of mimesis and the projection of stable form. The title of this essay, “Chatography,” is meant to suggest this intense comingling of the forces of the cat (chat), its graphic presentation (graphy), and its plastic, figural inscription on an architectural structure, in this case, a cható, to use Viollet-le-Duc’s odd spelling for the word château. The result of this amalgam is nothing less than a cat-a-strophe that twists and overturns not only our given understandings of Viollet-le-Duc’s theory and practice, but also the complex relationship between representation and architecture.

Thirty-Two, Two-by-Two

The cats Viollet-le-Duc designed for Pierrefonds did not go unnoticed by his contemporaries. In Les Chats Champfleury wrote: “The dormers of the interior court are adorned with cats in various postures, after the drawings of the talented architect.”10 The architect’s biographer, Paul Gout, recalled, no doubt with Pierrefonds in mind, that “he had a predilection for this animal, which interested him because of its plastic beauty and its independent character. He often drew them in curious and very amusing movements.”11 Both authors repeat a common observation about the cat’s “supple,” “graceful,” and “plastic,” movements that have dominated visual and verbal, scientific and literary representations for centuries. In the first book devoted solely to cats, Paradis de Moncrif praised their “grace and dexterity” and their “most agreeable playfulness, and postures so exquisite and varied.”12 Charles Baudelaire most famously called attention to the cat’s “elastic back” and “electric body” in his poem “The Cat” in Les Fleurs de Mal.13 But the most striking analogy to the range and depth of Viollet-le-Duc’s account of the cat’s plastic beauty is surely Leonardo da Vinci’s sheet of drawings of cats in myriad poses, with a brief note scrawled at the foot of the page that reads: “On bending and extension. The animal species, of which the lion is prince, because the joints of its spinal cord are bendable.”14 Kenneth Clark’s astute comment on these drawings echoes Gout: “Leonardo was clearly intrigued by the suppleness of cats, the way they can twist their bodies into such an extra-ordinary variety of graceful contortions”—a plasticity that owes, as Leonardo suggests, to the smooth, round articulations of the cat’s vertebrae.15

As Moncrif observed, this graceful flexibility was most readily observed in the cat’s spirited play, an idea charmingly characterized in the medieval poem Renard the Fox, in which the wily cat Timbert is spotted by the fox: “Renard encountered in his path Timbert the cat, who was all alone, but having lots of fun on his own, whirling, twisting himself around, his tail, he made a might abound.”16 As anyone who owns a cat well knows, its forms of play—chasing its own tail, a toy, or a human leg—are tantamount to fighting. Its arched back inching forward or backward in oblique movements as it stalks its enemy, its lightning-quick pounce after a patient siege, to grab a leg with partially retracted claw and a gentle nip, are inhibited or displaced forms of fighting or prey-hunting behavior.17 Viollet-le-Duc was well aware that despite the cat’s domestic nature, it was an unruly lodger, and many of its graceful figures were keyed to forms of attack and defense.

An Ethogram of Attack and Defense

The cats that Viollet-le-Duc designed for Pierrefonds display specific qualities of juxtaposed attack and defense behaviors that link them to his understanding of the mutually determining relationship between siege warfare and restoration. Their arched backs, pinned-back ears, and bared teeth register what the ethologist Paul Leyhausen calls the “mutual superimposition of attack and defense behavior,” in his book, Cat Behavior.18 Although these states of fight and flight are motivated by conflict with an external enemy, they are propped on muscular tensions between contracting and relaxing muscle fibers and groups.19 Although Leyhausen does not directly study these physiological motor patterns, they drive all aspects of behavior. In ethology, a motivational analysis is the study of the behavior enabled by these motor patterns.20 Leyhausen’s twenty-year daily study of cats led him to record what the eminent ethologist Konrad Lorenz would call the “total behavioral inventory” of the cat—its complete motivational analysis, or “ethogram.”21

An important aspect of producing an ethogram is the careful parsing of attitudes, responses, movements, and forms of expression from their sequence of nuanced manifestations in active situations. Often it takes the form of a diagram like the one that Leyhausen uses to illustrate the relative superimposition of attack and defense moods in the cat (Figure 13).22 The table is organized such that the threat of attack increases toward the right, and the readiness for defense increases as one moves downward. Thus the upper-left cell shows a cat in its most relaxed state, unaffected by either mood, and displaying a relatively flat back, downward sloping tail, and ears neither pressed back or forward. The upper-right cell shows the maximum threat of attack, with the ears pointed to the side (the back of the ear visible from the front) and the tail pointed straight down and flush with the rear; the bottom-left cell shows the maximum state of defense, in which the ears are almost perpendicular to the head, seen almost in profile, and the entire body is low to the ground, with the rump slightly raised; and the bottom-right cell shows the maximum superimposition of attack and defense behaviors, in which the cat is shown with ears pointed toward the side, an exaggerated, arched back, with tail pointed straight up, and the mouth revealing teeth in order to hiss and/or bite.

Figure 13

Paul Leyhausen, table with superimposition of cat’s attack and defense behaviors (from Paul Leyhausen, Katzen: Eine Verhaltenskunde [Berlin: Paul Parey Verlag, 1979], 198, fig. 17.3a)

Figure 13

Paul Leyhausen, table with superimposition of cat’s attack and defense behaviors (from Paul Leyhausen, Katzen: Eine Verhaltenskunde [Berlin: Paul Parey Verlag, 1979], 198, fig. 17.3a)

The bottom-right cell depicts an extreme situation in which the conflict and bodily tension between the two drives are at their greatest before their release in what ethologists call a “critical reaction,” the desperate fighting that occurs when an animal is cornered. Thus, the bottom-right cell depicts the behavior of a cat facing another cat at close range, momentarily frozen and unable to fight or flee.23 Although the postures of the Pierrefonds cats do not map onto one specific cell of Leyhausen’s diagrams, most of them correspond to the bottom-right area: the territory of maximum attack and defense behaviors (see Figures 2, 3 and 4). The cats numbered 11 and 12 on one of Viollet-le-Duc’s drawings for the sculptures show many of the combined traits from cells A2 B2, A3B2, A2B3, and A3B3 (Figure 14). They display the arched backs, tails between their legs, and ears pointed down and to the side that suggest varying degrees of superimposition of attack and defense behavior. Many more drawings and sculptures of the Pierrefonds cats—with their arched backs, upright or curled under tails, ears pressed flat, and open mouths with bared teeth—could be likewise compared (Figure 15). Despite the emphasis on strong, decorative, schematic outlines, the overall attention to detail—the texture of the fur on the haunch, jowl, and tail areas—is striking, and an important indicator of aggressive behavior.24

Figure 14

Viollet-le-Duc, drawing of two cats confronting each other, for Château de Pierrefonds, 1868 (Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris, © Ministere de la Culture/ Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN/Art Resource, NY)

Figure 14

Viollet-le-Duc, drawing of two cats confronting each other, for Château de Pierrefonds, 1868 (Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris, © Ministere de la Culture/ Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN/Art Resource, NY)

Figure 15

Château de Pierrefonds, sculpted cat with bared teeth, after design of Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

Figure 15

Château de Pierrefonds, sculpted cat with bared teeth, after design of Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

With Leyhausen’s or Lorenz’s flat, and abstract diagrams, we must imaginatively extrapolate the conflict from the behavior of only one of the animals. By contrast, Viollet-le-Duc stages a full scenario of attack and defense behaviors through pairs of cats, so that a cat on one side of a dormer most often faces its opponent on the adjacent dormer (see Figure 4). Importantly, he organizes the range of postures in such a way that their bodily expression becomes disengaged from the action and performed for the viewer’s aesthetic pleasure. In the courtyard the most significant combinations of attack and defense behavior are rotated in order to account for the viewer’s perspective. For example, a cat’s threatening, arched back is rotated so that the profile faces the viewer and the cat confronts its enemy head on, or when a cat is looking away from its aggressor, to diffuse a tense situation, it faces into the viewer’s space (Figure 16).

Figure 16

Viollet-le-Duc, Château de Pierrefonds, sculpted cats confronting each other, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

Figure 16

Viollet-le-Duc, Château de Pierrefonds, sculpted cats confronting each other, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

It is important to note that this disengagement of expression from action is already a possibility in Leyhausen’s diagram. In his article “The Biology of Expression and Impression,”Leyhausen argues that the bottom-right square of his diagram is a “pure expression” of rage.25 In this condition, any direct action is blocked by the maximum alignment of attack and defense behaviors, which results in expression without any functional correlate, despite the fact that the state of maximum superimposition supposedly enables a heightened responsivity and suppleness for the cat to attack or defend at a moment’s notice. Leyhausen’s description of the cat’s movements in this condition are striking: “All movements in this posture, even the jumps, have an extremely ‘wooden’ appearance.”26 Charles Darwin also referred to this frozen state in humans: “The frightened man first stands like a statue, motionless and breathless … the heart beats quickly and violently … the skin instantly becomes pale … the hairs also on the skin stand erect … the mouth becomes dry.”27 It is at the moment of maximum superimposition of the forces of attack and defense, and supposedly heightened responsiveness, that the cat is closest to being frozen in place like a stone sculpture, or prone to displaying a staccato and lifeless machinic repetition.

