Currently reading : Kafka’s Monkey
Fellow culture vultures in London: if ever I were to be faced with the difficult task of having to recommend a single act of artistic brilliance from 2011 it would without a doubt be the extraordinary play based on Franz Kafka’s short story ‘A Report to an Academy’, namely Kafka’s Monkey. With utter wholeheartedness and intelligence, actress Kathryn Hunter portrays the desperate fate of an imprisoned ape forced into the chains of humanity. Kafka’s philosophical amplitude and narrational craftsmanship are skillfully adapted into a touching piece of theatrical genius.
Showing until 11 June at the Young Vic.
Up until then I had had so many ways out, and now I no longer had one. I was tied down. If they had nailed me down, my freedom to move would not have been any less. And why? If you scratch raw the flesh between your toes, you won’t find the reason. If you press your back against the bars of the cage until it almost slices you in two, you won’t find the answer. I had no way out, but I had to come up with one for myself. For without that I could not live. Always in front of that crate wall””I would inevitably have died a miserable death. But according to Hagenbeck, apes belong at the crate wall””well, that meant I would cease being an ape. A clear and beautiful train of thought, which I must have planned somehow with my belly, since apes think with their bellies.
I’m worried that people do not understand precisely what I mean by a way out. I use the word in its most common and fullest sense. I am deliberately not saying freedom. I do not mean this great feeling of freedom on all sides. As an ape, I perhaps recognized it, and I have met human beings who yearn for it. But as far as I am concerned, I did not demand freedom either then or today. Incidentally, among human beings people all too often are deceived by freedom. And since freedom is reckoned among the most sublime feelings, the corresponding disappointment is also among the most sublime. In the variety shows, before my entrance, I have often watched a pair of artists busy on trapezes high up in the roof. They swung themselves, they rocked back and forth, they jumped, they hung in each other’s arms, one held the other by clenching the hair with his teeth. “That, too, is human freedom,” I thought, “self-controlled movement.” What a mockery of sacred nature! At such a sight, no structure would stand up to the laughter of the apes.
No, I didn’t want freedom. Only a way out””to the right or left or anywhere at all. I made no other demands, even if the way out should also be only an illusion. The demand was small; the disappointment would not be any greater””to move on further, to move on further! Only not to stand still with arms raised, pressed again a crate wall. (Excerpt from ‘A Report to an Academy’)