To Wu Shuhua, with immense love and gratitude.
I took to wandering the beach one day, leaving behind my home and the lake of my home, and have walked beside the ocean ever since. Not too long ago, I came across an old crab with a crusty shell but gentle manners. He had an odd habit of wandering forward and backward, backward and forward along the coastline, a hermit on his own journey. We, ape and crab, said hello to each other. I hunted fish for us to eat and we conversed while eating lunch for it was noon.
Crab – I have seen many people wander the beach in my day; by chasing the endless coastline they came, they saw, they conquered every land in the world, but they never knew where they were going. Where are you going? Do you run on ahead? As a herdsman, an exception, or deserter?
Ape – How can anyone fully answer questions this profound? I doubt even you can! I can only be as honest as possible in both my knowledge and ignorance. I once joined a band of rebels years ago in a fight to liberate our troupe from our chiefs, who are vicious, obese, ugly apes, so powerful yet so stupid they are burning our very forest to ashes. Yet the rebels care more for cutting open their chiefs in revenge than saving the forest herself and they only succeeded to disembowel each other. I deserted my comrades but with a heavy heart; a large question mark still hangs over the fate of the forest.
Crab – You lack the heart for politics. You cannot be a true believer. This is true no matter what duties you think you owe to other apes or the forest. I live in the ocean where no fire can touch me. I travel in the deep past or in the far future but rarely stay in the present. But what of your present?
Ape – I would like to think of myself as an exception but I may just be part of a larger movement, which I fear cannot be avoided even by the cleverest of apes. I may just be part of a larger “progressive” movement within my troupe, where some outcast apes are gaining more acceptance and power among our chiefs while other outcasts are breaking away from the troupe to live on their own terms. You, hermit crab, were once an ape and are also part of a movement, a movement we call “existentialism”. But I don’t care about movements you may have inspired by accident – all movements of history are merely accidents – but about you.
Crab – But what about you? Are you genuine or only an actor? A representative or that itself which is represented?
Ape – I can lie and make riddles when I feel I must but I am too ingenuous to act, for better and worse. I, my life and work, represent a war; my body is a battlefield where the muses and other spirits compete for various honors and duties. I am their work of art. My work of art is a dream of someone else’s dream, a ghost of a ghost, a metaphor of a metaphor. This truth applies to everyone. I don’t know any of these wily women well and I may never be able to do so.
Crab – Ah, yes, Life is a woman! The organism is an organization, a society, after all. I notice your feet are heavy. You forgot to stretch this morning, or did you just now decide to go the gym? The more you write the more you practice running. One day your feet will grow wings and you will be able to dance well, but you must keep your eyes peeled. Do you look on? Or who sets to work? Or who looks away, turns aside?
Ape – I’ve been setting to work for years now but it made me absent minded. I didn’t look on enough because I did not believe there was much ahead. I did not believe I had a future in this world but slowly that is starting to change.
Crab – Do you want to accompany or go on ahead or go off alone? One must know what one wants and that one wants.
Ape – I want to go on ahead but no longer alone. I am tired of being alone. I need more friends. But I do have company with a woman I love. I would like us to travel together through life, accompanying each other, supporting each other. What do I want? I want to validate myself through my work. I want to be as powerful an artist as possible. I want to save the forest. I want a companion and friends. I want to love this world, this life, and all her people. I want so many things, so very many things.
Crab – It is good to sprint but don’t forget to eat well, sleep well, and organize your day well. Don’t trip on a pebble and fall flat on your face. You are young and impatient. You should focus more on growth and the journey itself than on the goals and perfection. Even at the age of thirty one is a total novice in regards to high culture and the most important questions, the greatest of life’s riddles . Take my example; I embarrassed myself by following an actor and a saint by the heel, like a little poodle, only to turn on them.
Ape – What about all the questions you asked me ? How do they apply to you? It is now your turn in the hot pot.
Crab – I was once a deserter, now an exception, but I became a herdsman to some, which I loathe – I would rather be a buffoon. I represent life, or rather does she represent me? I look on and set to work but, alas, sometimes I have poor eyes. I go on ahead and go off alone. The beach is my desert, my forty days into the wilderness. You will not be able to cook me for dinner. My shell is too hard.
Ape – We’ll see about that. Be careful. I may one day fly past you.
And so ape and crab parted. The crab returned to the waves while I walked on ahead.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, 75.
- Ibid, 36-37.