Simian Devils

The Monkey King is the ageless Sun Wokong. Unlike the West who saw the personification (viz. concretisation or de-abstraction or whatever) of evil in serpents, dragons, or some other fierce but ultimately stupid beast, the Chinese saw them in monkeys. They are perverted images of ourselves. I can hear 子 saying: ‘This is what happens when you succumb to evil; this is what happens when you nourish evil in your hearts.’

But this assessment is not entirely true. Sun Wokong is not the villain (he is in a recent Cantonese flick, but only until he begins his journey west). Schumacher summarises the role of monkeys in Eastern myth: [the monkey] begins vile and vain but ends up discovering wisdom. The discovery often involves the Buddha and perversely not the shedding away of the incomplete human form for one that is fuller and more complete. Sun Wokong remains a monkey to the end. Borges writes of another Chinese monkey, mischievous but perhaps also adorable, whose only pleasure was to drink the ink from a scholar’s inkpot.

But there is another monkey, undocumented except in the tortured dreams of Nietzsche and his disciples, which is not so much a monkey as a gargoyle we unconsciously create from our deepest fears: the monkey we alone can see, and which we see only every morning before we open our eyes in front of the mirror: the monkey which tells us, monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo.

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