Walter Potter’s botched kitten with eight legs and two tails is certainly a wonder of the natural world and certainly among the most disquieting. We know that such deformities occasionally occur in nature, but the kitten seem to hover outside the natural order of things and beyond the realm of explicable phenomena, and while our twenty-first-century science tells us that the animal is just a random genetic misfire without any cosmological meaning or significance, nevertheless the kitten seems so much more than just a blunder of nature.
The kitten suggests some mysterious workings of nature’s engine, giving us with a sense of creative yet forever obscure potency the natural world. If nature gave birth to such creatures, what other deformed shapes could also be produced? The world suddenly seems more alive with possibilities, albeit more disturbing possibilities than we might like to consider.
It is perhaps only when confronted with such monstrous births that we can even begin to understand the enthralling experience of stepping into a Renaissance cabinet of wonders where the imaginative of nature seemed limitless. In a room filled with wonders, there is the sense that anything could potentially exist. Even on its own, isolated from other mesmerizing curiosities of the natural world, the kitten ruptures reality by its strangeness and offer a fantastic world of infinite combinations of legs, heads, shapes, and sizes. Like all wonders, the kitten casts a spell, momentary transporting us out of ourselves, and, like a bolt of lightening, scatters everything we believed to be true.
The kitten certainly jars our expectations, but it affects us more deeply than its mere visual provocation. The haunting image the kitten is forcefully upsetting. This kitten is not just a strange object, but was once - however briefly - a living being. Like us, it breathed air into its lung, it had yearnings, wants, and needs. At a deep level, we know this kitten because it is like us, and the fear or revulsion or disgust or fascination it arouses stem directly from this knowledge: both like and unlike us. It offers us a different version of how life could be.