But the antagonistic impulses of attack and defense do not always overlap perfectly in an expressive, frozen figure isolated to one block of Leyhausen’s diagram. He acknowledges this and in his article does not privilege any one cell over another, avoiding in particular the four extreme corner cells of the diagram. Instead, he describes them as an “unbroken continuum of transitions” that extends diagonally from the upper left to the bottom right, and vice versa.28 Thus, we are meant to read these sequences not only as a grid of verticals and horizontals, but also at an angle that smoothly crosses through their behaviors.29 Under these conditions what previously looked like a table divided into cells operates according to what Deleuze and Guattari call a “block of becoming” or a “plane of consistency” that cuts across multiple dimensions of intension and extension in order to create an intersection of forms and affects—the very idea that Viollet-le-Duc is interested in exploring.30

A myriad of other movements, postures, and reactions figured in the Pierrefonds cats are not depicted on Leyhausen’s map but could have been extensions of it. For example, the sculpture of a mother grasping a kitten by the scruff of its neck is a standard response to a threat. This action is also expressed in the inhibited bite that sinks into its prey’s nape, or that grips a female cat during copulation. Some of the most elegant and relaxed postures in the Pierrefonds cats involve stretching, preening, or scratching. Although these appear to be disconnected from aggressive tendencies, they might be what ethologists call “displacement activity,” in which two simultaneous but antagonistic motor patterns are activated at the same time, resulting in a third seemingly unrelated pattern.31 The damming up and rerouting of aggressive drives into other types of behavior is also central to Viollet-le-Duc’s understanding of the civilizing function of the château. Following the Romantic historian François Guizot, and prefiguring many of the arguments of German sociologist Norbert Elias, Viollet-le-Duc narrated a transformation from the rough behavior of a warrior culture developed in the early fortress, to the refined habits and domestic sentiments of a chivalric society, thus marking the beginnings of bourgeois domestic life.32 For all three authors, the condensations, displacements, elaborations, and refinements involved in this process are partially enabled by the self-enclosed and confined milieu of the fortress/château itself. Yet the damming up of drives can never completely cover over or displace the transmuted aggressive behavior. It would appear to be difficult to separate aggression from the cat’s more benign or playful activities.

Leyhausen employs the particular language of siege warfare—attack and defense—when writing about play, hunting, or conspecific aggression. “Whether the cat runs away or stands in its arched posture and awaits events depends on … [its] experience and whether or not there is cover or a stronghold nearby that cannot be scaled by the enemy.”33 This relationship of siege warfare to cat behavior also plays a central role in Viollet-le-Duc’s understanding of restoration.

Siege Warfare, Restoration, and Passive/Active Forces

Throughout his writings, Viollet-le-Duc consistently draws an analogy between the art of siege warfare and the restoration process. In an introductory passage from his entry “Architecture (architecture militaire)” from his Dictionnaire raisonnéde l’architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle, he notes: “it is well, we think, to know how in past times some have applied all the abilities of their minds and all their material force at their command to the work of destruction, others to that of preservation.”34 This analogy is made explicit in his entry “Restoration”: “Restoration is war, it is a series of maneuvers that one must modify each day by constant observation of the effects it produces.”35 At the heart of this analogy between siege warfare and restoration are the palimpsesting and consistent reversals of offensive and defensive, active and passive positions.36 He clarifies that passive and active forces are manifest in positions of both besieged and attacker: “It often happened that the parts played by the hostile forces were reversed, and that the assailants, driven back by the sorties of the garrisons and forced to take refuge in their camp, became besieged in their turn.”37 Or: “after the first crusade … it became necessary to discard the system of passive fortification, indebted to its mass only for its defensive power, and adopt a system of fortification which would give to the defense an activity equal to that of attack.”38 This statement is part of Viollet-le-Duc’s larger argument that feudal siege warfare essentially comprises an alternating rhythm of attack and defense, as opposed to the dominance of passive forces and defensive actions up to the thirteenth century. In medieval siege warfare, defensive actions and passive forces were rendered as active as possible. Viollet-le-Duc suggested that even while feudalism was waning, due to the increasing centralization of the monarchy, it made up for its decreasing resources, “by calling to its aid the most active means of defense” and, in response to its “constant anxiety,” it “multiplied the obstacles round its place of refuge,” resulting in sorties, retreats, investments, and counter-investments.39 Viollet-le-Duc keeps these thoughts close to the material level. If he understood that a successful siege depended on leaving the enemy no repose, this maximum state of tension materializes itself in the very walls of the fortress. It is as if all those reversals and superimpositions of active and passive forces that he recounts resulted in a somatic innervation of the body of architecture, which then manifests in heightened plasticity.40 Due to the palimpsesting of active and passive forces, the château’s heavy and inert walls are rendered active and supple. The fortress is therefore rendered almost organic in its capacity to contract, expand, and transform. Viollet-le-Duc demonstrates this state through the Pierrefonds cat’s supple movements, which are embodied in the complete array of superimposed passive and active forces, attack and defense drives that figure into their postures. Indeed, for Viollet-le-Duc the cat is a primary technology through which to think the plastic potential of the château. Moreover, he deploys this technology as, what he terms, a “war machine.”41 Enter the chat.

In his consideration of military attack and defense, Viollet-le-Duc notes that the real advances were made by engineers: “Towards the end of the twelfth century, and during the first half of the thirteenth century, the means of attack and defense … were much improved, and especially by their being more methodically carried out. We see, then, for the first time in armies and fortified places, engineers specially entrusted with the construction of the engines intended for attack and defense. Amongst these engines there were some which were at the same time defensive and offensive.”42 Viollet-le-Duc pays particular attention to the war machine known as the chat, or cat (also kas, gat, gate, or even rat).43 The military cat was a movable wooden structure, usually covered with planks, iron, and hides, which was pushed to the foot of fortress walls during a siege to offer defensive cover for pioneers as they proceeded to actively sap (with pick axes) and batter (with rams) the enemy’s towers and curtain walls (Figure 17).44 In one image from the Dictionnaire raisonné, he gives the chat two diminutive cat-like triangular ears attached to a down-turned head, so that its “face” and muzzle are angled toward the ground. The head of the cat is attached to a rectangular shedlike body covered with skins, with a conspicuous wooden plank sticking out of its rump like a tail (Figure 18).

Figure 17

“The cat” (from Viollet-le-Duc, Annals of a Fortress, trans Benjamin Bucknall [Boston: J. R. Osgood and Company, 1876], 193, fig. 42)

Figure 17

“The cat” (from Viollet-le-Duc, Annals of a Fortress, trans Benjamin Bucknall [Boston: J. R. Osgood and Company, 1876], 193, fig. 42)

Figure 18

Viollet-le-Duc, military cat, ca. 1854 (from Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, trans. M. Macdermott [Oxford: J. H. and J. Parker, 1860], 63, fig. 20)

Figure 18

Viollet-le-Duc, military cat, ca. 1854 (from Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, trans. M. Macdermott [Oxford: J. H. and J. Parker, 1860], 63, fig. 20)

But this machine was named the cat not because it looked like one, but rather because it patiently stalked its prey, laid siege to it and engaged in sneak attacks on fortified enemies. Until the development of projecting hoards and machicolations, it was difficult to see a stealthy cat from the defensive loopholes in the fortress, particularly when it was pushed flush against a wall. The language used to relate feline behavior to military actions is striking and ubiquitous in Viollet-le-Duc’s writings. In his Annals of a Fortress (1874), a fictional account of a fortress throughout the ages, the “strange warrior” Tomar—with his penetrating eyes that can see in the dark, a “curved back,” and an enigmatic and cagey personality—makes nocturnal forays from a besieged fortress to spy on the enemy. “As was his manner, he entered the … hut as noiselessly as a cat.”45 Similar phrasings and rhythms describe the sudden sorties of the besieged, “issuing silently from their gates at dead of night” in order to set fire to the enemy’s machines of war.46 Viollet-le-Duc was equally struck by Simon de Montfort’s descriptions of the military cat in his poem about a medieval siege, where it is described as advancing with “short leaps, like the sparrow-hawk when it hunts down small birds,” which is, as Viollet-le-Duc notes, a poetic way of relating how these heavy machines lurched forward on rollers with “sudden jerks” (one can imagine that this movement was not very silent at all).47 Of course de Montfort’s description also recalls the short leaps of a cat involved in attack and/or prey hunting and, also, as we have seen from Leyhausen’s description, its distinctly wooden and halting movements when there is a maximum superimposition of attack and defense behavior.48

The medieval cat was a hybrid war machine that linked multiple species of technology. Ancient and medieval war machines were almost always given animal names, as Viollet-le-Duc attests to in his rich bestiary, which included battering rams, stealthy cats, kicking horses, burrowing rabbits, and wild donkeys, among others.49 Furthermore, the cat’s “belly” was filled with pioneers armed with picks and axes waiting to sap the enemy walls, and it provided cover for other war machines, such as the ram, which was used to batter the lower walls of a fortress. The cat was often plastered with the moistened hides of other animals, such as the ox or horse, in order to protect it from the “dragon-like” flames of an enemy’s “Greek fire.”50 The military cat is therefore not an “oedipal animal,” to use Deleuze’s terminology—an individuated pet, which seems to invite narcissistic regression and containment—but rather a “pack-animal,” that is characterized by openness, multiplicity, and becoming-machine. Like Deleuze, Viollet-le-Duc was primarily interested in thinking about how animal forces are de- and re-territorialized. Both clearly understood that one could treat a pack animal as an oedipal animal, just as one could treat an oedipal animal as a pack animal, “even the cat, even the dog.”51

The most interesting hybrid form of the military cat was the chat-chateils which consisted of a cat crowned by a moveable tower or castle used to transport men and offensive machinery over enemy walls.52 Louis IX described one of these: “I believe that the lower story of these towers [chateils] were used as chats and galleries, wherefore the cats of this description were called chas chattels, that is to say … chats fortified by châteaux.’’53 Because these hybrid structures were not simple cats they were described as “chats fortifiés des châteaux” or “chats-faux” (in English, “false cats”).54

Through the contraction of the phrase “chats fortifiés des châteaux,” to “chats-faux,” then to “chaffaux,” Viollet-le-Duc forges a link between the military cat and the early modern French word eschaffaux, and its modern spelling, échafaud, “scaffolding.”55 Thus scaffolding, a raised wooden platform used to support the work of architectural restoration and reconstruction, has its origins in the passive/active terminology of siege warfare. In fact, in many of the photographs taken of Pierrefonds during its restoration, the exterior scaffolding does indeed look like a modernized version of a chat-chateils with its moveable tower propped against the thick walls and towers. Viollet-le-Duc claims that only in modern scaffolding do the traces of these medieval structures survive. In this way, the scaffolding operates as a technique of transference in the restoration process: an articulation of the way an architectural object contains within itself the phantasms of the conflicts and reversals of its passive and active forces; its rhythms of construction and destruction.

