There’s nothing quite like the shocking finale of a football match, between two teams that you do not habitually support, to leave you floundering in contradictory emotions. On the one hand, you don’t give a toss; on the other, you do – and usually for a whole bunch of irrational reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with football. The paradoxical nature of human existence was also a particular concern of the writer Franz Kafka, although the Champions League probably wasn’t. His short story, A Report to an Academy, has been adapted into a sonorous theatrical monologue. Translated, directed and performed by the Catalan actor, Ivan Benet, it is staged on a clever foldy-uppy set at Espai Lliure in Barcelona, until June 1st. While a visual version of the narrative might lose some of the deadpan humour that makes the Czech writer so brilliant, the monkeyish activities of Benet on stage prove disturbing enough to do Kafka justice. An ape who has learned to be human – to drink, to talk, to perform, to do a Rubik cube – delivers an Academy lecture. He provides, he stresses, only information about his transformation, as his past life as a wild animal has faded from his memory. A comment on the absurdity yet onerous power of human social convention, where ‘freedom’ is as self-controlled as anything else, the monkey says that he sought to be human not through any desire to free his mind with ‘knowledge’, but as the ‘only way out … in any direction.’ Kafka wrote the story 97 years ago in Prague, then under the Austro-Hungarian thumb, yet the dilemma he brings up: the grappling states of individualism versus conformity; isolation versus social fun, suggests that we can only ever negotiate the cages we are in, and never actively escape them. Which brings me back to the football. As I returned to my Barcelona barrio after the match I was immediately presented with such a dilemma. There, I encountered a group of enthusiastic South American women swinging white shirts around and shouting. Their affection for the perpetually dominant team of their adoptive country and continent seemed reasonable – even mature, I could be envious of their fun, I thought. Yet further down the road, when a lone resident poked her head out of the window above me and exclaimed, ‘Qué asco!‘, I could not help but heartily agree with the sentiment.
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