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Galef, D. (1994). Literature: "Indians" and Irish: Montaigne, Swift, and the Cannibal Question. Claude Rawson. Modern Language Quarterly. LIII, 1992. Pp. 299-363.. Psychoanal Q., 63:170-171.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Literature: "Indians" and Irish: Montaigne, Swift, and the Cannibal Question. Claude Rawson. Modern Language Quarterly. LIII, 1992. Pp. 299-363.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 63:170-171

Literature: "Indians" and Irish: Montaigne, Swift, and the Cannibal Question. Claude Rawson. Modern Language Quarterly. LIII, 1992. Pp. 299-363.

David Galef

One of Montaigne's essays most studied by critics is "Des cannibales" (I.xxxi), in which he notes that at least Amerindians kill their enemies before roasting them, as opposed to certain European practices. The obvious reference is to the religious persecution prevalent in France and elsewhere. Less obvious is the fact that cannibalism had occurred in France as recently as 1573, during the fall of the city of Sancerre. Drawing on contemporary accounts of the atrocities, Rawson finds that the description of mutilation, or "bodies thrown to the dogs," often covered up covert anthropophagy. Cited by Rawson, Jean de Léry's Histoire d'un voyage fait en la terre du Brésil (1578) is far less coy, though the association is with savagery. The relevance to the unspeakable in Freud's Totem and Taboo is clear.

In Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift tars the race of Yahoos with cannibalism, though his most famous description of the practice occurs in A Modest Proposal, where his satirical recommendation for Ireland's overpopulation and famine is to eat the children. Here, too, the writing is double-edged: only a degraded race like the Irish could do such a thing, but the English as overlords are in a sense worse. As Rawson writes: "The cannibal imputation has been a staple of ethnic defamation

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since as far back as Homer." Yet readers—including literary critics—have persistently read such acts on a symbolic level. Cultural repression of the kind Freud writes about in Civilization and Its Discontents is at work here, or, as Rawson remarks, "the drift into metaphor that cannibalism seems to precipitate in all of us."

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Article Citation

Galef, D. (1994). Literature. Psychoanal. Q., 63:170-171

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