Today I would like to discuss a topic that is one that I do not normally delve into but it has made its appearances here and there, and does have some relation to some of the other topics presented on this blog. I was inspired to write this from a story I had recently read. It was a short story, and though at my first reading of the story I felt it was mediocre, nothing really new under the sun, but had its good points, yet the more I began to think about the story, I did find it had a deep psychology to it that is to be appreciated it.
Now for those who are wondering, just what it is I speak of, it is cannibalism. The great taboo, that everyone has some secret fascination with. There is something if not appealing, almost hypnotic about cannibalism. Everyone, at least the majority of everyone fain’s disgust at the idea, and tell themselves they believe it to be one of the most despicable of acts, and yet there is nothing quite as juicy as a story involving cannibalism. The Donor Party does not fail to intrigue, and we all love Hannibal Lector. Who has not at least to themselves contemplated, if they were stranded in the middle of nowhere, on the verge of starvation with nothing to eat, would they consume their companions for their own survival.
Naturally cannibalism is an age old story in the realms of horror, both in fiction and in film, how many times has that age old story been retold, in various different ways? The story of some new fabulous, savory, new dish, something that cannot be quite named, but just melts in the mouth, and is irresistible, and inevitably when the truth does come out, yet, it turns out to be human flesh.
People have a deep rooted fear of cannibalism, but more then that, they have the fear of themselves. Much like the werewolf, and the vampire to some degree, cannibalism is a representation of mans past, of the ancient days prior to so called “civilization” It is the threat, the fear, the horror, that man truly is not as civilized as he likes to think himself. What man fears more deeply then anything, most particularly in the West, is the realization, the knowledge, the line between men and beast, is a thin one, near non-existence. That man knows inside of him he has this lurking beast, is innate wildness, his true-self, the “savage” and if he does not keep it in content check, it will reveal itself, perhaps without him even knowing it.
The true fear in cannibalism, the true horror of these stories, is not the fear that some innocent bystander, might unsuspectingly become the prey, and find himself served upon the platter. The true fear these stories inspire, the real bone chilling conclusion is the idea that man may find himself consuming his fell kinship, and that there will be nothing within him to recognize this, that in truth there is no instinctual, innate mortality against the feasting upon human flesh, nothing in the body, soul, or mind, will be inherently repulsed and prevent him from doing so. And further more, that he will in fact take an almost orgasmic delight in the feasting upon the flesh of his fellow comrades. And the horror of discovering the truth of just what it was he had been served can never take away from that mouth watering taste experienced.
There is something deeply symbolic and psychosocial in cannibalism. I am sure many of us remember Sweeny Todd. In which “the butcher” began by picking off the wealthy, the ones with the power, the corrupt, the oppressors, and serving them up in the most juicy, succulent, scrumptious meat pies which were served to the common people, the masses. So the oppressed were devouring the oppressors and while they were not consciously aware of this fact at the time, they took a great delight in doing so.
I cannot forget the story which inspired this to start with, which did I think have a rooted social message in the nature of man. The story was called The Specialty of the House by Stanley Ellin. And it was all about how “unrefined” and “uncivilized” man had become, and how men give into vices that are harmful both to themselves as well as potentially others, and folly’s of the modern world. There was this little known restaurant, that though was technically open to the public, people only heard about it through word of mouth, and only men were permitted, and the restaurant is seen as this place that is still refined and sophisticated.
So within this restaurant things like smoking and drinking were not permitted, the only drink available was pure clean fresh water, and there were no condiments, no salt and pepper, because part of the problem with society was man’s over indulgence. So this way the patrons would focus purely on the flavors of the dish and not be distracted by anything else.
Of course even though the food is not coated in seasoning or drenched in sauces, it is extraordinarily good, because once a person eats there, they realize they really do not need all of that extra stuff, and after one visit a person becomes a life long patron. And it makes man literally salivate over his meat. It is a touch back to his true carnal nature.
There is this one dish, the house speciality that is really just the cream of the crop, but it is very rare, and you never know just when it is going to be served. It is called Lamb Amirstan. Because allegedly it is lamb that comes from this one particularly rare flock that can only be found in this placed called Amristan which is suppose to be this little unknown place.
As part of the story one of the characters remarks to himself how he notices how plumper he is starting to become, and makes some comment about his companions routoundness. So the patrons of this restaurant, are the flock who are being fattened up and when they are judged as ready, they are then taken back to be served up to the others. So they are feeding upon themselves to their own eventual doom.
It is particularly interesting when one considers the various differently symbolism wrapped up in sheep and lamb, and the conations those animals have, as they are commonly used as sacrificial animals in ancient roots, and of course have particularly symbolism in Christianity.
Which brings me to one more curious point on the ritual of cannibalism. The act of Transubstantiation. For those how do not know, it is the practice that the wine becomes the blood of Christ, and the bread becomes the flesh of Christ, while to many people this a purely symbolic gesture, there are some sects, who view this as being genuinely literally. They believe that the wine, in actuality becomes the blood of Christ, and that the bread in actuality becomes the flesh of Christ. Though of course if anyone might suggest to them they were cannibalistic, no doubt, they would be horrified by this suggestion and denounce cannibalism, and protest that they found it to be a vile practice. As curiously enough the Western world tends to link cannibalism to “heathenism” and “primitive tribes”
And yet, there it is as one of the most sacred and holy acts within their own religion. For even for those who do not believe in the literal act of Transubstantiation, they are symbolic participating in a cannibalistic rite.
Perhaps, at heart, we are all cannibals in one degree or another. We do feed off of each other and as much as some of us might try to deny the inner beast, no can fully or completely escape their true natures. We fear it, not because it is vile, or evil, but because we know that it is within us all. Because it is not indeed as fantastical as at first it might seem, but that we can reach out and touch the edges of it. And we never know just when we might at last indulge.