I could have returned at first, had human beings allowed it, through an archway as wide as the span of heaven over the earth, but as I spurred myself on in my forced career, the opening narrowed and shrank behind me; I felt more comfortable in the world of men and fitted it better; the strong wind that blew after me out of my past began to slacken; today it is only a gentle puff of air that plays around my heels; and the opening in the distance, through which it comes and through which I once came myself, has grown so small that, even if my strength and my willpower sufficed to get me back to it, I should have to scrape the very skin from my body to crawl through. - Franz Kafka "A Report to an Academy"
To the academy
I write to you, always to you, as a problem and a solution (an authority and an amateur) with news on your application to retain your value as a societal good. I have read your application closely.
Thoughtfully I have underlined words I do not understand and sought their definitions.
I regret to inform you, however, that you have failed to meet the requirements for a common good. It is a pity. You have so much potential.
However, you have been rendered incompetent by your own arrogance. I have no doubt that with a balance of deliberate collapsing and uncurated rupture, you might find yourself in a position to resubmit this application. It would be remiss of me to stage this advice without sharing my prognosis on the profundity of your self-inflicted and methodical ignorance.
You submitted an important albeit underdeveloped idea which I found myself enamoured with, a common good. Words are curious, you see because they expose us even when our intention is to hide behind them.
So as I sip tea to Anderson Paak, reading, again and again, these two words: common good, I wonder to myself if you have failed to achieve it, or whether you have in fact achieved exactly what you had intended to and it is rather my naivety that has once again led me astray. What is your common? What is common to you? I circle this question my brow knitted in focus, a focus interrupted only by pangs of disappointment at just how often I take for granted your ideology.
I need not articulate what you, the academy, consider to be valuable because it is made clear by the limitations of your imagination. I believe a more valuable point of departure, would be a question "What is your value?"
Let me begin with a story:
There was once a rat that went to squirrel school. The rat was encouraged to go to squirrel school because the school would grant the rat "endless opportunities". The school was on the highest branch of a sturdy oak tree that had taken centuries to grow and a rat's mere attendance connoted advancement. It was not cheap.
But it was said that the sun touched the school first in the morning and last in the evening and though perched on the very edge of this branch, the school was only ever barely moved by the winds. So the rat worked hard; she scaled the thick, old, ridged trunk of the tree each day arriving exhausted but eager to learn on the top branch of this old oak tree. Each class was full of lessons on how to be the most successful squirrel.
Lessons on squirrel diction, treetop politics and cuteness 101. I will not bore you with the details of the rat's difficulties, rather, allow me to use a dialect you are more likely to sympathise with; that of overcoming hardship, diligence, and dedication. For indeed, the rat pushed herself. She scurried up the oak tree daily without a squeak of a complaint, she perfected her diction and she even passed for cute. She excelled. However, the unceasing lesson she learned, the teaching that she received that her squirrel colleagues did not, was that there was not, and would not ever be such a thing as an excellent rat, only an almost squirrel.
The problem, you see, with the Squirrel Institution of Advancement, and I will ask that you continue to humour me in this analogy, is that it stubbornly clung to an ideology whose success was hinged on its student first and foremost, being a squirrel or at the very least holding a deep desire to become a squirrel. Even when it later changed its name to the Squirrel Institution of Rodent Advancement and allowed more rats to attend, its ideology remained the same.
Its teachings remained the same. It stayed on the highest branch of the centuries-old oak tree, and it continued to boast about being the first and last to see the sun. It continued to withstand the winds. I need not tell you what squirrels thought of rats, this is made clear by the squirrel's concept of advancement. Similarly, I need not articulate what you, the academy, consider to be valuable because it is made clear by the limitations of your imagination. I believe a more valuable point of departure, would be a question "What is your value?"
I called you incompetent, a word I do not use often. However, I find it to be the most fitting. It would seem that this world and this time are not your genres. Your definition of the 'common' has barely been moved by the winds, and what is good for your common is often devastating for the rest of us.
You dismiss my voice and self-awareness as simple testimonies to your good teaching and I am no more than a doll that learned to speak. I was never smart to you, only teachable.
You have struggled to keep up whilst insisting on your own importance. How curious that at a time when your imagination is needed the most; you are shrinking it. How poetic that as the common that you do not see finds new ways to exist, you find new ways to charge us for it.
It appears that you are not only falling behind, but you are slowing down. Menacingly, all of your innovations and advancements, your discussions and hesitant curriculum changes hold at their base, a similar question: "Why do you deserve to be here and why are your experiences relevant?", but now I write to you from the unseen common and ask, "Why, academy, do you deserve to be here? And how is your existence more important than mine?"
I can imagine that this response both confuses and enrages you. "How?" you must be asking yourself. "How dare she? Where are her facts? Where are her quotes? When will she reference what we spent so much time teaching her?" Everything about my response to you, my doubt of you, and my rejection of you, you view, I am sure, with loose irritation.
Our relationship has always been doomed, I guess, and this moment was inevitable and was never going to be romantic. It was never going to be the scene at the end of a sad movie where we part ways quietly or I die and you weep and swear you will change. No, it was always going to be more sinister. The moment when the ventriloquist puts their doll carelessly in the suitcase across the room and as they walk away, the doll turns her head to look at them, and the ventriloquist smirks without looking back. The ventriloquist smirks for the same reason that you do. You have found a way to co-opt even my rebellion.
You dismiss my voice and self-awareness as simple testimonies to your good teaching and I am no more than a doll that learned to speak. I was never smart to you, only teachable. And now I stand, many many years later thinking mimicry can resemble freedom without being it. So I haunt you just as you haunt me. I do not believe you just as you have never believed me. In the equality of this chaos, I stand. An encounter. A reoccurrence. A reminder. A memory and premonition telling you that you cannot buy that type nuance, and I cannot afford to sell it to you.
This post was first published in print in Publica[c]tion 2017, published independently by Publica[c]tion Collective.