Saturday, September 8, 2007

Letters to Kafka

This short story is a sequel to Franz Kafka's story, "A Report to an Academy."

from: G. Affe
Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America
to: Mr. Franz Kafka
Prague, Czechoslovakia
August 6, 1923
Dear Franz,
I have arrived in America, and it is a wonderful country. It is so free, and there are so many people, so many kinds of people, that someone like me can get lost in the crowd.
I don't know how I can thank you enough for doing so much for me ever since we met and became friends back in Prague. You have done everything for me, everything. You helped me write my report to the Academy. You helped me break away from Professor Schnutz who wanted to keep me as some specimen in his laboratory to be poked and questioned by armies of students and scientists. You helped me to find work, an apartment, how to get around, in other words how to live as a human being. And when I became tired and disillusioned with being a human, you wrote to your cousin Rebecca in Chicago who is employed by Professor Rabinowitz, the only man in the world able and willing to change me back to my former state, so that I can be what I was meant to be.
This letter is so brief because I must now leave for the train station.
Forever your friend,
from: G. Affe
Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
to: Mr. Franz Kafka
Prague, Czechoslovakia
August 20, 1923
Dear Franz,
Please forgive me for not writing sooner, but so much has happened since I arrived in Chicago. I met your cousin Rebecca, and I must say she is beautiful, surprisingly beautiful. How can it be that you are cousins. She is so lovely, and you have such big ears. Please pardon my honesty. You have many excellent qualities, and I will always be indebted to you for the kindness you have shown to me, but you do have big ears.
By the way, your cousin does not call herself Rebecca among her friends and associates, but rather Ramona. She says that Rebecca is an old fashioned name given to her by her old country parents with whom she has very little in common, being a modern woman. She refers to her father as the "peddler." I then imagined your uncle to be like the peddlers I remember from Prague, tired, pale shriveled bearded old men in tattered coats pushing pushcarts and calling out in the streets. But when I met him, I was surprised to find a worldly, well dressed, slightly graying but robust business man, actually the owner of a rather fashionable clothing store on Michigan Avenue, which is the very fashionable street for shopping in this city. Apparently your cousin is an ardent communist and uses the word peddler in a derisive manner to describe any business man.
Ramona has been very helpful to me. I have only been here a few days, and already she has found me an apartment near the university in the Hyde Park quarter. She has taken me around to see the city. And what a beautiful city it is. There is a lake that looks so big like the ocean. And there are parks that stretch for many kilometers along the shore. There are many tall buildings and so many museums and theatres. Everything is so new. When a house is a few years old, they tear it down and build a new one. I had thought when I was taken to Europe that I had seen everything , but this land is quite different. I am wondering if I truly want to return.
Tomorrow I have an appointment to see Professor Rabinowitz, or I should say Doctor Rabinowitz. In this country they use the title professor less than we do.
Your forever grateful friend,
from: G. Affe
Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
to: Mr. Franz Kafka
Prague, Czechoslovakia
August 24, 1923
Dear Franz,
I met Dr. Leonard Rabinowitz. Before the appointment, Ramona had prepared me. She said that Dr. Rabinowitz is an ambiguous man, and it is this ambiguity that she can not understand. I think perhaps your cousin is like you in that respect, in that she can not accept ambiguity. If I could not accept ambiguity, I do not know how I would survive. Ramona said that on the one hand Rabinowitz is a brilliant scientist with a scrupulously logical mind, and on the other hand he is a devout Jew. To Ramona, the two conflict. She often accuses her employer of being a hypocrite. To this he replies, "You're a hypocrite only if you tell someone else what to do, and I'm not telling you what to do. I can believe or do whatever I want, whether it does or doesn't makes sense to you or anyone." If she persists in the argument, he starts on her communism, "If everything has to be so scientific, why are you a communist? Karl Marx's basic ideas were just unproven fabrications. You accept them on faith. So why is your faith so much better than mine?" The argument usually sticks at this point, having reached an impasse, and ends with both of them pouting for a few minutes before things return to normal. It never seems to actually harm their daily work, and to the doctor's credit, your cousin remains employed.
