Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy” as well as the film Babe, both effectively represent a debatable distinction of the unsubstantiated margin that separate the notions of “human” and “non human” and call into question the conservative antagonism between one another. In the text “Why Look at Animals?” Berger portrays the “narrow abyss of non comprehension” that marginalises man from beast (Berger, 3). To an extent, the concept of non comprehension between humans and animals can be described as man’s lack of knowledge and ability to understand and comprehend the meaning and importance of animals and their status in one’s life. Berger suggests that through language, humans are clearly able to communicate with one another and form a sense of connection whereas animals are viewed as different to humans because of their lack of capacity for language and representation and are therefore perceived “across ignorance and fear” (Berger, 3). Referring to Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy” and the number of differing claims that he composes throughout his text as well as the film “Babe”, the aim of this essay is to further discuss and argue this notion of human verse animal through their commonalities and differences, “animals are born, are sentient and are mortal. In these things they resemble man. In their superficial anatomy…less in their deep anatomy…in their habits, in their time, in their physical capacities, they differ from man. They are both like and unlike” (Berger, 4) and to highlight this sense of non comprehension that can arise and be constructed from a variety of different issues throughout the abyss between human and animal.
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Berger’s essay “Why Look at Animals?” suggests that humans come across animals in modern zoo’s and through this contact one attempts to share a common connection with them. For many, modern zoos are one of the very few places if not the only place which to an extent allows a relationship between man and animal to be portrayed “the zoo is a demonstration of the relations between man and animals; nothing else” (Berger, 26). One could question if this contact with animals present in these unnatural, marginalised and controlled habitats can be compared to those animals that are located in their authentic territories. One may state that our association shared with these zoo animals is somehow false because of their artificial habitats, and therefore as a result our understanding and the notion of non comprehension between humans and animals is exceptionally limited. In relation to Berger’s notion of zoos, Kafka’s “Report to an Academy” highlights Red Peter’s perspective between two alternatives of habitation. This includes being placed in a cage at the zoo or the variety stage. He viewed that being placed in the zoo simply meant living in a cage, confined and lacking free will. Berger states that “all sites of enforced marginalisation-ghettos, shanty towns, prisons, madhouses, concentration camps-have something in common with zoos” (Berger, 24). This emphasises on the portrayal of zoos and how Red Peter’s living in a cage resembles to what Berger calls a “prison or concentration camp”. This introduces Red Peter’s notion of freedom and is of great importance when understanding the non comprehension between animals and human.
Red Peter’s is seen to make a distinction between “freedom” and a “way out”. Red Peters believed that absolute and complete freedom in ones life whether human or animal is merely impossible. He was not in search for a conceptual “freedom”, a freedom that many humans aim for; but wanted a way out, “only not to stay motionless with raised arms, crushed against a wooden wall” (Kafka). On the one hand one may state that a human’s perspective may be of one that suggests and holds great belief that animals have freedom. However Kafka goes against this ideology and clearly argues that animals are subjects to human wills and desires and therefore animals do not represent a sense of freedom. Red Peters explains that becoming human was the only way he was able to escape confinement. Here, the non comprehension between humans and animals may be that humans have choice and free will whereas animals lack self controlled freedom and movement as well as the sense of acquiring free will. This may be because they are automatic species and live a repetitive and imitative life.
Historically, animals were conveyed as important in ancient times where they were once being worshipped by humans. “They were subjected and worshipped, bred and sacrificed” (Berger, 6). The non comprehension between humans and animals is being illustrated through the conception that animals are now only being “treated as raw material” (Berger 13). To most man, animals are now being used primarily for raw material “a peasant becomes fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork” (Berger, 6). In the film “Babe”, the ideology of an animal having a purpose in their life to stay alive is significantly enhanced on through the animal characters, in this case an emphasise is made on Babe. He escapes being slaughtered for Christmas dinner by becoming a “sheep pig”. Throughout the film, Babe encompasses the purpose of being a “Sheep pig” rather than providing the Hogget family with food. The ideology of animals needing to have a purpose to live is clearly shown in a scene where the Cat and Babe are sharing dialogue with one another. “The fact is that pigs don’t have a purpose… why do the Bosses keep a pig?… The Bosses have to eat. It’s probably the most noble purpose of all, when you come to think about it” (Babe). One could question why Babe was given the opportunity to live. Is Babe now considered as this mortal and singular being that is irreplaceable in Farmer Hogget’s point of view or is it simply because he was portraying a necessary and crucial purpose to the farm?
