The Discovery and Representation of the Cannibal from Columbus to Jules Verne.Frank Lestringant. Trans. Rosemary Morris. (The New Historicism New Historicism is an approach to literary criticism and literary theory based on the premise that a literary work should be considered a product of the time, place, and circumstances of its composition rather than as an isolated creation. , 37). Berkeley and Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. : University of California Press "UC Press" redirects here, but this is also an abbreviation for University of Chicago Press
University of California Press, also known as UC Press, is a publishing house associated with the University of California that engages in academic publishing. , 1997. vii + 247 pp. $38. ISBN ISBN
International Standard Book Number
ISBN International Standard Book Number
ISBN n abbr (= International Standard Book Number) → ISBN m 0-520-20240-6.
Frank Lestringant, a French literary scholar who has published widely on European views of the non-Western world and its peoples in the Renaissance, here examines European perceptions of cannibals from the emergence of the designation with the discovery of the Americas through the end of the nineteenth century. Lestringant limits himself largely to the views of notable French writers, plus the artist Gericault (through an analysis of "The Raft of the Medusa The Raft of the Medusa (French: Le Radeau de la Méduse) is a work by the French painter Théodore Géricault, and one of the icons of French Romanticism. "). The only non-French writer considered in any depth is Daniel Defoe, for Robinson Crusoe. Nor does the author concern himself with the actual character or extent of cannibalism cannibalism (kăn`ĭbəlĭzəm) [Span. caníbal, referring to the Carib], eating of human flesh by other humans. . Instead, he stresses how these authors understood and presented cannibalism, particularly how they associated it with other themes common to European cultural history.
Lestrigant does not discuss whether these writers were representative of the literary world of their times or exceptional in their perspectives. Likewise, he shows no interest in popular views of cannibalism, never, for example, treating whether an author's perspective was broadly shared in the larger culture or was instead distinctive and perhaps pathbreaking path·break·ing
Characterized by originality and innovation; pioneering. .
The book is always interesting and informative, giving the reader new slants on European ideas about cannibalism, particularly on how these writers connected the abominable practice with other deficiencies in human character. But perhaps the best developed and most original sections of the work are its early ones on Thevet, Lery, and Montaigne. These three authors closely associated cannibalism with the practitioners's lust for revenge, not their hunger. They also gave cannibals a cultural identity, one that is typically ascribed to them down to the present day.
Lestringant's study is excellent at portraying changing perceptions of the cannibal's essential nature through time. Opinion usually shifted between cannibals as embodying all human depravity and as representing a rational alternative in human behavior given their environs and level of cultural development. Thevet noted how a cannibal tribe would integrate an enemy captive (always male) into its society for a substantial period of time, even mating him with a woman and otherwise honoring him. Then on a designated day known to them and the victim, the victors would bind the captive and humiliate him before killing him swiftly and roasting his body. Lery, typical of devout Protestants of his time, associated cannibalism with the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation transubstantiation: see Eucharist.
In Christianity, the change by which the bread and wine of the Eucharist become in substance the body and blood of Jesus, though their appearance is not altered. . His fascination with the subject is displayed by his treatment of a couple of cases of European cannibalism in his writings. These two authors brought about close identification of cannibalism with the Tupinamba of Brazil in the European view, away from its initial association with the island Caribs.
In the eighteenth century, many famous writers treated cannibalism as illustrative of larger themes they were developing about the nature of human-kind. Bougainville, Voltaire, Diderot, de Pauw, and de Sade Noun 1. de Sade - French soldier and writer whose descriptions of sexual perversion gave rise to the term `sadism' (1740-1814)
Comte Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade, Marquis de Sade, Sade all addressed the subject, now sometimes removed from its earlier close association with the Americas. But de Pauw used the commonality com·mon·al·i·ty
n. pl. com·mon·al·i·ties
a. The possession, along with another or others, of a certain attribute or set of attributes: a political movement's commonality of purpose. of the practice in the Americas as evidence for his argument for the western hemispheres inherent inferiority.
By the nineteenth century, treatments of cannibalism had become less common and less central to the concerns of European writers. They now tended to treat cannibalism as exotic and rather marginal to the essential character of humanity. It was also no longer considered as the defining characteristic of the non-Western peoples who practiced it.
Lestringant's thoughtful, incisive, and accessible work well rewards the reader's attention. Comparable studies of the subject by literary analysts of other European cultures would seem very desirable indeed.
JOHN E. KICZA Washington State University Washington State University, at Pullman; land-grant and state supported; chartered 1890, opened 1892 as an agriculture college. From 1905 to 1959 it was the State College of Washington.