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“L'Humanité du tout perdue?”: Early Modern Monsters, Cannibals and Human Souls

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This essay revisits familiar figures—the cannibal and the monster—in the works of Columbus, Jean de Lery, Montaigne and Shakespeare, which gives a better glimpse of what remains of the “human” in the insistently conflictual contexts of early modern encounter. Setting the texts of these "founding fathers" of modern European ethnography alongside other, contemporary narratives of encounter allows us to recognise how the monster and the cannibal function as privileged figures in the once colonial and cross-confessional discourses of novelty, travel, trade and cultural change across this period. It also enables us to gain a clearer sense of the more urgent argument conducted in these texts: concerning how we come to recognise others, and ourselves, as (having lost all sense of what makes us) “human”.
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Keywords: Cannibal, Monster; Columbus; Early Modern Encounter; Ethnography; Ethnology; Jean de Léry; Montaigne; Shakespeare; Witness; the “Human”

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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