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Fiction #121
(published February 13, 2003)
A Report to an Academy: An Interview with the Ape
by Franz Kafka

We all know Rotpeter [Red Peter], just as half the world knows him. But when he came to our town for a guest performance, I decided to get to know him personally. It is not difficult to be admitted. In big cities where everyone in the know clamors to watch celebrities breathe from as close as possible, great difficulties may be encountered; but in our town one is content to marvel at the marvelous from the pit. Thus I was the only one so far, as thc hotel servant told me, to have announced his visit. Herr Busenau, the impresario, received me with extreme courtesy. I had not expected to meet a man so modest, indeed almost timid. He was sitting in the anteroom of Rotpeter's apartment, eating an omelet. Although it was morning he already sat there in the evening clothes in which he appears at the performances. Hardly had he caught sight of me— me the unknown, the unimportant guest— when he, possessor of highly distinguished medals, king of trainers, honorary doctor of great universities, jumped up, shook me by both hands, urged me to sit down, wiped his spoon on the tablecloth, and amiably offered it to me so that I might finish his omelet. He would not accept my grateful refusal and promptly tried to feed me. I had some trouble calming him down and warding him off, as well as his spoon and plate.

"Very kind of you to have come," he said with a strong foreign accent. "Most kind. You've also come at the right time, for alas Rotpeter cannot always receive. Seeing people is often repugnant to him— on these occasions no one, it does not matter who he may be, is admitted. then I, even I can see him only on business, so to speak, on the stage. And immediately after the performance I have to disappear, he drives home alone, locks himself in his room, and usually remains like that until the following evening. He always has a big hamper of fruit in his bedroom, this is what he lives on at these times. But I, who of course dare not let him out of my sight, always rent the apartment opposite his and watch him from behind curtains."

Our Reporter: When I sit opposite you like this, Rotpeter, listening to you talk, drinking your health, I really and truly forget- whether you take it as a compliment or not, it's the truth- that you are a chimpanzee. Only gradually, when I have forced myself out of my thoughts back to reality, do my eyes show me again whose guest I am.

Red Peter: Yes.

OR: You're so silent suddenly, I wonder why? Just a moment ago you were pronouncing such astonishingly correct opinions about our town, and now you're so silent.

RP: Silent?

OR: Is something wrong? Shall I call the trainer? Perhaps you're in the habit of taking a meal at this hour?

RP: No, no. It's quite all right. I can tell you what it was. Sometimes I'm overcome with such an aversion to human beings that I can barely refrain from retching. This, of course, has nothing to do with the individual human being, least of all with your charming presence. It concerns all human beings. There's nothing extraordinary about this. Suppose, for instance, that you were to live continuously with apes, you'd probably have similar attacks, however great your self-control. Actually, it's not the smell of human beings that repels me so much, it's the human smell which I have contracted and which mingles with the smell from my native land. Smell for yourself! Here on my chest! Put your nose deeper into the fur! Deeper, I say!

OR: I'm sorry, but I can't smell anything special. Just the ordinary men of a well-groomed body, that's all. The nose of a city-dweller, of course, is no fair test. You, no doubt, can scent thousands of things that evade us.

RP: Once upon a time, sir, once upon a time. That's over.

OR: Since you brought it up yourself, I dare to ask: How long nave you actually been living among us?

RP: Five years. On the fifth of April it will be five years.

OR: Terrific achievement. To cast off apehood in five years and gallop through the whole evolution of mankind! Certainly no one has ever done that before! On this racecourse you have no rival.

RP: It's a great deal, I know, and sometimes it surpasses even my understanding. In tranquil moments, however, I feel less exuberant about it. Do you know how I was caught?

OR: I've read everything that's been printed about you. You were shot at and then caught.

RP: Yes, I was hit twice, once here in the cheek- the wound of course was far larger than the scar you see- and the second time below the hip. I'll take my trousers down so you can see that scar, too. Here then was where the bullet entered; this was the severe, decisive wound. I fell from the tree and when I came to I was in a cage between decks.

OR: In a cage! Between decks! It's one thing to read your story, and quite another to hear you tell it!

RP: And yet another, sir, to have experienced it. Until then I had never known what it means to have no way out. It was not a four-sided barred cage, it had only three sides nailed to a locker, the locker forming the fourth side. The whole contrivance was so low that I could not stand upright, and so narrow that I could not even sit down. All I could do was squat there with bent knees. In my rage I refused to see anyone, and so remained facing the locker; for days and nights I squatted there with trembling knees while behind me the bars cut into my flesh. This manner of confining wild animals is considered to have its advantages during the first days of captivity, and from my experience I cannot deny that from the human point of view this actually is the case. But at that time I was not interested in the human point of view. I had the locker in front of me. Break the boards, bite a hole through them, squeeze yourself through an opening which in reality hardly allows you to see through it and which, when you first discover it, you greet with the blissful howl of ignorance! Where do you want to go? Beyond the boards the forest begins . . .

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