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Friday, November 13, 2015

Kafka, Ein Bericht für eine Akademie

Gabriel von Max, Monkey before a Skeleton, 1900
some editions of Kafka’s Ein Bericht für eine Akademie use this painting on their cover
(source: pinterest)
no copyright infringement intended

An ape that succeeded to evolve toward human condition presents a report in front of scientists: the history of his metamorphosis. Ein Bericht für eine Akademie (A Report to an Academy) is, like all Kafka's stories, exclusively factual, leaving entirely to us the pleasure to pull whatever meaning. And, of course, it's absurd, like all Kafka's. But: is it so absurd (to begin with)? After all, just to quote from the story, everyone on earth feels a tickling at the heels; the small chimpanzee and the great Achilles alike. In other words, humans and apes are not that different. Could an ape become a human (at least in literature)? Well, Gregor Samsa made the whole way back; but forget about Samsa for the moment; let's focus on Rotpeter and his Report to the Academy. Darwin told us a lot about the struggle for survival as evolution's driving force, and the capacity to adapt, as tantamount condition for survival. Kafka makes here a point: in order to survive, one has to renounce at his natural condition, at the liberty of being just himself. Adaptation and liberty are mutually exclusive.

Of course, more concrete interpretations can be extracted from Ein Bericht für eine Akademie: Nicholas Murray saw there a metaphor for the Jewish diaspora survival through assimilation into Western culture (wiki).

Ein Bericht für eine Akademie was published firstly in 1917 (by Martin Buber, in Der Jude magazine). Here is the text:

And here is an English translation, made by Ian C. Jonston:

A movie made in 2001 (Human Nature) is a loose adaptation of Kafka's story: Puff (Rhys Ifans) testifies to Congress, Lila Jute (Patricia Arquette) tells her story to the police, while a dead Nathan Bronfman (Tim Robbins) addresses an unseen audience in the netherworld; so it's a story told in flashbacks, you gotcha; Lila has a rare hormonal imbalance which causes thick hair to grow all over her body; during her twenties, she decides to leave society and live within nature where she feels free to exist comfortably in her natural state; at age thirty, strong sexual desire causes her to return to civilization and have her hair removed in order to find a partner; this is Dr. Nathan Bronfman, who is researching the possibility of teaching table manners to mice (wiki); and so on, but let's not deconspire the plot. It's burlesque, it's anti-movie, all you want. And yes, it is built very freely upon the ideas from Kafka's story.

After all, what is different and what alike, between apes and humans? The movie ends with a quote from Ockham's Opera theologica: Intuitive cognition is such that when some things are cognized, of which one inheres in the other, or one is spatially distant from the other, or exists in some relation to the other, immediately in virtue of that non-propositional cognition of those things, it is known if the thing inheres or does not inhere, if it is spatially distant or not, and the same for other true contingent propositions, unless that cognition is flawed or there is some impediment.


(Gabriel von Max)


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