Dr. Rabinowitz questioned me about my motives in wanting to be transformed back
into an ape, "You find human life so distasteful that you want to return to being an animal?"
"No, I admire humanity. It has opened my eyes completely. That is why I have agonized over this decision. It is truly a painful one."
"Then it must be that you miss your family."
"No one is left."
"Then why do you want to return?"
"Because I am not completely one of you. No matter what, I can not completely grasp your ways. People always sense that there is something strange about me. Being human is a charade at which I can not be successful."
The doctor explained to me that transforming my body would be relatively simple, a matter of surgery and some injections of an ape serum extract. The more difficult part would be changing my brain back to the intelligence level of an ape. Professor Schnutz published most of his work in scientific journals, but he left out one key step in the procedure. That was his way of keeping it his own secret. It was unscientific but very Schnutz. I know only too well.
Dr. Rabinowitz has written to Schnutz trying to persuade him to reveal the step. I do not think he will have much luck. Meanwhile, while we are waiting for the reply, Ramona and I have been seeing each other quite frequently. I have become somewhat fond of her, and I think she has some feelings for me. But I must not allow our friendship to become more than just that because we are different. We could never. What am I thinking about? She probably only thinks of me as something to help, an African ape who never quite became a European human and certainly can not become an American, but must return to what he truly is.
Before I finish this letter, I must tell you that Ramona took me to one of her communist meetings. The discussion was about how the poor workers were going to take over. But the members were all intellectuals. There was not one factory worker among them. The meeting was held in a large well decorated home, and there was a maid in a black dress and a white apron serving refreshments. Most of them recognized that there was something strange about me. Some stayed away and glanced sideways. Others were overly friendly in a forced awkward manner. The meeting ended in a song, "The International", a nice tune but not enough rhythm.
With greatest friendship,
from: G. Affe
Kingstown, British West Indies
to: Mr. Franz Kafka
Prague, Czechoslovakia
November 2,1923
Dear Franz,
You must forgive me for not writing over so long a period of time, but so much has happened. To my surprise, Dr. Rabinowitz received an early reply from Schnutz. Despite vigorous attempts to dissuade me both by Ramona and Rabinowitz, I insisted that the transformation go on. For two months, they and a team of specialists performed the difficult operations and the painful injections necessary to change my body. But then, when they attempted to transform my brain, Dr. Rabinowitz discovered just in time that the information sent by Schnutz was incorrect. It would have resulted in my death. So, Schnutz was still Schnutz. Furthermore, we found out that Schnutz had left Prague for the British West Indies with a group of apes, all but one recently transformed into creatures resembling humans.
Dr. Rabinowitz could not make my body human again because too much surgery had already been done. I could not have survived another series. Without Schnutz's secret, it seemed worse to me than ever, a human mind and soul in an ape's body, a freak forever.
Therefore, I decided that I must find Schnutz and finally get the correct information. Ramona volunteered to accompany me. I argued that it would be too dangerous for her, but she insisted, and it is true that an ape can not simply travel alone, unimpeded, no matter what is in his brain. And so Ramona began the journey with her pet ape, first by train across southern America to New Orleans City where we boarded a small ship for Kingstown in the British West Indies. Here we consulted the authorities and found that indeed Schnutz was not far. He had purchased an entire small island. They thought there was something odd about him and his actions, but not enough to warrant interference.
The next morning, Ramona hired a small sail boat. It seems she is an experienced sailor because her hobby has been sailing on Lake Michigan, the large lake next to Chicago. She enjoys sailing even more than communism. We approached the island late in the afternoon. As we neared the shore, a guard appeared from behind a bush with a rifle shouting at us to go away. I could see that he was an ape-man, an example of Schnutz's work, but not as good a job as I was. We continued. He fired one shot that missed us completely. But then a volley of machine gun fire spat at us from the bush, ripping our sail to shreds, and sending splinters flying in all directions. Water poured in from holes in the sides of the boat. The boat turned over, and we were dumped into the water. Ramona and I found ourselves clinging to each other and a board in the swirling water. How we survived I do not know, but the waves carried us somewhat down the shore and threw us up on the beach in a small cove hidden by rocks. We collapsed, stunned, and slept for hours without moving from that spot.
