An Intellectual History of Cannibalism

Jenny Diski writes:

Avramescu traces the trajectory and underlying uses of cannibal-thinking over time. Having started out as a mythic monster in uncharted places, the man-eating savage was presented during the Enlightenment as a description of a state of nature by those who were not in it, and who wished retrospectively to investigate the implications of natural law for the origins of the political state. The cannibal also greatly troubled the theologians, who worried about what would happen come the resurrection if particles of an eaten man co-existed with the body of the eater. Which soul would the single available body of the cannibal clothe? Would a man or woman eaten by a lion come back to eternal life even though their parts were consumed and atomised? Certainly, the Christian martyrs must have hoped so. Eventually, the cannibal got laughed out of the philosophical arena by the Enlightenment and anthropological relativism, and has come in our time to reside either in the demented minds of characters who now entertain us in movies and popular fiction, or in those who, finding themselves in company on isolated mountains or dense jungle, put aside their squeamishness and eat to live. Sometimes, of course, they advertise on the internet.

(LRB 6 August 2009)