An Intellectual History of Cannibalism

Jenny Diski writes:

In 2001, Armin Meiwes, a computer technician from Rotenburg in Germany, advertised on the Cannibal Café website for someone to have dinner with. He received numerous replies, but some withdrew when he responded and he considered others not serious enough. Eventually he invited Bernd Brandes for dinner. The plan was that Armin and Bernd would dine on Bernd’s severed penis, to be bitten off at the table for the occasion (this failed and it had to be cut off). Bernd found it too chewy, he said, so Armin put it in a sauté pan, but charred it and fed it to the dog. Later, Armin put Bernd in the bath (to marinate?), gave him alcohol and pills, read a science fiction book for three hours and then stabbed his dinner guest in the throat, hung him upside down on a meat hook in the ceiling, as any good butcher would, and sliced him into manageable portions. The world was agog at the news of the German cannibal and his two trials, at the first of which he was found guilty of manslaughter (no law against cannibalism in Germany, and his ‘victim’ had consented, volunteered actually, to being killed and eaten) and sentenced to eight years. He was retried on appeal for first-degree murder on the grounds that Bernd might not have been in a position to consent once his penis had been severed and the blood loss taken its intellectual toll. Armin Meiwes was given life. So far so goggable, but then Meiwes gave a TV interview and explained, ‘I sautéed the steak of Bernd, with salt, pepper, garlic and nutmeg. I had it with Princess croquettes, Brussels sprouts and a green pepper sauce,’ and you begin to see, as the suburban lace curtain drifts into place, that the reality of cannibalism could be far less interesting than the idea of it. I think it’s the Princess croquettes in particular that cause the disappointment.

(LRB 6 August 2009)