Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 25, 2015

The Chimpanzee and the Storks: an excerpt from Michel Houellebecq’s “Whatever”

Filed under: literature — louisproyect @ 8:08 pm

Celine has entered great literature as others enter their homes.

–Leon Trotsky

An excerpt from Michel Houellebecq’s “Whatever”:

Friday and Saturday I didn’t do much; let’s say I meditated, if you can all it that I remember having thought of suicide, of its paradoxical usefulness. Let’s put a chimpanzee in a tiny cage fronted by concrete barn. The animal would go berserk, throw itself against the walls, rip out its hair, inflict cruel bites on itself, and in 73% of cases will actually end up killing itself. Let’s now make a breach in one of the walls, which we will place right next to a bottomless precipice. Our friendly sample quadrumane will approach the edge, he’ll look down, remain at the edge for ages, return there time and again, but generally he won’t teeter over the brink; and in all events his nervous state will be radically assuaged.

My meditation on chimpanzees prolonged late into the night of Saturday and Sunday, and I finished up laying the foundations for an animal story called Dialogues Between a Chimpanzee and a Stork, which in fact constituted a political pamphlet of rare violence. Taken prisoner by a tribe of storks, the chimpanzee was at first self-preoccupied, his thoughts fur away. One morning, summoning up his courage, he demanded to see the eldest of the storks. Immediately brought before the bird, he raised his arms dramatically to the sky before pronouncing this despairing discourse:

Of all economic and social systems, capitalism is unquestionably the most natural. This already suffices to show that it is bound to be the worst. Once this conclusion is drawn it only remains to develop a workable and consistent set of concepts, that is, one whose mechanical functioning will permit, proceeding from facts introduced by chalice, the generation of multiple proofs which reinforce the predetermined judgment, the way that bars of graphite can reinforce the structure of a nuclear reactor. That in a simple task, worthy of a very young monkey; however I would like to disregard it.

During the migration of the spermatic flood towards the neck of the uterus, an imposing phenomenon, completely respectable and absolutely essential for the reproduction of species, one sometimes observes the aberrant comportment of certain spermatozoa. They look ahead, they look behind, they sometimes even swim against the current for a few brief seconds, and the accelerated wriggling of their tail now seems to translate as the revising of an ontological decision. If they do not compensate for this surprising indecision by a given velocity they generally arrive too late, and consequently rarely participate at the grand festival of genetic recombination. And so it was in August 1793 that Maximilien Robespierre was carried along by the movement of history like a crystal of chalcedony caught in a distant avalanche, or better still like a young stork with still too feeble wings, born by unhappy chance just before the approach of winter, and which suffers considerable difficulty — the thing is understandable — in maintaining a correct course during the crossing of jet-streams. Now jet streams are, as we know, particularly violent on the approaches of Africa. Rut I shall refine my thinking once more.

On the day of his execution Maximilien Robespierre had a broken jaw. It was held together by a bandage. Just before placing his head under the blade the executioner wrenched off his bandage; Robespierre let out a scream of pain, torrents of blood spurted from his wound, his broken teeth spilled forth on the ground. Then the executioner blandished the bandage at the end of his arm like a trophy, showing it to the crowd massed mound the scaffold. People were laughing, jeering. At this point the chroniclers generally add: “The Revolution was over.” This is rigorously exact. ‘At the very moment the executioner brandished his disgusting blood soaked bandage to the acclaim of the crowd, I like to think that in the mind of Robespierre there was something other than suffering. Something apart from the feeling of failure. A hope? Or doubtless the feeling that he’d done what he had to do, Maximilien Robespierre, I love you.

The eldest stork replied simply, in a slow and terrible voice: Tat twam asi. [LP: this is Sanskrit for “That thou art”, words found in the Rig Veda to indicate one’s connection to the Infinite] Shortly afterwards the chimpanzee was executed by the tribe of storks; he died in atrocious pain, transpierced and emasculated by their pointed beaks. For having questioned the order of the world the chimpanzee had to perish; in fact one could understand it; really, that’s how it was.


  1. This was a good story. Did you really write it or was it written by or perhaps inspired by your reading of David Chapman’s Buddhism for Vampires? Or, is his internet book Vampires for Buddhism? The last time that I checked the book and the story that it contains is still unfinished. I noticed some similarities but I am not going to say what they are.

    Comment by Left Overs t — March 25, 2015 @ 9:46 pm

  2. Didn’t you read the title of this article? The Chimpanzee and the Storks: an excerpt from Michel Houellebecq’s “Whatever”… I hope that makes it clear that I did not write it.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 25, 2015 @ 9:57 pm

  3. Of course Proyect didn’t write it since it’s not his style but it’s certainly brilliant of him to present it to us this way since it cracks me the way hell up and reminds me of some Charles Bukowski screed but far more historical & political and therefore even funnier in a perverse & demented sort of way, especially combined with that picture which looks a bit like the William H. Macy character in the Showtime series “Shameless” (which is NOT to be missed if you enjoy perverse & demented depravity in a modern, distinctly proletarian Chicago setting).

    I haven’t smiled at so much rampant degeneracy since the reactionary Ted Cruz announced he was running for President, which was a very weak & bored smile compared to this “Whatever” diatribe which has a certain permanent historical poignancy that will far outlive some distinctly rotten bastard like Cruz.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 26, 2015 @ 12:27 am

  4. That is funny by the time I had finished the reading it I had forgotten the title. It must be a sign of advanced rage.

    Comment by Left Overs t — March 26, 2015 @ 11:08 am

  5. […] “The Chimpanzees and the Storks”, it was so powerful that I took the trouble to scan it in and post it on my blog. This will give you a feel for Houellebecq’s […]

    Pingback by My Secret Fascination with Michel Houellebecq » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names — March 27, 2015 @ 8:55 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: