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So, in 2015 I wrote a paper that included a section on literal vs metaphorical cannibalism as it relates to history, knowledge, and academia. I reread it today and now I want to turn that section into an article of some kind. That section is behind the cut below; does anyone out there want to take a gander and tell me if there's anything worth revising into an article?

Because of the lack of space (and only two sources), this section will be perhaps briefer than I’d like, but there is so much research I’d need to do for a thorough reading.
That said, like most people (I assume), I have always believed cannibalism to be one of the worst things you can do to anybody. I thought of wendigoes and the Donner Party, and I shuddered. I usually avoid media that portrays cannibalism, but that’s just because I have a very strong imagination and I know that my mind will gift me with nightmares that far surpass whatever the TV show or movie can manage; that’s why I generally don’t watch the horror genre.

However, as I read the three chapters that mentioned cannibalism, I found myself wondering: what, exactly, is so bad about it? I know that we say about certain animals, “They eat their own kind,” and we take a moment to shudder (or, at least, I do): squid, komodo dragons. They eat their own kind – how can they do that? It wasn’t until Pratt’s chapters on cannibalism in Native Pragmatism that I began considering the less literal version of cannibalistic behavior – the metaphorical side.

It turns out, humans eat each other all the time. Not literally, no, but symbolically. When ideas are claimed by another and the original person is ignored or made to be silent; what happened as the Europeans swept through the North American continent and Australia; maybe even what happens in the schools in our society, when history is taught from one point of view, denying there ever was another – someone is eaten and then forgotten.

In the indigenous stories Pratt relates, as I interpret it, the cannibalism is not literal; in fact, I read it most often as a mental illness affecting someone in ways that would have them exorcised or executed in the contemporary Christian communities. However, Pratt explains that the way the natives treated those afflicted:

Kindness in these stories, however, is not its own reward but is presented as an element of a process of interaction and transformation which can dramatically diminish the danger and disruption of the cannibal and restore peace within a community or between nations… Significantly, however, some transformations are not instantaneous or complete. Nevertheless, in these cases, even partial transformations are presented as enough to restore peace within a community [Native Pragmatism, pg.93]

I compared this to the historical record I know regarding mental illness in Europe and, well. Ouch.

Historically, as Europe grew more ‘civilized,’ according to Pratt, cannibalism was used to demonize whoever was not in power – which connected instantly, in my mind, to the various witchcraft ‘trials’ where people were accused of terrible things so that the accusers could either punish them for some slight or take their land: symbolic cannibalism. In The Lay of the Land, this is taken to be (metaphorically) a sexual thing, as well – the ‘New World’ is a woman that the male European explorers conquer via rape. The author explains that,

As in many imperial scenes, the fear of engulfment expresses itself most acutely in the cannibal trope. In this familiar trope, the fear of being engulfed by the unknown is projected onto colonized peoples as their determination to devour the intruder whole… geographers traced the word ‘cannibals’ over the blank spaces on colonial maps. With the word cannibal, cartographers attempted to ward off the threat of the unknown by naming it, while at the same time confessing a dread that the unknown might literally rise up and devour the intruder whole. [pg.27]

The Europeans knew that there were threats out in the vast wilderness they wanted to conquer and make their own, and they knew those threats could consume – literally and metaphorically. There is so much more I could say about this but it requires research and time, so I’ll just end with: literal cannibalism is seen as a last-ditch resort to survival, when the options are to consume the flesh of your fellows to insure you live, or it is a horror trope to show that the villain is beyond all redemption. But, too, cannibalism exists in academics where ideas are stolen and reshaped, or the source of something is shut out completely. Cannibalism is a metaphor where the consumption is of the mind and/or soul, but it also represents a threat to society that can be dealt with in multiple ways.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 7th, 2017 12:11 am (UTC)
Definitely worth turning into an article (and I don't see any grammatical or spelling errors, either), especially towards the end.
Feb. 8th, 2017 01:04 am (UTC)

Feb. 8th, 2017 01:42 am (UTC)
You're welcome. And I've written articles as well as working as an editor, so I know what I'm talking about.
Feb. 7th, 2017 04:08 am (UTC)
Definitely worth working into an article.
Feb. 8th, 2017 01:04 am (UTC)

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


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