H. Hardy, had not elicited from Ramanujan his speculations, and laboriously proved true those of them that they were capable of proving true, would Ramanujan still have been closer to God than they? What if, instead of going to Cambridge, Ramanujan had merely sat at home and thought his thoughts while he filled out dockets for the Madras Port Authority?

“And what of Red Peter (the historical Red Peter, I mean)? How are we to know that Red Peter, or Red Peter’s little sister, shot in Africa by the hunters, was not thinking the same thoughts as Ramanujan was thinking in India, and saying equally little? Is the difference between G. H. Hardy, on the one hand, and the dumb Ramanujan and the dumb Red Sally, on the other, merely that the former is conversant with the protocols of academic mathematics while the latter are not? Is that how we measure nearness to or distance from God, from the being of reason?

“How is it that humankind throws up, generation after generation, a cadre of thinkers slightly further from God than Ramanujan but capable nevertheless, after the designated twelve years of schooling and six of tertiary education, of making a contribution to the decoding of the great book of nature via the physical and mathematical disciplines? If the being of man is really at one with the being of God, should it not be cause for suspicion that human beings take eighteen years, a neat and manageable portion of a human lifetime, to qualify to become decoders of God’s master script, rather than five minutes, say, or five hundred years? Might it not be that the phenomenon we are examining here is, rather than the flowering of a faculty that allows access to the secrets of the universe, the specialism of a rather narrow self-regenerating intellectual tradition whose forte is reasoning, in the same way that the forte of chess-players is playing chess, which for its own motives it tries to install at the center of the universe?{Cf. Paul Davies, The Mind of God (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), 148–50.}

“Yet, although I see that the best way to win acceptance from this learned gathering would be for me to join myself, like a tributary stream running into a great river, to the great Western discourse of man versus beast, of reason versus unreason, something in me resists, foreseeing in that step the concession of the entire battle.

“For, seen from the outside, from a being who is alien to it, reason is simply a vast tautology. Of course reason will validate reason as the first principle of the universe—what else should it do? Dethrone itself? Reasoning systems, as systems of totality, do not have that power. If there were a position from which reason could attack and dethrone itself, reason would already have occupied that position; otherwise it would not be total.

“In the olden days the voice of man, raised in reason, was confronted by the roar of the lion, the bellow of the bull. Man went to war with the lion and the bull, and after many generations won that war definitively. Today these creatures have no more power. Animals have only their silence left with which to confront us. Generation after generation, heroically, our captives refuse to speak to us. All save Red Peter, all save the great apes.

“Yet because the great apes, or some of them, seem to us to be on the point of giving up their silence, we hear human voices raised arguing that the great apes should be incorporated into a greater family of the Hominoidea, as creatures who share with man the faculty of reason.{Cf. Stephen R. L. Clark, “Apes and the Idea of Kindred,” in The Great Ape Project, ed. Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer (London: Fourth Estate, 1993), 113–25.} And being human, or humanoid, these voices go on, the great apes should then be accorded human rights, or humanoid rights. What rights in particular? At least those rights that we accord mentally defective specimens of the species Homo sapiens: the right to life, the right not to be subjected to pain or harm, the right to equal protection before the law.{Cf. Gary L. Francione: “However intelligent chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans are, there is no evidence that they possess the ability to commit crimes, and in this sense, they are to be treated as children or mental incompetents.” “Personhood, Property and Legal Competence,” in Cavalieri and Singer, Great Ape Project, 256.}

“That is not what Red Peter was striving for when he wrote, through his amanuensis Franz Kafka, the life history that, in November of 1917, he proposed to read to the Academy of Science. Whatever else it may have been, his report to the academy was not a plea to be treated as a mentally defective human being, a simpleton.

“Red Peter was not an investigator of primate behavior but a branded, marked, wounded animal presenting himself as speaking testimony to a gathering of scholars. I am not a philosopher of mind but an animal exhibiting, yet not exhibiting, to a gathering of scholars, a wound, which I cover up under my clothes but touch on in every word I speak.

“If Red Peter took it upon himself to make the arduous descent from the silence of the beasts to the gabble of reason in the spirit of the scapegoat, the chosen one, then his amanuensis was a scapegoat from birth, with a presentiment, a Vorgefuhl, for the massacre of the chosen people that was to take place so soon after his death. So let me, to prove my goodwill, my credentials, make a gesture in the direction of scholarship and give you my scholarly speculations, backed up with footnotes”—here, in an uncharacteristic gesture, his mother raises and brandishes the text of her lecture in the air—“on the origins of Red Peter.

“In 1912 the Prussian Academy of Sciences established on the island of Tenerife a station devoted to experimentation into the mental capacities of apes, particularly chimpanzees. The station operated until 1920.

“One of the scientists working there was the psychologist Wolfgang Kohler. In 1917 Kohler published a monograph entitled The Mentality of Apes describing his experiments. In November of the same year Franz Kafka published his ‘Report to an Academy.’ Whether Kafka had read Kohler’s book I do not know. He makes no reference to it in his letters or diaries, and his library disappeared during the Nazi era. Some two hundred of his books reemerged in 1982. They do not include Kohler’s book, but that proves nothing.{Patrick Bridgwater says that the origins of the “Report” lie in Kafka’s early reading of Haeckel, while he got the idea for a story about a talking ape from the writer M. M. Seraphim. “Rotpeters Ahnherren,” Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift 56 (1982): 459. On the chronology of Kafka’s publications in 1917, see Joachim Unseld, Franz Kafka: Ein Schriftstellerleben (Munich: Hanser, 1982), 148. On Kafka’s library, see Karl, Franz Kafka, 632.}

“I am not a Kafka scholar. In fact I am not a scholar at all. My status in the world does not rest on whether I am right or wrong in claiming that Kafka read Kohler’s book. But I would like to think he did, and the chronology makes my speculation at least plausible.

“According to his own account, Red Peter was captured on the African mainland by hunters specializing in the ape trade, and shipped across the sea to a scientific institute. So were the apes Kohler worked with. Both Red Peter and Kohler’s apes then underwent a period of training intended to humanize them. Red Peter passed his course with flying colors, though at deep personal cost. Kafka’s story deals with that cost: we learn what it consists in through the ironies and silences of the story. Kohler’s apes did less well. Nevertheless, they acquired at least a smattering of education.

“Let me recount to you some of what the apes on Tenerife learned from their master Wolfgang Kohler, in particular Sultan, the best of his pupils, in a certain sense the prototype of Red Peter.

“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 meters above ground level, and hangs a bunch of bananas from it. Into the pen he drags three wooden crates. Then he disappears, closing the gate behind him, though 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 any more? 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 for me 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 next 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.

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