Campus monkey invasion and the inversion of academic values

According to a hilarious article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, “a troop of 80 to 100 of [rhesus macaque] monkeys have terrorized the campus [of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences] for several years, entering waiting rooms, biting people, and grabbing food from patients and visitors.” Apparently the administrators have tried to have them caught, but unsuccessfully; and have tried to frighten them away with other monkeys, but that hasn’t worked either. And the article concludes on an even darker note:

As if the monkeys weren’t bad enough, a new problem recently visited itself upon the institute: stray dogs that attack doctors returning to their dorms late at night. A letter of complaint from the institute’s faculty association says the dogs run through the teaching block, the wards, and the operating theaters. “The excreta can be seen all over, all the time,” the letter says. “It is the worst possible start to the day.”

Animals, in other words, are not inimical to the university’s functional order, since the animal invasions have been around for years without bringing a halt to academic operations. But they are an aesthetic disaster and they offend the scholarly sense of etiquette. There’s something very telling about the moralistic language that the article’s author uses to describe the animals: the descriptive rhetoric alone manages to condemn them, by constituting them as the structural inversion of academic values.

The animals are said to “attack”, “bite,” “grab,” “smash,” “terrorize”: their sheer aggressiveness is contrary to academic norms of incorporeality, meekness, courtesy, etiquette. They take food and drink without asking; they attack without provocation; they destroy academic equipment. They run astray, as if the only good creature is a tame, quiet, slow domestic creature; they run in packs, transgressing the academic ethos of dispersion along a thousand disintegrated, solitary paths. The animals symbolize filth: dog shit litters the operating rooms, upsetting norms of perfect cleanliness. And this is not only a health hazard but also, perhaps primarily, an aesthetic violation, inimical to the aesthetic and moral order of institutional comportment. It is the the sheer frequency and ubiquity of the ‘excreta’ that is ‘the worst possible start to the day,’ as if what was miserable was the fact of being confronted constantly with taboo substances in a blinding, ceaseless rhythm of visual perception.

Even the shit itself is discursively euphemized, called ‘excreta,’ as if the reality of the situation were too much to represent without the protection of technicized language, as if the transgression of academic values could be minimized by describing it in strictly academic jargon. I should point out, incidentally, that it’s considered normal for there to be shit in various human contexts, and that a total phobia of shit is not a universal constant. Having worked on a farm, I can testify that the sight of manure isn’t necessarily the “worst possible start to the day”; it’s rather benign if you’re used to it. Not that excreta would be permitted or welcomed in a farm kitchen, but I think in a less upper-class context shit can be experienced just as something to avoid and clean up, rather than as a shattering failure of the moral order.