Suddenly I was awakened by a scream. Ramona had opened her eyes to find an ape staring down at her, and now he was unsuccessfully trying to cover her mouth with his hand. I jumped up, grabbed the creature, and wrestled him to the ground. In the midst of the struggle, the ape grunted ape grunts to me. At first I did not understand. It had been so long since I had heard or spoken my native tongue. But, after some repetition, I realized what he was saying, and I stopped fighting. We both stopped, stared at each other, and then. Was it true? Yes! We threw our arms around each other with tears of joy. It was my cousin, Grog. It had been so long.
Grog had been with me when I was captured in Africa. It had been the four of us, Ooga, Googoo, Grog, and I taking a stroll in the jungle, when the hunters threw a net over us. Now, Franz, I must tell you something that I have never disclosed to you before. I have also not told Ramona. It is very complicated. I was romantically involved with Ooga. In fact she is my mate, and Googoo is her son, or I should say, our son. Apes do not have formal marriages like humans do, but for apes that suffices.
The complication is that Ramona and I, during our acquaintance and all the adventures which we have shared, have become more and more fond of each other. How cruel fate is, that just as I am halfway on my irreversible journey back to apehood, we realize our love. Ramona is willing to accept me as an ape, despite the impossibility of the situation, and my willpower has its limits. I was ready to give in, despite my better judgment, and might have forgotten my old love Ooga and our child, Googoo, or at least could have regarded them as a dim memory, like a dream long past.
But now seeing Grog jarred me back to reality, the reality of being an ape, from an ape background, with an ape family. That is where my commitment is. Anyway, Ramona carrying her principles of complete equality to the extreme was able to, in fact was driven to choosing an ape as her love, but I am afraid the knowledge of having to share with a female ape and her ape child would be too much, too primitive, even for Ramona.
Grog speaks only ape language, and Ramona speaks only English. So, I would translate, eliminating whichever part I did not want one or the other to know. Grog led us to a nearby cave where we spent the next day.
Grog told me that after I was transformed into a human and separated from the others, Professor Schnutz sold Ooga and Googoo to a representative of an American zoo and kept Grog as a control ape for future experiments. That is why he is still a full ape. It seems the professor had been quite dissatisfied with me because he had made me too human and therefore rebellious. So in his subsequent experiments, he perfected the apemen. They looked something like humans and had human dexterity, but they lacked full powers of reason and were slavishly dedicated to Schnutz. He had brought them to the island to breed them and train them into a powerful army which would form the nucleus of a new empire with Schnutz as emperor. This would be an empire dedicated to reason, that is reason Schnutz style. That means agreeing with anything Schnutz says as long as it sounds scientific.
I transmitted all this information to Ramona, except the part about Ooga and Googoo. I told Grog about all that had happened to me since I had left Africa and why Ramona and I had come to the island to get Schnutz's secret. Grog explained that it would be no easy task. Schnutz was living in a bamboo fortress surrounded by a high wall guarded by many apemen. Even if we could reach him, he would not want to divulge the information. There was also the matter of whether I truly wanted to complete my re-transformation. Ramona had been kind enough to accompany me on this adventure, but actually she opposed my further change for fear of losing me altogether, preferring half a man to no man at all. As I have already said, by this time my own resolve was weakening. But no, I had to go on. Seeing Grog and hearing of Ooga and Googoo put things in their proper perspective.
That day we formulated a plan of attack. The enemy had a fortress. They outnumbered us greatly. They were better armed than we, namely they had numerous rifles and machine guns plus one cannon, while we had no formal weapons at all. So how could we possibly make a plan? Well, they had their advantages and so did we. We had two true apes, expert at swinging from tree to tree, although I must admit that I had to brush up a bit. The apemen had all lost that ability. Schnutz had stupidly placed his fort in the thickest jungle with tree limbs hanging over the walls, thinking that would afford extra protection. He was not a military strategist, even though he considered himself an expert in all matters. Machine guns were stationed all around on platforms inside the fence, but the cannon being too heavy for a platform was positioned behind the one gate ready to blast an enemy who might somehow manage to break through. Behind the cannon was a path leading directly to the shed where the ammunition was stored. Schnutz reasoned that direct access was necessary to provide an unimpeded flow of shells to the cannon.
