Cannibalism in Montaigne, de Certeau and Derrida


  • Carles Serra Pagès



Derrida, de Certeau, deconstruction, sacrifice, cannibalism, animal rights, environment


In this text we introduce the discursive strategies of Montaigne, de Certeau and Derrida in analysing the figure of the cannibal. Both de Certeau and Derrida use textual strategies for their analysis, but whereas de Certeau remains at the level of discourse and words and therefore at the level of phonocentric language, Derrida’s analysis moves beyond Western ethnocentrism. These different 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 several women. De Certeau inverts this ethnocentric ethics and shows that cannibalism was a form of paying tribute to the valor and honor of the victim, and polygamy showed the devotion and fidelity of women towards their husbands, not as a sign of male domination. Contrary to de Certeau, but building upon his critique of ethnocentrism, Derrida does not bring about any reversal of values when analysing a particular cosmovision in the figure of the cannibal, for example. Taking the meaning of the word “eating” in both a literal and a figurative sense, Derrida shows that all cultures are organized around a notion of sacrifice that consists in clearing up an area that allows for a noncriminal putting to death. It is in this context that Derrida denounces the ‘mass exterminations’ of animals and the ‘crimes’ against the environment that sustain carnivorous and industrialised countries. The figure of the cannibal also provides a good example of how Western society constructs the height of its morality and good consciousness symbolically sacrificing and demonizing the other (the savage, the cannibal) just because it sacrifices another ‘other’: as all cultures are organized around sacrificial structures that are ethnocentric.