Tuesday, November 20, 2012

“Mistah Kurtz--He Dead"

With Thanksgiving coming up it might be a good time to revisit a news story that appeared in the New York Times a while back under the title, “Officer Plotted to Abduct, Cook and Eat Women, Authorities Say" (NYT, 10/25/12). Not to make light of the actual investigation which revealed that the officer, one Gilberto Valle, wrote to an accomplice, according to the Times, about his “game” plan as follows, “I was thinking of tying her body onto some kind of apparatus. Cook her over a low hear and keep her alive as long as possible.” Could Officer Valle have been a fan of Jonathan Swift whose A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick written in l729 offered up the idea of cooking children as an ingenious solution to the problem of famine in Ireland? Could the offending communications have been some sort of literary product (the Times quotes froma dating profile” where Officer Valle describes himself as a budding comedian, who “can find the humor in any situation”)? And if so what is the object of the satire? And satirical or not can we conclude that the manifest content is such that Officer Valle doesn’t hold women in very high esteem? Still cannibalism of which this incident partakes has a long and venerable history. As only one of many historical examples, the doomed members of the Donner Party ended up eating each other to survive. And then there are all the examples in nature. The praying mantis bites off the male’s head during sexual intercourse and there are many male homo sapiens who will testify to the fact that they have their heads taken off by the female members of their species without any sexual act taking place at all. But the real fascination and horror of cannibalism is not how foreign it is, but how familiar. Behind the veneer of civilization, lies a universe of cannibalistic fantasies (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street presents cannibalism in Broadway musical form) and inclinations. What about Darwin’s fittest? What enables him to survive and isn’t this what Joseph Conrad was getting at in Heart of Darkness with its famous line, “Mistah Kurtz--he dead”—which Eliot used at the epigraph for The Hollow Men?

1 comment:

  1. So funny! You had me L-ingOL.
    Cannibalism fascinates me. A friend says that the reason why so many 'heathen' peoples were described as cannibals when they were discovered by Europeans was that the Pope had decreed that heathens should not be slaughtered or mistreated -- rather, they should be taught the Gospel of Christ and converted -- UNLESS they were cannibals. Then all bets were off, cannibalism put the buggers beyond redemption (I'm paraphrasing here). So, fortuitously, whenever a people -- say, the Incas -- were found sitting on piles of gold, they were labeled as cannibals. Let the killing and raping ensue.

    Thanksgiving presents the interesting paradox of being both a day of thanks -- the Europeans wouldn't have survived without assistance from the native Americans -- and a symbol of heinous ingratitude because as soon as the Europeans figured out how to survive they promptly began to work their way through the seven deadly sins in the New World, with special emphasis on coveting women and land, murder and lying.

    My favorite line, of course: "...and there are many male homo sapiens who will testify to the fact that they have their heads taken off by the female members of their species without any sexual act taking place at all. "

    I also enjoy the notes on roasting a woman slowly alive. Among the medieval English, a game bird roasted alive was considered an exquisite dish requiring an accomplished chef to pull it off. Apparently the trick is to roast it slowly, keeping it alive as long as possible so it stays juicy. A smoky fire, or one too hot, and the bird would die too quickly and the dish would be tough and dry. I have to wonder if they first tortured the bird by plucking it alive.

    The gruesome history of meat, fish and fowl -- plus the modern refinements like force-feeding geese for pate and caging calves for veal -- is why I'm a vegan. In fact, the only kind of meat I'd consider eating is human beings, and if in extremity I could and would do it without compunction. Humans are the only species I can think of that deserve it. You don't have to tell me that this makes me a sociopath. I know it. But I'm a compassionate and a just one.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.