Similarly, Viollet-le-Duc transposes the somatic enervations and superimposition of active and passive forces from his drawings of the cats to the sculpted versions at Pierrefonds. These acts of transference also register in the frequent rewriting of “Château de Pierrefonds” as “Cható de Pierrefonds” in the working drawings, suggesting his attunement to the creative forces of contraction and syncopation as it ranges across the muscular, habitual, linguistic, and architectural realms.56 Do all these contractions, tensions, conflicts, and transferences ultimately result in an equilibrium, like a cat always landing upright on all fours despite its previous twisting and turning?

Equilibrium or Catastrophe?

The grandest specter to haunt scholarship on Viollet-le-Duc is the characterization of him as a structural rationalist. At the core of this interpretation is the struggle between active and passive forces and their supposed resolution through the principle of equilibrium. According to this grand narrative in architectural history, the Gothic cathedral or the medieval fortress is a carefully calibrated technical device that equalizes and counterbalances opposing energies, and thus demonstrates its mastering of material forces. The supposed homeostatic elasticity of its structure—a function of its dynamic equilibrium of organic parts—is then extrapolated to all aspects of Viollet-le-Duc’s work, including his understanding of temporality, community, and politics. In fact, one of the main ideologies of organic communities—what Jean-Luc Nancy has called a “community of essence”—is the myth of a “happy equilibrium of forces and authorities,” in which each member is articulated via the whole.57 Equilibrium is also an underlying political and ideological motivation in ethological thought, attested to by Konrad Lorenz’s forced analogies between the “balancing of conflicting forces in a parliamentary democracy” and the conflicting independent sources of impulse that produce tensions in the organism, lending stability to the whole.58 Needless to say, the issue of equilibrium also has a long-standing relationship to restoration, which stretches back to at least Plato’s Philebus, where “restoration” describes an attempt to restore the injured and traumatized body—that is to say, the “pierced” body—to its former harmony and equilibrium.59 In an odd twist of fate, equilibrium has become Viollet-le-Duc’s legacy, the raison d’être of his theory of restoration and the foundation for his reputation as a major theorist of modernism in architecture.60

Certainly, there is ample evidence to support claims that a quest for equilibrium is at the heart of Viollet-le-Duc’s work. For example in his History of a Fortress, he notes that, “the attack is a shock, and the defense a resistance to that shock … one must oppose an impulsive force with a resistance that will neutralize the effect.”61 Many of his images of siege warfare give life to these words; here one might think of the striking engraving in the Dictionnaire Raisonné, where a breach in a palisade at Carcassonne is quickly countered by a temporary woodwork, which contains the shock by a counter-defense (Figure 19). Or one might think of the numerous “outworks” that form an additional line of defense that extends out from the main structure of the Château de Pierrefonds, in order to sustain and disperse the shock of the first attacks. This language and imagery recalls Freud’s persistent use of the language of siege warfare and the fortress to describe the “mental apparatus” and its “mechanisms of defense” used to protect itself from the potentially traumatic influxes of excessive stimuli that threaten to “breach” its protective shield and compromise its material and psychic integrity.62 Any “investment” and penetration of the external protective shield needs to be met with a resistance and counter-investment in order to bind the incoming stimuli, if it is not destroy the apparatus. Freud clearly had the active and passive forces of siege warfare directly in mind—indeed his writings are replete with its terminology—when thinking about the operations involved in defending against the influx of energetic forces upon the mental apparatus.63

Figure 19

Viollet-le-Duc, breach in the wall at Carcassonne, ca. 1854 (from Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, trans. M. Macdermott [Oxford: J. H. and J. Parker, 1860], 41, fig. 15)

Figure 19

Viollet-le-Duc, breach in the wall at Carcassonne, ca. 1854 (from Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, trans. M. Macdermott [Oxford: J. H. and J. Parker, 1860], 41, fig. 15)

Claude Sauvageot astutely characterized Viollet-le-Duc’s ethos as constantly fighting “sur la brèche”—right at the breach in the fortress wall—in the midst of the melée, at the very point of rupture, both attacking and defending at once.64 But, this position is far from a state of equilibrium. In Viollet-le-Duc’s theory and practice of restoration, the “protective shield” is never simply overwhelmed, nor is the counter-defense ever equal to the traumatic influx; it is rather, always in excess of it.65 Thus Viollet-le-Duc’s palimpsest of passive and active forces results in a chiasmatic exchange that never stabilizes, and not a dialectic resulting in a subsequent synthesis.66The play between the two creates a “plane of consistency”: a membrane or surface where form is in constant transformation through continuous foldings, contractions, and expansions.67 For Viollet-le-Duc, Gothic architecture was a “block of becoming,” always mobile and never in equilibrium.68 Viollet-le-Duc saw the fortress as an inorganic life force imbued with a plastic disposition.There are many points on the Château de Pierrefonds where a curtain wall meets a tower and depresses it, thus demonstrating its capacity for innervation and flexibility (Figure 20).69

Figure 20

Château de Pierrefonds, meeting of a tower and wall (from Bernard Thaon, Pierrefonds, ou, L‘impossible jardin [Paris: Nouvelles Éditions Latines, 1987], fig. 32)

Figure 20

Château de Pierrefonds, meeting of a tower and wall (from Bernard Thaon, Pierrefonds, ou, L‘impossible jardin [Paris: Nouvelles Éditions Latines, 1987], fig. 32)

At first glance, the cat would seem to be the ideal animal to embody a state of equilibrium within the structural rationalist argument. Beginning in the nineteenth century, the cat started to be extolled as a “model organism,” a species studied for its exemplary properties, with the expectation that general principles might be established and extended to other species. The cat first rose to this status in Hercule Straus-Durckheim’s monumental three-volume Anatomie descriptive et comparative du chat (1845), with which Viollet-le-Duc was undoubtedly familiar.70 Straus-Durckheim saw the cat as a prototypical mammal, whose development was midway between lower life forms and Homo sapiens sapiens. Its neuro-physiological structure and its binocular vision has many analogues with the human body. But more than this, the cat was seen as an ideal carnivorous predator, and thus revelatory of the “wilder” aspects of mammalian animals.

For Viollet-le-Duc, the cat was the exemplary touchstone for the behavior of all creatures, natural and unnatural, familial and monstrous, as if its heightened nervous sensibility and exuberant life force destined it for modes of transfiguration. He was convinced that if monsters were given the coherence, organization, and actions of real biological entities, they could take on life and be classifiable as if they were natural kinds independent of the consciousness that had conceived them.71 As he explained: “The impossible will become so plausible that even for us today, the centaur is considered a living being that everyone is familiar with, like a cat or a dog.”72 And in his entry on animals in the Dictionnaire raisonné he also writes of centaurs: “the members of these bizarre creatures are always well attached, and rendered with truth; their contours are simple and recall the grace one admires in the feline race, birds of prey, and in certain reptiles.”73 Most of the cats and chimerical creatures at Pierrefonds are indeed rendered with simple contours and striking white highlights, that provide an underlying anatomical structure to their surface appearance, thus giving indications of their lifelike status (see Figure 14). But this bone is not merely structural; it is as if Viollet-le-Duc wanted to suggest that there is a life and vitality in calciferous matter, just as there is a mineral quality to life itself.74 The plasticity and gracefulness that Viollet-le-Duc admired in animals such as cats are inscribed on Pierrefonds, not only with the thirty-two cats astride the dormers, but also with the three large reptiles scurrying down the courtyard walls (see Figure 1).75

The nervous energy and flexibility of the cat could readily produce monstrous forms, as its surplus energy propels it into shapes that are beyond any recoverable equilibrium. The cat, as a “model organism,” demonstrates the capacity of all forms to push beyond their given natures. In at least three of Leonardo’s drawings, cats morph into serpents or dragonlike beasts that exist among their more domestic counterparts.76 Many of the Pierrefonds cats are depicted with mouths open, ears pitched toward the side, with mangy ruffs, looking positively demonic (Figure 21). A small decorative cat and dog, opposite each other in the corners of the two lateral doors in a hall of the château, stretch out their lower quarters, their backs elongating and undulating into reptilian tails (Figure 22).77 These acts of artistic transformism are ubiquitous throughout the château: gargoyles with contracted haunches extruding themselves from blocks of stone; a snake transforming into a branch; a protruding tongue morphing imperceptibly into a leaf.

Figure 21

Viollet-le-Duc, Château de Pierrefonds, sculpted demonic cat, after design of Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

Figure 21

Viollet-le-Duc, Château de Pierrefonds, sculpted demonic cat, after design of Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (photo by Jason Simon)

Figure 22

Viollet-le-Duc, Drawing of a Decorative Dog and a Cat for the Salle des Preuses, Château de Pierrefonds (from Dessins inédits de Viollet-le-Duc, vol. 1, publiés sous le patronage de l‘Administration des Beaux-Arts; par les soins de A. De Baudot, J. Roussel [Paris: Armand Guérinet, 1880], figs. 7, 8)

Figure 22

Viollet-le-Duc, Drawing of a Decorative Dog and a Cat for the Salle des Preuses, Château de Pierrefonds (from Dessins inédits de Viollet-le-Duc, vol. 1, publiés sous le patronage de l‘Administration des Beaux-Arts; par les soins de A. De Baudot, J. Roussel [Paris: Armand Guérinet, 1880], figs. 7, 8)

Structure in Viollet-le-Duc’s work might be taken in Deleuze’s Spinozist way: “[s]tructure is a rhythm, that is, the linking of figures that compose and decompose their relations”—a condition in which relations are inseparable from what a body can do and become, rather than in terms of structural rationalism.78 One can imagine that there would be many pleasures and impossible challenges in attempting to seize the multiple figures and rhythms of the cat, a task made all the more difficult if you look out at the world with cats’ eyes (see Figure 9).

