The Golden Legend is one of many medieval works that lavish attention on the enormities of Titus’s siege of Jerusalem. In it, a rich woman despairs after robbers empty her house; she “strangled her son, had him cooked, ate the half of his body, and hid the other half. But when robbers smelled the odor of the cooked meat, they burst in and threatened the woman with death if she did not give up her store of meat.” She shows them the half-eaten body, and the robbers shrink in horror: both at the infanticide and at their realization that their appetite had betrayed them by making no distinction whatsoever between animal and human flesh.
Human flesh smells like—because it is—meat. More than that: in a number of medieval texts, it’s the best of meats, the healthiest and most delicious. In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, Brian, unable to find venison for his ailing uncle Cadwallo, feeds him a roasted piece of his own thigh; Cadwallo, enjoying the flesh very much, regains his health and goes on to reign as the last of the British kings. In a now-infamous Middle English romance, Richard Coer de Lyon, Richard’s men trick an ailing Richard, who yearns for pork, into eating the heavily spiced body of a “ჳonge and ffat” Saracen. While “hys ffolk hem tournyd away and lowჳ,” Richard enthusiastically consumes his meal and regains his health. Edward of York’s hunting manual observes that a wolf, having once tasted human flesh, will prefer this to all others because “mannys flesh is so savery and so plesaunt.” No doubt: in a crusade narrative by Richard the Pilgrim (will need to check my sources on this), the Tafurs delight in feasting on the corpses of Turks because human flesh “molt est cis savourés, / mius vaut que cars de porc ne que bacons ullés’” (is very flavorful. It is better than any pork flesh or bacon), and in one of Poggio Bracciolini’s tales, a teenaged serial killer, when caught, “fassus est se plures alios comedisse, idque se agere, quoniam sapidiores reliquis carnibus viderentur” (confessed that he had eaten many other [children], and that he had done this because they seemed tastier to him than any other flesh).
It’s usual to read anthropophagy as a political metaphor. While Geraldine Heng is probably best known for this, the approach has a long pedigree: for example, see a thirteenth-century estates satire, “De diversus ordinibus hominibus” (in Thomas Wright, The Latin Poems Commonly Attributed to Walter Mapes. Camden Society, 1841), where “Comites et milites quos gentes honorant, / pauperum substantiam subito devorant” (the counts and knights whom men honor devour the substance of the poor in no time at all) and for many further examples, see Nicola McDonald, “Eating People and the alimentary logic of Richard Coeur de Lion,” in Pulp Fictions of Medieval England, 126, and 221-31 in Philippe Buc, “Manducation et domination: Analyse du Métaphore” in his Ambiguité du livre, where he argues that “le cannibalisme des ‘princes et tyrans’ est une perversion du sacrifice eucharistique” (nb: I rather think it’s the other way around, with the Eucharist as a secondary formation on the fundamental horror of anthropophagy).
In Ecstatic Transformations, Uebel suggests a new route for reading anthropophagy:
The enjoyment of roast Saracen and the appetite for more of it are not simply reducible to metaphors for Richard's desire to wipe out the Saracen swine in his project to secure English enjoyment of the Holy Land. Nor is enjoying roast Saracen a parodic inversion of the Muslim pork taboo. Rather, there is ‘something more’ (Žižek) here, a meaningful surplus present in these desires, that appears through them. This ‘something more’ is the foundation of a community and the notion of enjoyment as communifying process.
I’m going to argue for the enjoyment of roast Saracen and, indeed, the imagined enjoyment of human flesh in general, as a communifying process centered around not an ethnic, religious, or colonial identity but around human identity itself. Rather than understanding anthropophagy in relation to activities between humans or between humans and their divinities, I want to understand it through meat-eating and flesh in general, which means understanding it in terms of the human relation to animals and to their own appetite. In brief, I want to get past anthropophagy as metaphor, inasmuch such a thing is possible.
Here’s what I intend to do: the purported deliciousness of human flesh likely derives from a desire to reinstate the superiority of humans to animals despite their shared meatiness. Since humans are superior to animals, their flesh must be superior too. But a separation along these lines can only be a failure, because if it succeeds in preserving human specialness, it does nothing to prevent anthropophagy: it in fact encourages it. It’s not been so easy to nail this project down, and not only because I’m easily distracted. Hunts for interesting exegesis on a verse in one of Paul expositions of resurrection doctrine, 1 Corinthians 15:39, “All flesh is not the same flesh: but one is the flesh of men, another of beasts, another of birds, another of fishes,” have so far returned very little for thinking about edibility and savor (granted, I’ve looked only in the PL, and not yet deeply). The exegetes seem to have failed me here, but Aquinas, may he be praised, has come to my rescue in his explanation for why Lent forbids humans the flesh of quadrupeds:
For, since such like animals are more like man in body, they afford greater pleasure as food, and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust.
If the consumption of animal red meat incites lust because of the flesh’s resemblance to human flesh, anthropophagy must be a very great pleasure indeed.
