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Cannibalism in Montaigne, de Certeau and Derrida

Author(s): Carles Serra Pagès

Journal: Coolabah
ISSN 1988-5946

Volume: 5;
Start page: 226;
Date: 2011;
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Keywords: Derrida | de Certeau | deconstruction | sacrifice | cannibalism | animal rights | environment.

In this text we introduce the discursive strategies of Montaigne, de Certeau and Derrida inanalysing the figure of the cannibal. Both de Certeau and Derrida use textual strategies for theiranalysis, but whereas de Certeau remains at the level of discourse and words and therefore at thelevel of phonocentric language, Derrida’s analysis moves beyond Western ethnocentrism. Thesedifferent approaches lead de Certeau and Derrida to different conclusions. During the Renaissance,the figure of the cannibal was the source of horror because it ate its own kind and married severalwomen. De Certeau inverts this ethnocentric ethics and shows that cannibalism was a form of payingtribute to the valor and honor of the victim, and polygamy showed the devotion and fidelity ofwomen towards their husbands, not as a sign of male domination. Contrary to de Certeau, butbuilding upon his critique of ethnocentrism, Derrida does not bring about any reversal of valueswhen analysing a particular cosmovision in the figure of the cannibal, for example. Taking themeaning of the word “eating” in both a literal and a figurative sense, Derrida shows that all culturesare organized around a notion of sacrifice that consists in clearing up an area that allows for anoncriminal putting to death. It is in this context that Derrida denounces the ‘mass exterminations’ ofanimals and the ‘crimes’ against the environment that sustain carnivorous and industrialisedcountries. The figure of the cannibal also provides a good example of how Western societyconstructs the height of its morality and good consciousness symbolically sacrificing and demonizingthe other (the savage, the cannibal) just because it sacrifices another ‘other’: as all cultures areorganized around sacrificial structures that are ethnocentric.
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