Drawing the Cat

The first chapter of Viollet-le-Duc’s last and most didactic book Learning How to Draw begins with the section “Two ‘Frères de Lait’ [milk brothers, i.e., boys who share a wet nurse] and a Cat.”79 It tells of two ten-year-old boys, Jean and André. André is the son of Mellinot, a distinguished art professor in the French academy, and Jean is the son of Loupeau, a handyman on Mellinot’s estate outside of Paris.80 Both boys have been “nourished” by the same mother, Euphrasie, Jean’s biological mother, and André’s wet nurse.81 Jean and André both have a passion for drawing, and Mellinot is pleased that André, his son, shows more polish than Jean’s crude and unskilled attempts to put pencil to paper. One day, the professor is visited by his friend, Monsieur Majorin a well-traveled, self-educated polymath, who is the director of a factory. The adult counterpart to Jean, he is brusque, crude, more interested in truth than social niceties and is clearly the personification of Viollet-le-Duc’s life-long critique of the French academy, much of it centered on issues of drawing.82 Thus, Learning to Draw is not only an autobiography, but also an allobiography Viollet-le-Duc writes himself through multiple others, including animals.83 Although Learning to Draw is a Bildungsroman, it deconstructs the coming-of-age genre at every turn, emphasizing an absence of filiation, dispossession, nonhuman life, preformal rhythms, and the compulsion to repeat.84

During a Sunday outing, Majorin overhears a conversation between the two boys, in which Jean is trying to defend his crude drawing of a cat against André’s pedantic, academic criticism: André: “It’s not like that—this is how it is done.” Jean: “But I saw it!” André calls over his father to have him judge Jean’s sketch of a cat rendered in black outline; a cat that is, of course, sketched by Viollet-le-Duc himself, and rather heavily, as if to emphasize its exemplary status (see Figure 7).85 If Mellinot is underwhelmed by this simplified outline of a cat with a tail protruding from its head, Majorin is enraptured by the lad’s ability to draw exactly what he sees. Majorin interrogates Jean about his approach and Jean explains: “I watched him, and he watched me; then I took a paper, and the pencil André gave me, out of my pocket. But when the cat saw all that commotion he left. So I recalled his funny ways, and I drew the cat.”86 What impresses Majorin is the boy’s ability to distill an image from memory: a cat facing him with only two legs visible even if he knows that a cat has four legs. Delighted, Majorin asks if he could have the drawing, and Jean obliges the man.87

Later, when the two boys have gone off to play, Majorin blurts out to Mellinot: “If I had a boy like this little one!” Mellinot inquires sarcastically whether that is because the boy has drawn a cat with two legs and a plume on its head. Majorin chastises his friend and declares the boy a born observer. Viollet-le-Duc explains that because the boy was seated, he could not possibly see the cat’s back, as it was hidden behind the head, and thus the tail appeared to him without any intermediary planes.88 Jean represented the cat “in a certain position which struck him, and he seized the principle features which characterized this position.”89 Majorin considers it worthwhile to reiterate this thought: “in a few seconds his eye seized the principal lines and the appearance of the animal, and his unskilled hand rendered what his eyes communicated to his understanding.” Majorin thus exclaims: “Ah! little Jean could be a great artist!” Not surprisingly, these lines echo Sauvageot’s description of Viollet-le-Duc’s ability to rapidly seize the form and the effect of whatever he is drawing, as if there was barely any gap between perception, mentation, and habitual response.90 It also recalls Paul Gout’s praise for the drawings of the Pierrefonds cats, and the way they animate form precisely by abstracting and suppressing superfluous detail.91 The same thick black line that captures the principal features in Jean’s drawing also renders the sinuous contours on Viollet-le-Duc’s drawings for the cats of Pierrefonds (see Figure 14). The abbreviated style also captures, in a few rapid strokes, a cat lunging toward a fortress of toy soldiers (see Figure 6).92

Sauvageot praises many of Viollet-le-Duc’s drawings for their naive, childlike quality, an ability that Viollet-le-Duc could apparently turn off and on “at will.” His attraction to Jean’s childlike drawing—too sophisticated for an untrained boy to produce—suggests that the architect needed to recapture the touch of spontaneity and innocence in animality and childhood without naively thinking that one could do so without all the effects of Nachträglikeit that construct such primal scenes. This is an exemplary scene of Viollet-le-Duc’s lifelong attempt to embrace the rhythm of what Lacan has called the “prematurity of birth in man.”93 Thus, Majorin cannot simply praise Jean verbally, or even watch that event in a moment of preposterous witnessing, he also needs to physically embrace him, and only after this contact does he ask if petit Jean wants to give him his cat. Naturally, Jean hands over his gift that was never freely offered. The exchange encompasses a broader conflict between activity and passivity, grasping and giving, drawing and being drawn toward, seizing and being seized, knowing and unknowing, having and being. And, as always, these hyperbolic pairings invoke the relationship between animal and human. But not any animal will do here; these issues must be posed by a cat.

Paws, Claws, Thumbs, Hands, Pencils, and Weapons

In Learning How to Draw, Viollet-le-Duc ranks the cat right below the monkey and the human by the nature of its hand. The cat has five digits, consisting of four “fingers” and a rudimentary “thumb”: “Felines, like tigers, and the cat, attempt to grasp with four of their fingers and can almost do so thanks to the contractibility [emphasis in the original] of their claws, which are mobile; as regards to the thumb, it exists, but the cat cannot use it to grasp an object.”94 Viollet-le-Duc uses the same verb that Majorin does in his account of petit Jean’s capacity for drawing: “saisir,” the ability “to seize,” “take,” or “grasp.” Although the quote is unspecific about what “object” the cat cannot grasp, Viollet-le-Duc has a very specific one in mind—a pencil. He goes on to write that the monkey begins to use its hand as we do, but its thumb is not completely opposable and, thus, only “the human hand allows you to draw.”95 No matter how highly he regards the cat, Viollet-le-Duc would not disagree with Heidegger’s claim that, “No animal has a hand, and a hand never originates from a paw or a claw or a talon.”96 Simply put, the cat can be drawn by man but cannot draw itself.

But it is precisely the cat’s inability to draw that draws Viollet-le-Duc to the cat in the first place. He is captivated by the cat’s “passibility,” its particular liability to the somatic innervations that allow it to “automatically” configure itself into such graceful lines and plastic figures without intentionality, handedness, or drawing implement.97 The cat contemplates, not in the active, idealist sense of that term, but rather in the sense of its being constituted and driven by its contraction of habits; its “in-tension-ality” rather than its intentionality.98 Because all the multiple passive and active contractions in the cat are so supple and sensuous, we might embrace them as constitutively artistic. As Kenneth Clark explains in his brief account of Leonardo’s sheet of cat drawings: “How animals move and stand has fascinated artists, who perhaps relish the absence of self-consciousness which a human subject can never overcome.”99 This apparent lack of self-consciousness was Viollet-le-Duc’s guiding light for artistic achievement, as demonstrated in his entry “Style” in the Dictionnaire raisonné: “style is a kind of emanation from the form of the work that is not consciously sought after.”100 If an emphasis on anthropocentric mastery, domination, and domestication of the animal permeates Viollet-le-Duc’s tale of the cat’s inability to draw itself, he simultaneously acknowledges that being-with-the-cat is inseparable from being-after-it, being drawn toward it, and being seized by it.101 If the cat can’t “grasp” a pencil, neither does Viollet-le-Duc seem able to completely grasp and subsume the cat into his superior conceptual mastery. It would appear that the cat is an unruly lodger at the nerve center of any attempt at domestication and domination.102

The cat is perhaps the best example of an artist, with whose energies one might want to make contact. Viollet-le-Duc’s motto was “nulla dies sine linea (No Day without a Line),” which is displayed on the frontispiece to Learning How to Draw. The exemplary figure for this motto could easily be the cat, with perhaps a slight adjustment to the wording: “not a single instinctual movement without a graceful line.”103 And when his peers talked about Viollet-le-Duc’s facility in drawing it always came back to a description of his effortless speed and dexterity, or, as he and others were wont to call it, his “habitude de dessiner.”104 It is worth noting that Majorin calls Jean’s natural artistic ability a “precious gift, which he possesses without knowing it.” In the engraving in Champfleury’s Les Chats, Viollet-le-Duc’s cat bears an arms with the motto: “libertas sine labore (Liberty without Labor)” (see Figure 10). It would appear that his cat allows Viollet-le-Duc to touch the faint rhythm of unalienated labor—what Karl Marx described as the animal’s “immediately [being] at one with its life activity”105—if only in the form of attempting to possess what his cat freely owns in its very disposition, namely, a natural sovereignty that lodges a challenge to the labored condition of human knowing and making. This is the cat’s gift as well as Jean’s.

Methexis and the Nerve Force

But there is a logical conundrum here: if over-learning, hyperconsciousness, and a surfeit of historical awareness are clear impediments to the spontaneity that would allow us to render the life of form and produce forms of life, we can only learn to unlearn this lesson now. Viollet-le-Duc’s state of innocence and grace can only be regained after eating from the tree of knowledge.106 At the end of his training, young Jean would grow up by refining his unskilled but instinctive approach to draftsmanship by “contracting a supple habit between eye, brain, and hand.”107 These habits would become grooved into his very being.108 Like Viollet-le-Duc, Jean would contract not only the “habit of drawing” but also the “habit of reasoning,” as if habitual behavior, could be a desirable alternative to conscious reflection. But in order to achieve this state, Viollet-le-Duc had to tap into the forces and tensions that drove the cat’s behavioral patterns, which are at the core of their gracefulness and ability to twist into a variety of plastic figures and forms. Simply put, Viollet-le-Duc’s interest in drawing the cat is less mimetic than it is methectic; it is a matter of contact, contagion, and becoming, not simply an issue of visual representation.109 In other words, becoming is not really becoming until one has remapped one’s neural networks into new connections with the animal, such that in the process where Viollet-le-Duc begins and the cat ends is no longer clear.

