Justin Smith reviews Cătălin Avramescu's An Intellectual History of Cannibalism, in n+1:
In July 2008, while travelling on a Greyhound bus between Edmonton and Winnipeg, Vincent Li beheaded his sleeping seatmate, a man he had never met, with a butcher knife. Li held up the head in crazed triumph as the bus screeched to a halt and the other passengers rushed out. He then began to pace back and forth along the aisle, witnesses report, tearing off the ears, gouging out the eyes, pulling out the tongue, and eating them.
This event, as well as Li's recently concluded trial—not guilty by reason of insanity—might serve as an opportunity to take measure of the present state of cannibalism studies, mostly a minor academic industry, though one not without its star performances and its polarizing debates. For a long time, the field was dominated by a curious variety of négationnisme, most famously spelled out by William Arens in his 1980 book The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. According to Arens, cannibalism is nothing more than a projection of fear-induced fantasies upon unknown others, and in the past 500 years this projection has served as part of the ideological soundtrack to the European conquest of the rest of the world. As the incident on the Greyhound reminds us, however, sometimes people really do eat people.
The title of the original Romanian version of Cătălin Avramescu's giddy book, Filozoful crud, translates as both “the cruel philosopher” and “the raw philosopher.” “Crude” in the sense of “uncooked” (think of “crudités”) and “cruel” share the same etymology, and in at least one Romance language—the easternmost and most obscure, yet in some sense also the purest, because the closest to Latin—these two meanings remain packed into one and the same word. In what sense, now, could a philosopher be both “cruel” and “raw”? Does Avramescu want to say that philosophers have somehow been both the perpetrators and the victims of anthropophagy?