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Cannibalism and the Colonial World (Cultural Margins) Paperback – 6 Aug 1998


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If cannibalism is on your intellectual menu, then this is the book for you. Cannibalism and the Colonial World offers a flavour of the current state of thinking on the fear and fascination which surrounds the issue of people eating other people. Despite recent research suggesting that cannibalism is more widespread than we might have imagined, this collection argues that cannibalism is by and large a western myth, a way of dealing with and justifying the colonisation of areas of the globe defined as "savage".

The collection offers a rich assortment of responses to the current state of cannibalism. Peter Hulme, one of the most perceptive cultural historians writing within the field of postcolonial studies, offers a lucid entrée dealing with recent debates concerning cannibalism, before turning the collection over to its distinguished contributors. These range from the veteran anthropologist William Arens, who responds for the first time to the controversy which surrounded his book The Man-Eating Myth, to exciting younger scholars such as Jerry Richards, whose wonderful essay encompasses the motif of cannibalism in Marlowe, Shakespeare, Marx and finally Conrad's Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. For Richards, as for several contributors, cannibalism is not just an acquired culinary taste, but a powerful metaphor of the iniquities of modern capitalism and colonisation.

With this suggestion informing the collection, the contributors move from 19th-century Fiji to Brazilian modernismo, via Guyanese postcolonial fiction, to the iconography of the cannibal and its soul mate the vampire in TV, film and popular folklore, ending with a rumination on that icon of 90s consumerism, Hannibal Lecter. This is a delightful collection, historically expansive yet critically sophisticated. Read with relish. --Jerry Brotton

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'Ambitious, wide-ranging and coherent. This is clearly a major contribution to the study of the European imperial legacy.' Anthony Pagden, Johns Hopkins University

'I doubt it there is another book quite like this one … fascinating.' Cultural Survival

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In Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971: 338), Keith Thomas informs us that astrologers of an earlier age were often wrong in their predictions but rarely embarrassed by this outcome. Read the first page
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