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Henri rhymes with ennui: Reflections on “The Existential Musings of an Angst Filled Cat”

April 19, 2013
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Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst Filled Cat
By William Braden

It’s no coincidence that Henri rhymes with ennui, the French word for boredom and discontent. Henri is a deep-thinking cat fed up with the meaningless of the world and the complacency of his humans. He is a philosopher in the style of the French existentialists, which is why his YouTube videos are in French with English subtitles.

Henri is full of references. His ideas come mostly from Camus and Sartre, and his films are in the tradition of New Wave visionaries like Goddard or Truffaut.

Henri has comments on all aspects of mundane life. He often lounges around the house declaring, “I feel nothing.” Or he looks down on other felines, who prefer appeasing their humans to pondering the nature of existence. There is one traitor in particular that Henri despises, a goofy, untroubled cat called “the white imbecile.”

In one video, Henri takes a trip to “Le Vet.” He describes this futile experience: “I try to tell the doctor about my depressive state, and my growing disillusionment with the world. But he just checks for gunk in my ears.”

On the subject of Halloween, Henri remarks, “None of these costumes are truly scary. No one ever dresses as crippling self-doubt.”

Because of Henri’s deep insights, he has become a YouTube sensation. But the tormented feline is never content; he laments, “This brings me no joy.”

Although Henri may feel only emptiness, his audience certainly enjoys his work. Thanks to his supporters, Henri’s ennui has won him the People’s Choice award at the Internet Cat Video Film Festival.

Now the philosopher cat has been given another opportunity to share his existential musings, in the form of a new book of aphorisms put together by his human, Will Braden. Henri, Le Chat Noir is not only an opportunity for readers to learn more from Henri’s vast experience, but it is also a window into his tortured soul.

This petit livre has some new ideas to add to Henri’s angst-filled philosophy. He presents this parable: “A man throws a stick, and a dog brings it back in an endless slobbery loop. I would leave the stick where it lands as a reminder of the transitory nature of our being.” Henri also expresses his frustration at his human’s lack of sensitivity: “They curse the fur on the bed, but what is shedding if not a reminder or my own spiritual evanescence? It is my soul they vacuum up.”

Yet ultimately, the book version of Henri, le Chat Noir doesn’t live up to its YouTube inspiration. Henri is a better actor than he is a model; thus his despair and disdain don’t come off as well in photographs as they do in videos. Also, in the transition from film to print, the homage to artsy foreign movies is lost. In the book there isn’t even any pretentious French. Along with these absences goes some of the original humor.

Nevertheless, for fans of existential philosophy, French film, cats, or any combination thereof, Henri’s book of aphorisms is an entertaining, insightful, and ennui-inducing read.