Following Žižek via Uebel, I suppose, I want to track this certainty of the pleasure of human flesh as a “belief in belief,” as a way to imagine oneself—at least the fleshy self—as special by imagining one’s flesh as desired by others. I think of the story of Nicholas and the Three Clerks, a hagiographic horror story in which Nicholas asks a butcher for “better” flesh: the better flesh is the flesh of three murdered clerks, transformed by the butcher into pork pies. Nicholas’s desire for better flesh is what rescues the clerks from mere porcine animality, but, in the process, the story gives up a secret of human flesh and human identity.
This is what I want to do, and wherever I’m going, I hope to arrive there in two weeks, so I can get back to moving to new apartment, prepping for next year, rewriting an old conference paper on Des Grantz Geanz, and finally putting the diss to bed. Here comes the blegging portion, or, if you like, the part where I invite your participation. Dear readers,
- how might you exploit these texts and their depiction of desire?
- Is it possible to do this without mixing myself up in the Eucharist?
- What about the sexual material on anthropophagy? I’m thinking Decameron 4.9 (lover’s heart served up as boar: see Milad Doueihi, A Perverse History of the Human Heart), Jerome on the Attacoti, British people who account the cooked buttocks of shepherds and breasts of women great delicacies, and the homoerotic anthropophagy of William Rufus in Walter Map’s Courtier’s Trifles, whose intensity utterly eclipses the whole Brian/Cadwallo episode. Do I need only gesture at this material, if at all?
- Where am I going wrong?
* In re: Masciandaro as colleague: I’ve accepted a TT position at Brooklyn College. How lovely for me!
I once gave a meaty talk on flesh-eating to a seminar that was being taught by a colleague of mine at a certain university.
It struck me that, indeed, the communifying power of cannibalism is the only way to read it, in real human terms. Metaphors are dandy, and they're even fun to
produce, but when talking about eating another human, I think we short-circuit metaphoricity. At any rate, it was in the psychoanalytic literature that I was looking back then.
I handed out this bib.
Cannibalism: The View from Psychoanalysis
Abraham, Karl. “The First Pregenital Stage of the Libido” (1916), in his Selected Papers on Psychoanalysis. Trans. Douglas Bryan and Alix Strachey. NY: Basic Books, 1927. 248-79.
Blumstein, Alex. “Masochism and Fantasies of Preparing to be Incorporated.” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 7 (1959): 292-98.
Fenichel, Otto. The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. NY: W.W. Norton, 1945.
Fliess, Robert. Ego and Body Ego: Contributions to Their Psychoanalytic Psychology. NY: Schulte, 1961.
---. Erogeneity and Libido: Some Addenda to the Theory of the Psychosexual Development of the Human. NY: International Universities P, 1956.
Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo. SE 13: 1-161.
Krafft-Ebing, Richard von. Psychopathia Sexualis: A Medico-Forensic Study. Trans.
Franklin S. Klaf. NY: Arcade, 1965. [see Case 21]
Lewin, Bertram D. “Addenda to the Theory of Oral Erotism,” in Selected Writings of Bertram D. Lewin. Ed. Jacob A. Arlow. NY: Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1973. 129-46.
Reik, Theodor. Masochism in Modern Man. NY: Farrar, Straus, & Co., 1941.
Shengold, Leonard, “Body Parts as Symbols: The Shoulder,” in his “Father, Don’t You See I’m Burning?”: Reflections on Sex, Narcissism, Symbolism, and Murder. Yale UP, 1991. 93-105.
---. Delusions of Everyday Life. Yale UP, 1995.
Stekel, Wilhelm. “Cannibalism, Necrophilism, and Vampirism,” in his Sadism and Masochism. 1929. Trans. Louise Brink. NY: Grove P, 1965. 2: 248-330.
Stephen, M. “Consuming the Dead: A Kleinian Perspective on Death Rituals Cross- Culturally.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 79 (Dec. 1998):1173-94.
Thanks so much MU. Exactly what I would have expected from you, and much appreciated.
There's some other bib on anthropophagy that I plan to track down soonish, starting with Consuming Passions: The Uses of Cannibalism in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe
On the sexual dimensions of this communifying act/fantasy, see Shengold (good on the connection of buttocks, breasts, & shoulder), von Krafft-Ebing, & Stekel (prev. cited) and the minutes of the 73rd scientific meeting (March 24, 1909), where some case material is presented. See vol. 2 of the Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.
Congratulations!! - and have fun at the zoo. I'm not going, but I would be drawn to some of the archaeology/landscape sessions - such as 406 (Powlesland), 470 (we all need to know about uses for purple shellfish dye), and 530. All things I could get at home, I know, but more exotic for you (and plenty of material - excuse pun - for uses of the material past in the past for jjC).
OK - spending the day doing chores and mulling over the real content of your posts. It seems to me you are working the culture/nature (cooked/raw) seam. Do you know Tim Ingold's work (see here: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/socsci/staff/details.php?id=6) on the human/animal interface? One of the things I like about his stuff is that he makes the Political consequences of how we make the divide between human and nature both within human society and without. Because - in the end - I don't think that you can or should deny the politics of this.