So our plan was this. Using the element of surprise, Grog and I would swing from the trees over the wall to the cannon, overpower the cannoneers, and open the gate to let Ramona in. Then the three of us would turn the cannon around and fire at the ammunition shed causing an explosion that would cause panic among the apemen. Then in the confusion, we would run into Schnutz's palace (the biggest of the bamboo houses) which we reasoned would not be destroyed by the explosion because of its distance from the ammunition shed. We would then capture Schnutz and force him to give us the papers with the secret information.
Actually, everything went as planned up to a point. We did actually swing over the wall, overpower the cannoneers, open the gate for Ramona, turn the cannon around, and blow up the ammunition shed. Unfortunately, we underestimated the intensity of the blast. We were lucky to have ourselves received only minor bruises when a burst of hot air blew the three of us and the cannon out the gate just ahead of an enlarging ball of fire that did not quite reach us but which quickly consumed the entire bamboo fortress and the surrounding trees.
We picked ourselves up and stared at the inferno. We could never enter to find Schnutz, and there was probably no longer any Schnutz left to find. Then, because the forest around us was burning up, it was necessary to run away ahead of the flames to the beach. The beach guards, having seen the explosion and fire, were running about in confusion. There was a row of small boats lying on the beach. We took one and set out into the water. Despite our urging, the guards, who no longer cared about bothering us, refused to follow. They could not leave their Schnutz. After a few hours, we were picked up by a patrol boat that had been attracted by the fire and were taken back to Kingstown where we made a full report to the authorities. We were lucky to be alive but saddened by the loss of life that had occurred. It has been a sobering and exhausting experience.
I will never be able to complete my transformation, but I do not mind that. In fact, the question was never completely resolved in my mind. Now events have relieved me of the burden of having to make the decision.
Enough of my own problems. Franz, I was very sorry to hear of your recent illness. I worry about your neglect of your health. You must not keep such late hours. You must eat enough nutritious food. You must drink hot milk.
Your concerned friend,
from: G. Affe
San Diego, California
to: Mrs. Rebecca Rabinowitz
Chicago, Illinois
August 20, 1924
Dear Rebecca:
So much has happened since I left Chicago that I hardly know where to begin. First of all, I must extend my condolence to you on the untimely death of your dear cousin Franz. Your grief is equal to, in fact surpassed, only by my own because Franz was truly a good friend, a great friend, my first friend and benefactor in my life as a human. His death has left a void in my life which you might fill through frequent correspondence.
Also, I wish to congratulate you on your recent marriage to Dr. Rabinowitz. I hope for both of you the greatest happiness because you have been true friends to me. I must admit that some months ago I would have considered it most unlikely, you forsaking communism and atheism to become a middle class religious Jewish housewife. But after all, nothing is obvious and anything can change. Anyway, you and the doctor love each other in a way that you never could have loved an ape. Oh, perhaps in thought but certainly not in deed, and deeds are what matter.
Things have gone well for me. As you know, Grog and I came here to be voluntary residents at the San Diego zoo when I learned that Ooga and Googoo are here. I must
again apologize for waiting to tell you about my mate and child until so late in our
acquaintance. I understand your anger at that and my subsequent departure. It must have been a shock, and I can not forgive myself for that cruelty. But your later letter to me after time and reflection displayed great understanding, kindness, and a proper perspective. For us it was, of course, impossible.
So now I am quite happy with my family. Ooga is as beautiful as ever, that is in an ape's eyes. Googoo has grown so since our separation. He is so smart. He has learned many tricks and is the favorite of the children who visit the zoo. I have developed a good relationship with the zoo director and have become a translator and mediator between the apes in the zoo and the administration. In this way, I have settled many grievances and misunderstandings. I even plan to travel to other zoos from time to time to advise on ape affairs. Some time if I have business in Chicago, we will see each other again and reminisce about old times.
Your special friend,


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Madge said...

Well said.