Cannibals: The Discovery and Representation of the Cannibal from Columbus to Jules Verne
May 1997, Polity
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Mapping the origins and evolution of the word 'cannibal', Lestringant describes the symbolic uses of cannibalism by authors, political theorists and theologians. In a wide-ranging discussion he surveys the myth and the reality of the cannibal, and explores the deployment of the image in European literature and legend.
Lestringant argues that sixteenth-century travellers and writers turned the figure of the man-eating savage of the Americas into a positive figure, a hero who devoured his defeated enemy in accordance with custom and not in order to satisfy some cruel instinct. Two centuries later the philosophers of the Enlightenment used the figure of the cannibal in their fight against the colonialists and Catholics. But the positive image of the cannibal suffered a reversal at the end of the eighteenth century, becoming a hateful figure and arousing the primitivist dreams of Sade and Flaubert.
Written in a lively and accessible style, this engaging book will be welcomed by students and researchers in a wide range of discipines - early modern history, European literature, anthropology and religious studies - as well as anyone interested in the history of cannibalism.