How far should we take this? Does modernity begin with a fantasy about cat people, as Branka Arsic has persuasively argued?110 Would it be an exaggeration to say that Viollet-le-Duc was looking out at the world with “yellow eyes of a feline”? (see Figure 9).111 Others did not think so. In a letter of 1836, Viollet-le-Duc’s brother Adolphe wrote to their father from Rome about the budding architect’s love of aqueducts: “he sits on them, he feels them, he scratches them, he licks them.” This sentence is followed by another that implies an even sharper, catlike rhythm to Viollet-le-Duc’s forays through the Roman aqueducts: “he opens, he enters, he crosses, he pulls himself up, he climbs, he is at the summit.”112 And as if to stress Viollet-le-Duc’s becoming-animal, his brother describes him stripping off his clothes layer by layer, only to be deterred from doffing his pants by his friend Leon Gaucherel. In the only detailed image of Jean in Learning How to Draw, the young boy has the same horizontally cocked ears as the cat he sketches (Figure 23, see Figure 7). And of course there is the warrior Tomar, with his ability to see in the dark, and his catlike movements. Perhaps, contra Heidegger, a claw can originate from a hand?

Figure 23

Petit Jean with cat ears (from Viollet-le-Duc, Histoire d’un Dessinateur: Comment on Apprend à Dessiner [Paris: Bibliothèque et de Recreation, J. Hetzel, 1879], 169, fig. 6)

Figure 23

Petit Jean with cat ears (from Viollet-le-Duc, Histoire d’un Dessinateur: Comment on Apprend à Dessiner [Paris: Bibliothèque et de Recreation, J. Hetzel, 1879], 169, fig. 6)

Sauvageot recalls that not only was Viollet-le-Duc’s cat his “veritable companion in work,” but that he caressed his cat “from time to time.” Not content to leave his description of this contact to such a casual tempo, Sauvageot describes a more specific rhythm: it worked out to one caress “between every two stabs [coups] of his drafting pencil or two paragraphs [alinéas].”113 This syncopated beat of “coup”-“coup”-“caresse”/ “coup”-“coup”-“caresse,” once again invokes the sudden jerks and the sliding advances of the military cat on rollers that Viollet-le-Duc was so enchanted by in Simon de Montfort’s poem. Does Viollet-le-Duc’s suite of drawings of cats engaging in combat with toy soldiers not also echo the rhythm of his “repetition compulsion”? One can almost feel the jerking of his wrist as it slashes a couple of short staccato lines for the cat’s head, and a long caress to form the line of an outstretched back (see Figure 6).

The quick stabs and gliding rhythms of Viollet-le-Duc’s pencil often end in a compulsive seizure of form: “One was completely surprised to see, in an instant, the work advance, take a turn and, finally, complete itself in less time than it would take for someone else to begin a sketch.”114 This echoes Baudelaire’s account of Constantin Guys’s approach to drawing in The Painter of Modern Life: “At the last moment, the definitive contour of the object is sealed with ink.”115 Guys seems only able to produce “perfect sketches” through his ability to precipitously close the gap between anteriority and presence in his attempts to capture and preserve action within representation, life in aesthetic form. But as Baudelaire makes clear, this quest for “aesthetic totality,” encompassed in the impulsive closure of form, is a violent gesture, underwritten by an understanding of drawing as an act of combat: “Monsieur G. is bending over the table, darting on to a sheet of paper the same glance that a moment ago he was directing towards external things, skirmishing with his pencil, his pen, his brush … in a ferment of violent activity, as though afraid the image might escape him.”116 Not only did Viollet-le-Duc emphasize that the human hand’s opposable thumb enabled it to grasp a pencil for drawing, he also noted that the hand is “the primary means of combat,” and thus in warfare, it must be protected above all other bodily members.117 Does the cat or the image of the cat ever free itself from such narratives of aggression, domination, and purposefulness?

Ornament and Catastrophe

Commentators not only admired the poses and gracefulness of the Pierrefonds cats, but as Sauvageot commented, they also appreciated how Viollet-le-Duc “skillfully understood them as decorative elements.”118 Their sinuous arabesques echo other ornamentation throughout the château. Viollet-le-Duc’s lifelong attention to distilling decorative effects through an emphasis on sharp lines, plastic contours, and supple forms become the targets of sustained attention in their own right, and begin to disengage from their role in providing organic outlines to bodies of action. Viollet-le-Duc became increasingly invested in releasing the “abstract line” of these figural arabesques through torsion and stretching (Figure 24). The cat’s decorative, sinuous outline distends like a supple filament across multiple thresholds at Pierrefonds, even ascending the heights of the château to contaminate the morphology of the imperial eagle: the sovereign eagle I/eye that is meant to mark the emperor’s territorial domination (Figure 25). Viollet-le-Duc’s nervous cat-like lines—released into an autonomous, expressive life from their previous ties to passive and active forces, aggression, and siege warfare—never completely extract themselves from whence they came.119 They still recall all the transferences, transformations, and tensions rooted in animal aggression.

Figure 24

Viollet-le-Duc, abstract line, detail from chapel spire, drawing for Château de Pierrefonds, 1868 (Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris, © Ministere de la Culture/ Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN/Art Resource, NY)

Figure 24

Viollet-le-Duc, abstract line, detail from chapel spire, drawing for Château de Pierrefonds, 1868 (Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris, © Ministere de la Culture/ Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN/Art Resource, NY)

Figure 25

Château de Pierrefonds, sculpted cat and double-headed imperial eagle decoration, after design of Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (author’s photo)

Figure 25

Château de Pierrefonds, sculpted cat and double-headed imperial eagle decoration, after design of Viollet-le-Duc, ca. 1868 (author’s photo)

If restoration often suggests an ideal unity, equilibrium, or aesthetic totality, the cats of Pierrefonds remind us that this fantasy is but an arrested moment in an endless flurry of parries and blows; a fantasy clad in the “armor of an alienating identity” that provides fragile protection from the barely submerged, fluid and disruptive forces of transformation, monstrosity, aggression, and death.120 Viollet-le-Duc is frequently credited as one of the originators of the sinuous curves and stylized patterns of art nouveau, that final shudder of art for art’s sake, which, according to Walter Benjamin, was the “last attempted sortie of an art besieged … by technology (Figure 26).”121 Could the architect still hear the shouts and screams that echoed in these fortress walls no matter how much he bedecked them with mantles of beauty? Could he hear the feint, lurching noise of a cat advancing, to claw away at the very foundations of any architectural, aesthetic, or political restoration? Are we surprised to find that Viollet-le-Duc had been nurturing such a catastrophe all along?

Figure 26

Viollet-le-Duc, details of glazed awning ornament (from Viollet-le-Duc, Lectures on Architecture, vol. 2, trans. Benjamin Bucknall [Boston: J. R. Osgood, 1881], 121, fig.1)

Figure 26

Viollet-le-Duc, details of glazed awning ornament (from Viollet-le-Duc, Lectures on Architecture, vol. 2, trans. Benjamin Bucknall [Boston: J. R. Osgood, 1881], 121, fig.1)



Chris Marker, “The Case of the Grinning Cat,” Staring Back (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007), 44.


The chateau’s restoration was largely financed directly through the emperor’s purse, and was intended as a fantasy residence across the forest from the royal family’s summer residence at the Château de Compiègne.


Champfleury (Jules Husson), Les Chats (Paris: Editions Ides et Calendes, 1996), 141; Claude Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné (Paris: A. Morel, 1880), 202, note 1. Like Derrida’s cat that stares back at him in his seminal essay “The Animal that Therefore I Am (More to Follow),” we never know the name of Viollet-le-Duc’s companion (or at least I have not been able to find it). Jacques Derrida, The Animal that Therefore I Am, ed. Marie Louise Mallet, trans. David Wills (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 1–51. I pointedly use the word love as Konrad Lorenz persuasively argues that the early pioneers of ethology were “lovers of the objects of their studies,” or amateurs. See Konrad Lorenz, The Foundations of Ethology: The Principle Ideas and Discoveries in Animal Behavior (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982), 47.


Champfleury, Les Chats, 141. A letter from Viollet-le-Duc to Champfleury concerning his contribution to the book is found in Lettres Inédites de Viollet-le-Duc, ed. Viollet-le-Duc fils (Paris: Librairies-Imprimeries Réunies, 1902), 83. There are a few similar letters between Champfleury and Viollet-le-Duc in the Mediathèque de Patrimoine. See Album de Correspondence, 1865–68, no. 354 (536), no. 688 (1013), and no. 701 (128). Viollet-le-Duc was a friend of Champfleury’s, before 1869, as they had met and exchanged letters about caricature, cats, and other topics over the years. See Jules Troubat, Sainte-Beuve et Champfleury: Lettres de Champfleury à sa mère à son frère et à divers (Paris: Société de Mercure de France, 1908), 194–95. There are subtle but informative changes in the various editions of Les Chats.


Bill Horrigan, “Some Other Time,” in Staring Back: Chris Marker, 138. Cats and owls figure in almost all of Marker’s projects.


See Michel Pastoureau, Heraldry: An Introduction to a Noble Tradition (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997), 36. Viollet-le-Duc had a deep interest in heraldry. The study of heraldry—which has been brought to a sophisticated level in the writings of Pastoureau—could benefit from an ethological perspective.


Connections between owls and cats have long been noted, and most often center on their solitary nature, their independence and intelligence, their nocturnal habits, their luminescent eyes and nocturnal vision, their flexible necks (owls) and backs (cats), and in the particular case of the Great Horned Owl, the catlike ear tufts.


Erwin Panofsky, “Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art,” Meaning in the Visual Arts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955), 26–41.


