“Chimp” is a product of the 2014 spring semester I spent studying literary theory for my MFA in fiction at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas — a semester spent investigating language’s arbitrariness, its disconnection from the thing it wants to discuss, the unessential notion of language and meaning being irrevocably alienated from one another. During this semester of studying language’s relational matter of meaning-making, I became obsessed with watching a show on Netflix called Fatal Attractions, which documents nonfictional accounts of people who were mauled, sometimes fatally, by their exotic pets. Alongside a discussion of the fallacy of logocentrism, some type of innate and symbiotic relationship of meaning-making between word and idea, I watched humans eaten by their multiple pet Komodo dragons, attacked by their backyard panthers, and yes, turned on by their beloved chimps.
Thinking about language as a sign somehow always already detached from its signifier, I began to turn that analytic sense towards popular constructions of the animal and animality, how fundamental and invisible the need for ideas of the animal is to ideas of the human, how relational and arbitrary distinctions between the two seem. Humans are humans because they are not animals. Animals are as much because of the inverse, because they lack “humanity.”
As a gal who has always been fascinated by the grotesque, the Gothic, and the places where those points intersect, I became transfixed when I first watched the episode of Fatal Attractions focused on chimpanzee owners and their subsequent maulings. I watched it three times in one weekend. I was most compelled by the 2009 story of Sandra Herold and her chimpanzee, Travis, who mauled her friend, Charla Nash, after fourteen years spent as a member of Sandra’s Connecticut family. I began thinking about the possibilities resident in a fictionalized Travis, an animal that could question and interrogate his own animality, not only question and interrogate but resist the ways in which animality constructs humanity. Furthermore, I wanted to place this fictionalized Travis very firmly within the realm of the abject, attempting to both disgust and implicate reader. I aim to mobilize Travis’ fictionalized gaze, to cause it to move off the page and meet the eyes of the reader.