Monday, October 4, 2010

Monkey business

From time to time, I've explained that the underlying theme of my Antipodes blog, ever since I started it in December 2006, is the concept of an upside-down Antipodean universe in which things don't happen in the same way as in our everyday "ordinary" world. That's why I've always symbolized this blog by the famous Epinal image of people walking on their heads.

I spoke of this concept in my article of 17 May 2007 entitled Upside-down world [display]. French culture has always been intrigued by this theme, which has often been expressed by the vision of a world in which humans and animals would have interchanged their places and roles.

A neighboring theme is referred to in French by a term, singeries, that might be translated as "monkey business", in which monkeys perform human activities as if it were a perfectly normal affair.

The excellent Gallica website (associated with the national French library) has just offered us a delightful set of images of such worldly animals [display].

The French word for a monkey, singe, is used as a verb meaning "to imitate grossly", equivalent to our English verb "to ape". I mentioned a trivial Antipodean case of this kind of propensity to imitate in my article of 16 March 2007 entitled Mediterranean Bondi [display].

It goes without saying—but maybe I should say it clearly nevertheless—that I've always considered that many essential differences between my native land (Australia) and my adopted land (France) are fundamentally "Antipodean" in the upside-down sense I'm evoking. To my mind, as an observer of both societies, it's not merely a matter of their handling things in slightly different ways, but rather a question of profound historical and cultural differences that have often culminated in quite different structures of thought in the two universes.

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