Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The First Of Many Posts Concerning My King Kong Obsession

As you may or may not know, the finance company’s lobby over which I preside as receptionist sports a very expensive flat panel television that usually broadcasts CNN.

Yesterday I witnessed yet another absurdity: in a segment on the release of King Kong, an intrepid CNN investigator had taken it upon herself to bring a small portable television to what appeared to be the Bronx Zoo’s Congo Gorilla exhibit, in order to show footage from King Kong to the resident gorillas and observe their responses, at one point, attemping to get a young gorilla to give a “thumbs up? Or thumbs down?” She seemed to find this hilarious.

A big “thumbs down” from me, or rather, a big “head collapsing atop arms on desk”: the inrepid CNN lady was utterly oblivious to the King Kong trailer, which portends a grand tragedy of the cruel and destructive obliviousness of Cartesian hubris and anthropocentrism.

This CNN/ gorilla bit made me think of many things, foremost being the following passage from Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, [ ] which I will share with you.

“Sultan is alone in his pen. He is hungry: the food that used to arrive regularly has unaccountably ceased coming.

“The man who used to feed him and has now stopped feeding him stretches a wire over the pen three metres above ground level, and hangs a bunch of bananas from it. Into the pen he drags three wooden crates. The he disappears, closing the gate behind him, although he is still somewhere in the vicinity, since one can smell him.

“Sultan knows: Now one is supposed to think. That is what the bananas up there are about. The bananas are there to make one think, to spur one to the limits of one’s thinking. But what must one think? One thinks: Why is he starving me? One thinks: What have I done? Why has he stopped liking me? One thinks: Why does he not want these crates anymore? But none of these is the right thought. Even a more complicated thought – for instance: What is wrong with him, what misconception does he have of me, that leads him to believe it is easier to reach a banana hanging from a wire than to pick up a banana from the floor? – is wrong. The right thought to think is: How does one use the crates to reach the bananas?

“Sultan drags the crates under the bananas, piles them one on top of the other, climbs the tower he has built, and pulls down the bananas. He thinks: Now will he stop punishing me?

“The answer is: NO. The nest day the man hangs a fresh bunch of bananas from the wire, but also fills the crates with stones so that they are too heavy to be dragged. One is not supposed to think: Why has he filled the crates with stones? One is supposed to think: How does one use the crates to get the bananas despite the fact that they are filled with stones?

“One is beginning to see how the man’s mind works.

“Sultan empties the stones from the crates, builds a tower with the crates, climbs the tower, pulls down the bananas.

“As long as Sultan continues to think wrong thoughts, he is starved. He is starved until the pangs of hunger are so intense, so overriding, that he is forced to think the right thought, namely, how to go about getting the bananas. Thus are the mental capabilities of the chimpanzee tested to their uttermost.
[...]

“At every turn Sultan is driven to think the less interesting thought. From the purity of speculation (Why do men behave like this?) he is relentlessly propelled toward lower, practical, instrumental reason (How does one use this to get that?) and thus toward acceptance of himself as primarily an organism with an appetite that needs to be satisfied. Although his entire history, from the time his mother was shot and he was captured, through his voyage in a cage to imprisonment on this island prison camp and the sadistic games that are played around food here, leads him to ask questions about the justice of the universe and the place if this penal colony in it, a carefully plotted psychological regimen conducts him away from ethics and metaphysics toward the humbler reaches of practical reason. And somehow, as he inches through this labyrinth of constraint, manipulation, and duplicity, he must realize that on no account dare he give up, for on his shoulders rests the responsibility of representing apedom. The fate of his brothers and sisters may be determined by how well he performs.

[….]

“In his deepest being Sultan is not interested in the banana problem. Only the experimenter’s single-minded regimentation forces him to concentrate on it. The question that truly occupies him, as it occupies the rat and the cat and every other animal trapped in the hell of the laboratory or the zoo is: Where is home, and how do I get there?

Another thing: I have wondered aloud many times why so many anti-evolutionists publicly protest at being kin to apes: "You're gonna tell me I'm descended from a MONKEY?" Buddy, let me tell you something. My maternal grandfather was a rapist, a wifebeater, and a pedophile. I'm thankful on a daily basis that I have my other inheritance to draw upon.

2 Comments:

Blogger corpodibacco said...

Hey, that was beautiful.
Thank you for sharing it.

I read my first Coetzee only few days ago ('Youth') and I found it great, so pleasurable and clever and perceptive.
This 'Lives of Animal's is now in my so called 'wishlist' (I depend on the fucking amazon for my english literature feeds)...
I already like Sultan too much.

This excerpt also remembered me a little 'the far side' by gary larson. I distinctly recall there was a lot of philosophical thinking about monkeys and bananas there, not always superficial.

11:14 PM  
Blogger Lillet Langtry said...

Grazie, corpodibacco!!

The entire text of _The Lives Of Animals" is aavailable as PDF at that link.

Take care!!

L

10:21 AM  

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