Primarily, Berger is viewed to comprise an interest on how animals have been and are still being used in the modern world by humans. He demonstrates the ideology of how technology and machinery have come to replace the role of animals in the past. The concept of imitation can be linked when being conveyed as a “machine” and is of great importance in Kafka’s “Report to an Academy”. The text portrays that not only do animals endure the imitation process but humans do too. Similarly to animals, human’s also react and imitate like “machines”. As an ape, through imitation Red Peters learns how to spit, smoke, drink and eventually speak like human “it was so easy to imitate these people” (Kafka, 192). This supports Descartes notion that animals are imitative species and are essentially like machines. They behave in an automatic way but do not act in response, whereas humans have the capacity for imagination and are therefore able to move beyond imitation. In comparison to the “Report to an Academy” the concept of machinery is of great importance in the film “Babe”. The film is clearly seen to embellish nature on the one hand and the hybridization of machinery between man and animal on the other. The “mechanical rooster” in the film further relates to Berger’s argument about the disappearance and loss of animals as a result of technology and to an extent symbolises its disadvantages “men depended upon animals for food, work, transport, clothing (Berger, 3). In Babe, the rooster is replaced by a alarm clock and is being referred to in the film as a mechanical rooster “I tried it with the hens it didn’t work…but no sooner do I become indispensable than they bring in a machine to do the job…ohh the treachery of it – a mechanical rooster!” (Babe). As a result of this technological replacement, Ferdinand being the rooster attempts to steal the alarm clock in order to still have a purpose on the farm and to escape slaughter which would occur to him should he lose his sense of reason and importance. Technology can be viewed to further emphasise on Berger’s notion of non comprehension between animals and humans and the lack of knowledge endured by man because of their lack of ability to be aware and make note of the importance of animals on society.
Furthermore, Berger implies that one is able to differentiate between humans and animals through language. Berger states that when humans regard one another the abyss between humans can be closed by language. Humans have the knowledge, capacity and understanding of language therefore contributing to their power and status in society, whereas animals clearly lack this form of communication and expression. “What distinguished man form animals was the human capacity for symbolic thought, the capacity which was in separable from the development of language” (Berger, 8). In addition, Descartes, “Discourse On the Method (1637) further draws upon the non comprehension between human and animal. He undertakes a rigid dissimilarity between “response” and “reaction”. He states that animals are like machinery they only react to what they are being confronted with however humans have the capacity and knowledge to respond. Similarly to Descartes view on language, in the “Report to an Academy” Red Peters states that language is viewed as barrier that distinguishes the encounters between human and animal, and in this case human and ape. Language becomes an obstacle as he tries to recount his previous life as an ape in the beginning of the text. Here, the abyss of non comprehension between human and ape is further reflected in Berger’s claims. Through the process of becoming human, Red Peter is given the ability to distinguish between human and animal. In comparison, the animal characters in “Babe” are personified and anthropomorphised with human characteristics and attributes. The relationship between humans and animals can be viewed as metaphoric. Animals are being used metaphorically in order to demonstrate the similarities and differences that are evident between men and animal.
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Moreover, Berger refers to Anthropomorphism as an “integral to the relation between man and animal and was an expression to their proximity” (Berger, 11). Throughout the “Report to an Academy” and “Babe” the ape as well as the animals in the film have the ability to talk and communicate through language and have human like emotion. For example even though Red Peters can speak in a human like manner and therefore believes that he has turned human, he is still physically viewed as an ape. In the film “Babe”, Babe misses his mother. The animals are perceived to carry on human ambitions through their roles and jobs on the farm. Babe wants to better himself and have a “career” instead of being Christmas dinner and as a result towards the end of the film becomes the best “sheep dog”. Ironically, most of the dialogue in the film is being given to non human animals whereas the human characters in the film such as Farmer Hogget have very little dialogue. In addition, Mrs Hogget is portrayed in a pig-like manner as her voice resembles the sound of a pig. One could state that a role reversible is evident in the film. To an extent, the human characters are conveyed in animal like aspects and attributes than the animals themselves. This furthermore contributes to Berger’s notion of the narrow abyss of non comprehension that marginalizes man from beast, human from animal.
In conclusion it is clearly evident that Kafka’s “Report to an Academy” as well as the film “Babe”, both effectively represent a debatable distinction of the unsubstantiated margin that separate the notions of “human” and “non human” and call into question the conservative antagonism between one another. In relation to both texts, animal suffering caused by humans themselves is being implied in Berger’s essay. On the one hand Berger highlights the ideology that humans deny the existence of animals in the modern world and as a result contributes to the “narrow abyss of non comprehension” that marginalizes man from beast (Berger, 3) whilst on the other hand language and imitation connects us to other humans, and because animals lack this characteristic we perceive animals according to what Berger describes it as across ignorance and fear “I fear that it may not be understood precisely what I mean by a way out” (Kafka, 190). The notion of non comprehension between humans and animals can be described as man’s lack of knowledge to comprehend the significance and importance of animals and their status in one’s life.
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