Gilles Deleuze, “Spinoza and Us,” Spinoza and Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Light Books, 1988), 122–30. This last chapter is Deleuze’s most succinct account of his Spinozist ethology in relation to ethology. Although Deleuze and Guattari draw liberally on the work of early ethologists such as Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, Irenaus Eibel-Eibesfeldt, and E. Von Holst, they are critical of their “functionalism,” and their tendency to heirarchize and compartmentalize instead of exploring “planes of consistency,” “blocks of becoming,” “and machinic assemblages.” As is well known, the one ethologist that they do expressive an affinity for—who seems to be practicing a kind of Spinozist ethology—is Jacob von Uexküll. For further discussions of Deleuze’s engagement with ethology, see Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 236, 256–65, 314–48, and the notes on 547–48. The most important references to ethology in A Thousand Plateaus are found in “1837: Of the Refrain,” with its discussion of color and territoriality, which draws heavily on Konrad Lorenz’s On Aggression (London: Methuen, 1866). Also see Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy? trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 183–84 and notes 23 and 25, 232.


Champfleury, Les Chats, 319.


Paul Gout, Viollet-le-Duc: Sa vie, son oeuvre, sa doctrine (Paris: E. Champion, 1914), 66–67.


François–Augustin Paradis de Moncrif, Cats, trans. Reginald Bretnor (1727; London: Golden Cockerel Press, 1961), 88, 97–98.


Charles Baudelaire, “The Cat,” in The Flowers of Evil, trans. James McGowan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 71. This is one of three poems on the cat in Les Fleurs de Mal.


Martin Kemp, The Human Animal in Western Art and Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 88–90. The sheet is dated ca. 1513. For example, see Andrew Kitchener, The Natural History of the Wild Cats (Ithaca: Comstock Publishing, 1991), 13.


Kenneth Clark, Animals and Men: Their Relationship as Reflected in Western Art from Prehistory to the Present Day (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), 121.


Renard the Fox, trans. Patricia Terry (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1983), 44. A short passage from this poem, with scenes of Reynard attacking hens in a coop—and being punished by them—was rendered by Viollet-le-Duc at Pierrefonds on three capitals of the courtyard portico. The ethologist Paul Leyhausen noted that cats stalk their prey like foxes, which might suggest one of the reasons why Viollet-le-Duc was interested in these tales.


On the general relationship between play and warfare see Johan Huizinga, “Play and War,” Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1955), 89–104. On the relationship of play to stalking and hunting in cats, see Leyhausen, Cat Behavior: The Predatory and Social Behavior of Domestic and Wild Cats, trans. Barbara Tonkin (New York: Garland, 1979), 80–92; and for play in relationship to the ethological study of animals in general, see Lorenz, The Foundations of Ethology, 329–35.


Leyhausen, Cat Behavior, 189–99. Konrad Lorenz uses a slightly different phraseology: “a superposition of various fighting and flight intensions.” See Lorenz, The Foundations of Ethology, 244.


Lorenz, On Aggression, 80.


On motivational analysis see Lorenz, On Aggression, 84–92, and Lorenz, The Foundations of Ethology, 242–53.


Paul Leyhausen, “Preface to the First German Edition (1956),” Cat Behavior, xi.


Leyhausen, Cat Behavior, 194–95, figs. 17.3 a–b. There are, in fact, two diagrams, which show “the possible superimpositions of attack and defense moods … with body and facial expressions shown separately.” Lehyausen’s reason for separating them is that phases of expression and behavior in the body and face do not always correspond, as facial expression tends to change more often.


Conspecific is used to describe two organisms that belong to the same species. Viollet-le-Duc is mostly exploring scenes of conspecific rather than inter-species aggression at Pierrefonds.


At times, the bushy tails on some of Viollet-le-Duc’s cats suggest that he was trying to depict them as wild, as the tails of domestic cats tend to be pointed.


Leyhausen, “The Biology of Expression and Impression,” (1967) in Motivation of Human and Animal Behavior: An Ethological View, ed. Konrad Lorenz and Paul Leyhausen, trans. B. A Tonkin (New York: Van Nostrand, 1973), 302.


Leyhausen, Cat Behavior, 191.


See H. Peter Steeves, “They Say Animals Can Smell Fear,” in Animal Others: On Ethics, Ontology and Animal Life, ed. H. Peter Steeves (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999), 136. This state of fright involves a heightened intensity of life and a cold, pale, and inanimate form. For a related discussion of the overlapping of the extremes of art and life, bios and techne, gracefulness and automaticity, see Paul de Man, “Aesthetic Formalization in: Kleist’s Uber das Marionettentheater,” The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 263–90.


Leyhausen, Cat Behavior, 91.


In The Fold, Deleuze wrote about deprivileging vertical and horizontal “harmonics” and emphasized the diagonal in the shift from a baroque monadology to a contemporary nomadology. See The Fold, trans. Tom Conley (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 136–67, and 160 note 4.


Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 251.


“The so-called comfort activities of birds and mammals, such as scratching, preening, and shaking, furnish the most common examples of displacement activities.” Lorenz, The Foundations of Ethology, 251.


Viollet-le-Duc was attracted to the Château de Pierrefonds because it operated on the cusp of this transformation. François Guizot, Histoire de la Civilisation en France, 14th ed. (Paris: Libraire Académique, 1879), 3: 107–35; Norbert Elias, Power of Civility, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Pantheon, 1983), 2: 260, 272–73, 277; and Elias, “The Structure of Dwelling as an Indicator of Social Structure,” The Court Society, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Pantheon, 1983), 41–65.


Paul Leyhausen, Cat Behavior, 193.


Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, trans. M. Macdermot (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997), 2. This translation is the republication of the 1860 English translation of “Architecture (architecture militaire),” Viollet-le-Duc, Dictionnaire raisonnéde l’architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle (Paris: B. Bance and A. Morel, 1854–1868), vol. 1, s.v.


Viollet-le-Duc, “Restoration,” in The Foundations of Architecture: Selections from the Dictionnaire Raisonné of Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, trans. Kenneth D. Whitehead, intro. Barry Bergdoll (New York: Braziller, 1990), 212.


Viollet-le-Duc is emphasizing siege warfare here, as he argues that if the art of defending and attacking “strong places” was highly developed at this time in France, the art of field-warfare was static if not regressive. See “Architecture (architecture militaire),” Dictionnaire raisonné, 1: 153.


Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, 31–32. See “Architecture (architecture militaire),” Dictionnaire raisonné 1: 340.


Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, 32. See “Architecture (architecture militaire),” Dictionnaire raisonné, 1: 342.


Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, 115. The act of siege warfare and the language used to describe the fortress are one of the primary explanatory models for the “mental apparatus” “defense mechanisms,” and the formation of the “I” in Freud and Lacan.


“Somatic compliance” is an aspect of conversion, a defense mechanism that transforms psychical excitation into somatic innervation. Viollet-le-Duc’s account of the fortress’s wall’s “plastic figurability” resulting from the palimpsesting of active and passive forces in siege warfare is one event in the history of that somatic compliance. For Freud, the primary physical manifestation of somatic innervation is the hysteric’s body. See, for example, Georges Didi-Huberman’s account of Charcot’s demonstrations of the bodily contortions performed by female hysterics at Salpêtrière, which were meticulously registered by photographic means. Didi-Huberman, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière, trans. Alisa Hartz (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004). Hysteria, symptoms, memory, and somatic compliance are directly related to “monuments” at the beginning of Freud’s “Five Lectures on Psycho-analysis (1909),” in vol. 11: Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Leonardo da Vinci and Other Works, Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1957), 16–22.


Both Viollet-le-Duc and Deleuze employ the term “machine de guerre.” For Deleuze and Guattari, see “1227: Treatise on Nomadology: The War Machine,” A Thousand Plateaus, 351–423. For those not familiar with the use of this concept in Deleuze and Guattari, it is useful to note the following: first, the war machine does not necessarily have war as its object (war is the “supplement” of the war machine). Second, in its most revolutionary moments the war machine is an invention of “nomadic thought”—that is, it allies itself with relaying the forces of the outside and drawing lines of flight. Third, following the previous point, all creation and creative thought pass through the war. Fourth, the state apparatus is opposed to nomadic forces, and thus is perpetually appropriating the war machine for its own uses (it is at this point where war becomes its object). Fifth, the war machine is antithetical to the “architectonic model” or the monument. At this point, Deleuze uses the medieval fortress to demonstrate the state apparatus’ attempt to break up of the nomad warrior’s fluid movement. In my argument, the Château de Pierrefonds is not antithetical to the war machine and becoming-animal.


Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, 33: “Vers la fin du XIIe siècle et pendant la première moitié du XIIIe siècle, les moyens d’attaque et de défense, comme nous l’avons dit, se perfectionnaient, et étaient surtout conduits avec plus de méthode. On voit alors dans les armées et dans les places, des ingénieurs (engegneors) spécialement chargés de la construction des engins destinés à l’attaque ou à la défense.” “Architecture (architecture militaire),” 1: 342.


Although Viollet-le-Duc discusses the military chat in a few entries in the Dictionnaire Raisonné, the most succinct account can be found in An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, 33–36.


The cat was also used to carry forward earth or fascines to fill up a moat, or brought in after a moat was filled to sap or batter walls.


Viollet-le-Duc, History of a Fortress, 31–33. Tomar appears early on in this narrative of a fortress told through the lens of multiple sieges and defenses from the prehistoric era to the reign of Napoleon III.


Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, 30.


Ibid., 34.


Ibid., 33–36.


For a comprehensive list of these war machines with animal names see, Jean-Baptiste de La Curne de Sainte-Palaye, Dictionnaire historique de l’ancien langage françois ou glossaire de la langue françoise depuis son origine jusqu’au siècle de Louis XIV, vol. 3 (Paris: H. Champollion, 1877), 417 note 3. For a more general Deleuzian take on aspects of machinic assemblages, war machines, and becoming-animal in relationship to Medieval culture, see Jeffrey J. Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).


According to Viollet-le-Duc, Greek fire (gregeois à planté) seems to have been introduced into European warfare by the Turks. See An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages,” 29 and 31, and Annals of a Fortress, 193–94.


Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 240–41.


Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on The Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, 35.


Ibid., 35.


Ibid., 36. For a discussion of the chat-chastel, see Frédéric Godefroy, Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe siècle au XVe siècle (Paris and Geneva: Slatkine, 1982), vol. 2: 88–89; and La Curne de Sainte-Palaye, Dictionnaire historique de l’ancien langage françois, 3: 417.


Viollet-le-Duc, An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages, 36.


For Viollet-le-Duc’s neologisms, see Paul Gout, L’Oeuvre de Viollet-le-Duc, 28, and Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné, 42, fig. 46 and note 2, 45.


Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community, trans. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simona Sawheny (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 9. Although, much in Viollet-le-Duc’s work suggests he participates in the myth of a lost organic community—which involves putting death to work, and objectifying it as a work, substance, subject, or symbol, whether that be the nation, homeland, “the People,” the military, the nobility of feudal society, blood, native soil, sacrifice, or monument—there is always his simultaneous unworking of that putting death to work.


Lorenz, On Aggression, p. 80. The issue of equilibrium arises at every critical point in Lorenz’s work, with political expressions such as the “balance of power,” “senate,” and “the great parliament of instincts.” Lorenz’s “democratic display” could be interpreted as a displacement activity for his support of the Nazi regime.


The word “trauma” derives from the Greek word “titrisko,” which means both wound and “to pierce.”


See Aron Vinegar, “Viollet-le-Duc and Restoration in the Future Anterior,” Future Anterior 3, no. 2 (Winter 2006), 57–67.


Viollet-le-Duc, Annals of a Fortress, 357.


There are too many of Freud’s texts to list here in support of my claim. It is enough to say that this metaphor of siege warfare—and its specific language—is evident from his earliest works to his latest: “The Project for a Scientific Psychology (1895),” in vol. 1 (1886–99): Pre Psycho-Analytical Publications and Unpublished Drafts, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1966), 283–388; and “An Outline of Psycho-Analysis (1940),” in vol. 23 (1937–39): Moses and Monotheism, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis and Other Works, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1964), 141–208.


The issue of “constancy” is a conflicted one in Freud’s work. At times it means a reduction of tension to zero, and at other times it suggests a homeostatic force, even if at times the organism needs an increase or decrease of tension to reestablish equilibrium with its environment. See Leo Bersani, Baudelaire and Freud (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 85. I do not believe that Freud ever uses the term “homeostasis,” but rather the word “inertia.” If I am not mistaken it is Jacques Lacan, in his early work, who uses the term homeostasis in regards to the psyche: “There is a closed precinct, within which a certain equilibrium is maintained, through the action of a mechanism which we now call homeostasis, which absorbs, and moderates the irruption of quantities of energy coming from the external world. Let us call this regulation the restitutive function of the psychic organization.” See The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II, The Ego in Freud’s Theory and In the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954–55, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli (New York: Norton & Norton Company, 1988), 60. Looking ahead a bit, it is clear that even at this date, Lacan is well aware that the child at the infans stage of “nursling dependence” is very quickly—indeed precipitously—launched out of the “primordial enclosure” formed by the imago of the mother’s body and into the assumption of its specular image.


Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné, 75.


The fortress and siege warfare also figure strongly in Lacan’s interpretation of Freud. For example, see his seminal essays, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I” and “Aggressiveness in Psychoanalysis,” in Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), 75–101.


As Slavoj Zižek has noted, one tarries with the traumatic encounter and “tries to counteract its destabilizing impact by spinning out intricate symbolic cobwebs.” See Slavoj Zižek, On Belief (Thinking in Action) (London: Routledge, 1998), 47. As the metaphor of multiple cobwebs indicates, the counter-defense is in excess of the trauma. It is interesting to note that along with the central owl with prey in its talons, and the cats chasing mice, the corners of the floor mosaic in Viollet-le-Duc’s home and studio consists of spider webs. These webs also clearly refer to Viollet-le-Duc’s wife Elise Tempier, whom he nicknamed “la mouche (the fly).” On the “refrain” between the fly and the spider web, see Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 314.


Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 39–74, 149–66, and 232–309. For “plane of consistency,” esp. 269–70.


Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 305.


Also see footnote 40 on “somatic compliance.”


Hercule Straus-Durckheim, Anatomie descriptive et comparative du chat: Type des mammifières en général et des carnivores et particulier (Paris: published by the author, 1845). Champfleury referred to this well-known, lavishly illustrated book in Les Chats, where he claims that its author treats the cat as the “roi de la creation,” and that his own book’s horizon of achievement is an account of the cat’s “moeurs” that would favorably compare to what Straus-Durkheim accomplished for its anatomy.


Aron Vinegar, “Memory as Construction in Viollet-le-Duc’s Architectural Imagination,” Paroles Gelées 16, no. 2 (1998), 43–55.


Viollet-le-Duc, “First Lecture,” Lectures on Architecture, trans. Benjamin Bucknell, vol. 1 (New York: Dover), 23.


Viollet-le-Duc, “Animaux,” Dictionnaire raisonné, 1: 23.


Viollet-le-Duc would upend Heidegger’s divisions between human, animal, and stone. See Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude, trans. William McNeill and Nicholas Walker (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 180. The Château de Pierrefonds is constructed out of calciferous rock, and the imprints of fossil organisms on the stone are evident to the naked eye.


The reptile on the northeast side of the courtyard is the first ornamental element one sees on entering the courtyard.


Kemp, The Human Animal in Western Art and Science, 88–89.


In Les Chats, Champfleury tells of his cat awaking and slowly arching his flexible back into a mountain that transforms him into a small camel. See Champfleury, Les Chats, 201–2.


Deleuze, “Spinoza and the Three Ethics,” in Essays Critical and Clinical, 142; and Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, 218.


Viollet-le-Duc, Learning How to Draw; or, The Story of a Young Designer, trans. Virginia Champlin (New York: Putnam’s, 1881), 1–9. The French title is Histoire d’un dessinateur, comment on apprend à dessiner (Paris: Bibliothèque d’Education et de Récréation, 1879). It is significant that the original title for the book was “how to become a draftsperson” (Comment on devient un dessinateur). The following paraphrases and quotes are taken from pages 1–9 in the English edition. There is one significant piece of scholarship on this passage by E. H. Gombrich, “Viollet-le-Duc’s ‘Histoire d’un dessinateur,’” in Discovering Child Art: Essays on Childhood, Primitivism and Modernism, ed. Jonathan Fineberg (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 27–39.


Jean’s family name, Loupeau, might be translated as “wolfskin.”


For a history of wet-nursing, which was still ubiquitous in nineteenth-century France, see George D. Sussman, Selling Mother’s Milk: The Wet-Nursing Business in France, 1715–1914 (Urbana: Illinois University Press, 1982). In a book about the family, Geneviève Viollet-le-Duc noted that Eugène was wet-nursed just outside of Paris in Brevannes, near Boissy-Saint-Léger, the locale of this wet-nursing scene in Learning How to Draw. Geneviève Viollet-le-Duc, Les Viollet-le-Ducs, Documents et Correpsondances: Histoire d’une famille (Geneva: Slatkine, 2000), 31–32. This wet-nursing scene would demand an attention to the many “fantasy structures” it nurtures.


Viollet-le-Duc never attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He was taught drawing at an early age by his uncle, Etienne Delécluze, the protégé of Jacques-Louis David, and during the 1840s and 50s, Viollet-le-Duc taught ornament drawing at the Ecole de Dessin in Paris. When he was briefly appointed professor of art history and aesthetics at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts after the attempted reforms in fall 1863, his lectures in spring 1864 were disrupted, and he quickly left his post. Viollet-le-Duc and Louis Vitet, Débats et polémiques: A Propos de l’enseignement des arts du dessin (Paris: Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts, 1984).


The locus classicus for the autobiographical in this regard is in Derrida’s writings: For example, The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation, trans. Peggy Kamuf and Avital Ronell (New York: Schocken Books, 1985). My reference to an allobiography at the heart of every autobiography is meant to recall Philipe Lacoue-Labarthe’s commentary on autobiography in “The Echo of the Subject,” Typography, trans. Christopher Fynsk (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1989), 179.


On the structure of the Bildungsroman see Reinhard Koselleck, “On the Anthropological and Semantic Structure of Bildung,” in The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts, trans. Todd Samuel Presner and Others, foreword by Hayden White (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2002), 170–207. I have also benefited from the Deleuze’s comments on the Bildungsroman in “Bartleby; or, The Formula,” Gilles Deleuze: Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 76–78.


A peer reviewer for this essay suggests that it was Prosper Mérimée who provided the idea for this schematic drawing of a cat. I have not found any indications of this in my research, although the reviewer might have access to material or found information in this regard that I am unaware of. But, ultimately, I think the drawing of the cat and this passage is indebted in spirit if not letter to a passage in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile. See note 87. In any case, Mérimée was equally obsessed with cats, drew them, and included passages on them in his prose. There is also a significant passage in Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné, page 102, note 1, on the engraving of Viollet-le-Duc’s cat in Les Chats and the architect’s comparison of his cat with Mérimée’s.


Viollet-le-Duc, Learning How to Draw, 6.


In some senses this scene is a rewriting of a passage in Rousseau’s Emile, in which he equates the curiosity, powers of observation, naïveté, natural skepticism, and exploratory nature of childhood learning with a cat entering into a room for the first time. Rousseau claims that it is this disposition, rightly or wrongly educated, “which makes children skillful or clumsy, quick or slow, wise or foolish.” See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or On Education, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 44. The close connection between cats and children is also attested to by the fact that Champfleury followed his book on cats by one on children. See Champfleury, Les Enfants: Education-Instruction, 3rd ed. (Paris: J. Rothschild, 1872).


