A Report to an Academy

by Franz Kafka
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How does Red Peter's address to a learned audience in Kafka's "A Report to an Academy" satirize the ideals of civilized culture?

Red Peter's address to a learned audience in Kafka's "A Report to an Academy" satirizes the ideals of civilized culture by showing that even an ape can acquire them. The suggestion is that the close genetic relationship between ape and man challenges the very notion of human uniqueness and the values based upon it.

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Kafka's biting short story "A Report to an Academy" doesn't exactly celebrate human beings and the ideals of their civilization. Far from it. In fact, Kafka, in a highly satirical vein, appears keen to deflate what he sees as humankind's pretensions to uniqueness in the creation.

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Kafka's biting short story "A Report to an Academy" doesn't exactly celebrate human beings and the ideals of their civilization. Far from it. In fact, Kafka, in a highly satirical vein, appears keen to deflate what he sees as humankind's pretensions to uniqueness in the creation.

The character of Red Peter, the ex-ape who now thinks of himself as human, epitomizes the uncomfortable closeness between man and ape as revealed by Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. The genetic closeness of man to the higher primates is taken to absurd lengths by Kafka in his presentation of the civilized ape standing before an audience of learned gentlemen as he discusses his remarkable transformation from ape to man.

And yet, on closer inspection, it doesn't say much for humanity that an ape can acquire the trappings of human civilization. The implication is that there's nothing particularly special about human civilization and its ideals if they can be acquired by a mere primate. It also doesn't say a lot for human civilization and how it treats animals that a member of the animal kingdom has had to become human in order to escape ill-treatment by man.

In any case, the set of human characteristics that Red Peter has picked up from watching his captors—spitting, smoking, drinking rum—is not exactly worth imitating. And though his career as a music-hall entertainer has certainly made him a very happy former ape, it hardly represents the pinnacle of human achievement.

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