Thanks for posting that, Karl. Since I'm the respondent for the session, I won't say anything yet ... preferring to reserve my withering comments for the session itself.
I will see you at at least one of those things, as you have mentioned one I have to attend and one I plan to attend!
Karl--congrats on job at Brooklyn College. Cheers, Eileen
To revive some dead theory, JJC, remember in Cyberspace you can be anyone you want. You could be JJJC (John Jacob Jingleheimer Cohen) and comment on my suggestions that way.
MU: read the Krafft-Ebing and Shengold on the Shoulder (which I found a bit...strained, deterministic, anecdotal, all of which, btw, could be leveled against my 'scholarship'), have the Fenichal (but have no idea where to start in it), and plan to get several of the others out of the way today. Thanks.
On the Shengold: where I part ways with him is on the metaphoric turn that he gives anthropophagy. I don't want to make eating people about politics or sex. I want, insofar as I can, to make it about eating and flesh, to place it not in relation to other people (including one's own presumptive childhood sexual formation) but in relation to the flesh that people normally eat. At any rate, given my interest in a non-allegoric study of the human/animal relation, that's where I can make my own intervention.
It is of interest to me that the lustmurders in Krafft-Ebing are, duh, sexual (given that the cases are so short, it didn't take long to read all 10 or so of those cases). By contrast, the medieval material is about gustatory preference, so long as I don't apply Shengorn's filter to it. Hence my approach, my, I guess, effort to account for the literal level before sliding off into metaphor.
And thanks N50 for directing me to Ingold. Looks very promising, although perhaps not for my Kzoo project.
Yes, indeed, Shengold puts a metaphoric apparatus into play, as you would expect from a psychoanalytic reader of his bent. Yet, he's standing on ground that needn't necessarily be so metaphorically channeled. I think of the case material in T. Reik that involves an approach to "being eaten" by another human in terms of masochistic surrender and erasure of bounded separateness (which is actually a defense against the same, as W. Reich and others have emphasized).
It sounds like your intervention will only gain strength from being counterpoised to the psychoanalytic one.
The Reik does sounds useful, since I'm going to argue for the imagined deliciousness of human flesh as:
* a desire (as I've said) to make human flesh special
* a desire to make one's death meaningful, whether as
- special act of horror
- special act of pleasure
In other words, human flesh in its edibility also belongs to the regime of control and pleasure to which the 'flesh' belongs in medieval ascetic systems, but with various differences having to do with violence and self-violence and human/animal relations that I've not quite got a handle on yet.
I'm surprised that no one's yet mentioned the violence I'm doing to these texts, my willful damage to the particular contexts of things....
Curious about the use of the Wilhelm Stekel, which I read yesterday (alongside the Blumstein, Stephen, and the Price book on medieval Cannibalism). Many, many case studies, but the argument, what little there is of it, seems to boil down to cannibalism as an atavistic urge that occasionally bursts to the surface. For Stekel, the rest of the world is the past of the West.
The case study of the Lesbian 1/2-native american, 1/2-white vampire is one that he treats in two ways, one much more useful than the other. The useful way first:
"She had...to suffer all her life under the absurd hatred and scorn with which the white people in the colonies (and at home) look upon half-castes. Her whole pride revolted against this separation of men into two groups, one of which was placed on a level with the beasts. Vengeance upon the white race--that was her secret guiding motive. To drink the blood of the hated whites, was her secret craving. At the same time she would have been happy to have been white" (314).
But he also writes that "one can understand her sadism if one remembers that the wild blood of savages runs in her veins" (314) and that "Instead of adapting herself to the civilization of the white race, she fled in defiance to the savagery of her mother's ancestors" (314).
I should say, not at all incidentally, that Stekel has already, almost interminably, presented the "civilization of the white race" as suffused with cannibalism, necrophilia, and vampirism. She is of a piece with the others.
So, with all that in mind, how was it that you wanted the Stekel to be used?
I meant to send you the reference for the Krell article I cited a few weeks ago KS so here it is now:
David Farrell Krell, "All You Can't Eat: Derrida's Course, 'Rhetorique Du Cannibalisme' (1990-1991)" , Research in Phenomenology 36 (2006): 130-180.
I know its very long but I really think it is apropos for what you are doing.
Thanks Michael. Just downloaded it. Also picked up, finally, Maggie Kilgour's From communion to cannibalism : an anatomy of metaphors of incorporation, which looks very very good (at least from the introduction), but perhaps not for my purposes (Blumstein's fantasies of incorporation, on the other hand....); also rejected, again, Priscilla Walton's Our Cannibals, Ourselves (which I had forgotten being irritated by 2 years ago); and I look forward to getting my hands on Mikita Brottman's Meat is murder! : an illustrated guide to cannibal culture. I think if I read any more than this, at least at this point, I'm just procrastinating.
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