Viollet-le-Duc treasured this aesthetic of collapsed planes that impact one directly. He often raises it in regards to the experience of drawing at high altitudes, in which a distant chain of mountains can appear near and flat because the thin air offers little atmospheric perspective. Viollet uses this effect at Pierrefonds. Gérard Genette has outlined a similar orographical aesthetic in Stendhal’s writings. Gérard Genette, “Other Magic of the Faraway,” Essays in Aesthetics, trans. Dorrit Cohn (University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 160–66.


Viollet-le-Duc, Learning How to Draw, 8.


Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné, 5.


Paul Gout, Viollet-le-Duc, 45.


Viollet-le-Duc produced caricatures of friends, family and acquaintances his entire life.


Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror-phase as Formative of the Function of the I, as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience,” in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Bruce Fink (W.W. Norton, 2002), 3–9. This does not require memory so much as fabulation, and it is primarily concerned with an infancy of the event rather than events from infancy. See Christopher Fynsk, “Jean-François’s Infancy,” in Jean-François Lyotard: Time and Judgment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 48–55.


Viollet-le-Duc, Histoire d’un dessinateur, 114. The ability of the cat to “almost” use its toes like an opposable thumb on a human hand is echoed by Paul Leyhausen: “Also, the toes on the forepaws can even grip small objects, thus enabling cats to use their forepaws almost like a hand.” See Leyhausen, “Cats,” 3; Bernhard Grzimek, ed., Grzimek’sEncyclopedia of Mammals (New York: McGraw Hill, 1989), 576.


Viollet-le-Duc, Histoire d’une Dessinateur, 114.


See Heidegger, Parmenides, trans. Andre Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 80. A similar but significantly different worded passage on the hand is developed in What is Called Thinking, trans. J. Glenn Gray (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 16: “The hand is infinitely different from all grasping organs—paws, claws, or fangs—different by an abyss of essence.” Not surprisingly, Deleuze has a different take on these things: “from its act of birth [the hominid], it deterritorializes its front paw, wrests it from the earth to turn it into a hand, and reterritorializes it on branches and tools. A stick is, in turn a deterritorialized branch.” See Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, 67.


Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Heart of Things,” The Birth to Presence, trans. Brian Holmes et al. (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1993), 410 note 2. The French word passibilité, and the English passibility complicate the dialectic of activity and passivity.


For passive contemplation and its fundamental relationship with contraction and habit, see Deleuze, “Repetition for Itself,” Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 70–128. For a brief suggestion of this sense of intension, see Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus, trans. Richard A. Rand (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2008), 134.


Clark, Animals and Humans, 121.


Viollet-le-Duc, “Style,” Dictionnaire raisonné, 8: 493.


To paraphrase some of the questions that Derrida asks when thinking about his cat: Who learns from whom? Who draws whom? Who is drawn toward whom? Who is chasing whom? Who is grasping at whom? See Derrida, “The Animal that Therefore I Am (More to Follow),” The Animal That Therefore I Am, 10.


The cat might be the emblem for these questions. Not only is a cat on the frontispiece of Rousseau’s Social Contract, they also appear in two exemplary nineteenth-century paintings: Manet’s Olympia (1863) and Courbet’s The Painter’s Studio (1855). For Rousseau, see Jacques Berchtold, “Les Chats de Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” in Chiens et chats littéraires chez Cingria, Rousseau, et Cendrars (Geneva: La Dogana, 2002), 37–100. Within the realm of ethology, there is a long-standing debate about the domestication of the cat, with many claiming that unlike other domesticated species, the cat, in effect, domesticated itself.


Deleuze and Guattari remark: “We think lines are the basic components of things and events … . What’s interesting, even in a person, are the lines that make them up, or they make up, or take, or create.” See Deleuze, “On A Thousand Plateaus,” Negotiations, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 33. On lines in relationship to architecture, see Catherine Ingraham’s excellent Architecture and the Burdens of Linearity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998). Also see her important work on animality, architecture, and posthumanist thought: Architecture, Animal, Human: The Asymmetrical Condition (New York: Routledge, 2006).


For example, see Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné, 84. The phrases “habit of drawing” and “habit of reasoning” occur on pages 69, 202, and 275 of Histoire d’un dessinateur, and in other publications. Variations on “habitude” and “habituer” are ubiquitous in Histoire d’un dessinateur.


Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History: The Destruction of Experience, trans. Liz Heron (London: Verso, 2007), 60.


This is the lesson in Heinrich von Kleist’s “Marionette Theater”—a didactic text about teaching, as Paul de Man reminds us. See Kleist, “On the Marionette Theater” (1812), in Fragments for a History of the Human Body, vol. 1, ed. Michel Feher et al. (New York: Zone Books, 1989), 420, and Paul de Man’s commentary in “Aesthetic Formalization: Kleist’s Uber das Marionettentheater,” The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 269–70.


Viollet-le-Duc, Learning How to Draw, 69.


At times Viollet-le-Duc seems to want to inculcate what Charles Sanders Peirce would call “self-analyzing habit”; of building beliefs and habits while describing or analyzing the reasoning behind their construction (“self-analyzing because formed by the aid of analysis of the exercises that nourished it”). See Charles Sanders Peirce, “Pragmatism,” in The Essential Peirce (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 2: 418.


Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 305: “Imitation enters in only as an adjustment of the block [of becoming], like a finishing touch, a wink, a signature.” There is a long history of mimesis as contact and contagion, which one could track from Immanuel Kant, through Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Georges Bataille.


See Branka Arsic, “Flame and Cat,” The Passive Eye: Gaze and Subjectivity in Berkeley (via Beckett) (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2003), 18–22. This claim is based on a remark in Descartes’s Optics about the cat as the only species that does not receive images from without, because of its ability to generate the light to see its own gaze. Descartes’s passage on the cat is very important, and although I do not have time to address it here, I will address it in an essay for a forthcoming book, Refigurations of the Animal: Plasticity in Contemporary Art, ed. Amanda Boetzkes and Maria Whiteman.


Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 240: “Who has not known the violence of these animal sequences, which uproot one from humanity, if only for an instant, making one scrape at one’s bread like a rodent or giving one the yellow eyes of a feline?”


Adolphe Viollet-le-Duc to his father, Rome, 8 Feb. 1837, in Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Lettres d’Italie, 1836–1837: adressées à sa famille, ed. Geneviève Viollet-le-Duc (Paris: Léonce Laget, 1971), 251.


Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné, fn 1, p. 202. I don’t have the space to pursue it here, but Champfleury notes that the cat is the preferred animal of the wet nurse, and thus it is the first animated being that strikes the infants’ ears in the form of nursery rhymes and rhythms. See, Champfleury, “Poésies, Traditions Populaires,” Les Chats, 35–42. Champfleury even provides a few examples of these alliterative and onomatopoetic nursery rhymes. These nursery rhymes are one of the first acoustic resonances that comprise the “echo of the subject,” thus attesting to Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s claim that, “the stylistic phenomenon of unconscious repetition… is connected to the fundamental determination of the subject as “ethos” or as character.” See Lacoue-Labarthe, “Echo of the Subject,” Typography, 185.


Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné, 5.


Quoted in Paul de Man “Literary History and Literary Modernity,” Blindness and Insight (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 158. De Man’s essay is one of the great accounts of this text; the other one is Walter Benjamin’s extended reflections in “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire, ed. Michael W. Jennings, trans. Howard Eiland, Edmund Jephcott, Rodney Livingston, and Harry Zohn (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2006), 175–94.


Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, 12. Benjamin’s notes, “he is combative, even when alone, and parries his own blows.” See “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” 178–79.


Viollet-le-Duc, “Gantelet,” in vol. 3, Dictionnaire raisonné du mobilier français de l’époque carolingienne à la Renaissance (Paris: A. Morel, 1866), 3: 449.


Claude Sauvageot, Viollet-le-Duc et son oeuvre dessiné, 45.


Paul Leyhausen notes that it is precisely the maximum superimposition of the drives of flight and fight in the cat that releases a pure expression of threat due to the damming up of its ability to act. The tensions and oscillations enabled by the superimposition of conflicting motivations are particularly liable, by way of ritualization, to become what ethologists call an “autonomous motor pattern” (Lorenz, On Aggression, 55–56). In ethology, ritualization is a process by which certain movements lose their specific functions and become “autonomic rites.” They become what are called “releasers”: combinations of motor patterns acting as signals and morphological structures enhancing these effects in a feedback loop. Lorenz calls them “stimulus-sending contrivances” that were originally rooted in aggressive behavior but have now become redirected, displaced, and ritualized for other purposes. They are the bright colors and intricate dances we see displayed in fish or mammals during mating rituals or to avoid aggression. Through rhythmical repetition and mimetic exaggeration they reinforce morphologies and performances that enhance auditory or visual stimulation. In fact, Lorenz suggests that one indication that ritualization has indeed occurred is precisely the appearance of aesthetic pleasure: the “beautiful colors” of coral-reef fish or birds, “pure notes” in bird song, and so forth. At this point in Lorenz’s writings the conflation between animal and human art becomes vertiginous with fish displaying “poster colors” and male sticklebacks performing “zigzag dances.” We are hardly surprised to find that Konrad Lorenz claims that “the autonomy of art for art’s sake” was one “cultural” step away from such phylogenic ritualizations (Lorenz, On Aggression, 64).

Although he would find a lot to contest in Lorenz’s narrative, Adorno was clearly intrigued by these ethological accounts of the origins of “autonomous art” in his Aesthetic Theory. They resonated in important ways with his belief that “aesthetic comportment contains what has been belligerently excised from civilization and repressed, as well as the human suffering under the loss…” Adorno never believed in a realm of pure beauty. In a haunting passage he writes: “The terrifying digs in on the perimeter [of beauty] like the enemy in front of the walls of the beleaguered city….” Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans., and ed. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 327, and fn.12, 377. The entire section entitled “Theories on the Origin of Art (Excursus),” is relevant here (326–31). It is clear from this section, that Adorno was interested in Arnold Gehlen’s extension of Lorenz’s work into the “cultural” realm.


See Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I,” Ecrits, 4–5.


Walter Benjmin, “Paris, The Capital of the Nineteenth Century,” The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 9.