The Chimp That Therefore I Am Not: Confessions of a Former Monkey Mind Doctor

Iván Castañeda Confessions

“This is a bewildering state of affairs: our capacity for judging our own objectivity is circumscribed by itself. Is it any wonder that in such circumstances the chimps who have given the whole question of animal rights their fullest attention have dared to consider enlarging the franchise of chimpunity to admit subordinate species, such as humans?” — Will Self, Great Apes (Grove Press, 1997), p. vii.


There are hierarchies of knowledge and there are hierarchies of beings. The former defines the latter. Today, science reigns as the unquestionable final arbiter of all knowledge. We know the story: during the Enlightenment, religion thoroughly got its ass kicked by science, never again to regain its title as judge and jury of all truths immanent and transcendent. Heck, the transcendent itself was proscribed as irrelevant by science—only the Germans kept up the battle for metaphysics, a battle now fought by neo-Swedenborgian new age consciousness cults, Scientologists and yoga industries.

Confessions of a Former Monkey Doctor is a seriously absurd (sic) attempt to convey the human condition in light of these hierarchies. It is part critique, part biography (Fayerabend comes to mind), part tragedy, part comedy, but thoroughly irreverent towards all things certain. It critiques the human condition as a condition of regimented education: how we are educated to think we are human as we go through the loops of measuring our own distance from dumb animals and, of course (this is the whole point of science, no?), other dumb humans. There is extended playful homage of a certain biopsychologist by the name of Gallup (real pun not intended but I read it as a serendipitous reference to scientific research and so-called peer-review as nothing more than a kind of academic Gallup poll) and his theories about self-awareness in animals (mirrors are used, magic mirrors no less; Lacan’s mirror is much more convincing). This is truly a fool’s play but as in Beckett and Jarry, the fool is hard to identify given everyone is a fool. Mojo, the chimp, is the smartest animal in the room, in the literary tradition of the wise fool. The play is a mise en abyme: an academic lecture parodying an academic lecture within a lecture. But it seems also like a day-dream turned lecture turned biography, the latter being a story of the loss of fidelity to science (Catholic overtones included; Jesuits were the greatest faith scientists ever, no?). This is it: science having a well-earned crisis of faith! It’s a show. Theory and theater derive from the same Greek word “a showing”! It’s sobering to be drunk with satire:



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