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Cannibals: The Discovery and Representation of the Cannibal from Columbus to Jules Verne



Cannibals: The Discovery and Representation of the Cannibal from Columbus to Jules Verne

Frank Lestringant

ISBN: 978-0-745-61697-1 May 1997 Polity 256 Pages


Frank Lestringant is one of the foremost authorities on European encounters with the New World. This book is a fascinating account of the existence of New World cannibalism and the images it conjured up for Europeans from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. Drawing on previously unavailable sources, Lestringant describes how European voyagers, divines and missionaries encountered the cannibalistic cultures and represented them in their journals and writings.

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.

List of Illustrations.

Introduction: To Meet a Cannibal.

Part I: From Dog-heads to Man-eaters: .

1. Birth of the Cannibal.

2. The Cannibal á la mode.

3. The Cannibal Comes to France.

4. Brazil, Land of Cannibals.

Part II: In Search of the Honourable Cannibal: .

5. The First Ethnographer of the Tupinamba Indians.

6. Jean de Léry, or the Cannibal Obsession.

7. The Melancholy Cannibal.

8. The Spitting Cannibal.

Part III: Cannibals by Constraint: .

9. Cardano, or the Rule of Necessity.

10. Brébeuf and Robinson: The Missionary and the Colonist.

11. The Enlightenment Cannibal: from Bougainville to Voltaire.

12. Cruel Nature: De Pauw and Sade.

13. Cannibalism and Colonialism: Jules Verne.

Epilogue: The Return of the Cannibal: Swift, Flaubert and the Medusa. Appendix I: The Cannibal Speaks: From Montaigne to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Appendix II: The Cannibal in Canada: Chateaubriand Reads Montaigne.




"Frank Lestringant's Cannibals is a magisterial, wide-ranging, and wonderfully readable exploration of one of the great Western obsessions. With a blend of horror, astonishment, and half-suppressed admiration, European travellers, philosophers, theologians, missionaries and artists have argued for centuries about the significance of cannibalism. Lestringant's extraordinary erudition enables him to map an immensely complex territory. His book is a feast!" Professor Stephen Greenblatt

"A fascinating account of European cannibalism." The Bookseller

"This is a learned and highly original book. Its virtues lie in its details, in the dazzling series of connections it makes between different aspects of cultural history - literary, theological, economic and artistic. Dare one say, in the words of the Prayer Book, that there is much here to "read, learn, and inwardly digest"?" The Sunday Telegraph

"Excellent ... It takes a freshly informed look at the question of the American Indian, mainly through French rather than Spanish or British witnesses with whom Anglo-American scholars are more familiar." Claude Rawson, The Times Literary Supplement

* The author is known as an outstanding cultural historian of the New World.
* This is a fascinating account of the discovery of cannibalism by Europeans, and of the ways in which they perceived and understood it. It's a topic that's likely to get wide review coverage.
* It draws on previously unavailable sources and reconstructs the phenomenon of cannibalism from a fresh perspective.