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Noble L. Medicinal Cannibalism in Early Modern English Literature and Culture. 2011.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://e-publications.une.edu.au/1959.11/8457
Medicinal Cannibalism in Early Modern English Literature and Culture
Medicinal cannibalism, the medical circulation and consumption of the human body, is part of a long and complex history that continues with the global trafficking of organs and body parts today. This book is about an important moment in that history, during which the early modern English distributed and consumed as medicine the flesh and excretions of the human corpse - frequently described as "mummy" (mumia) - sourced from both imported mummified corpses and recently prepared local corpses. A central tenet of this corpse pharmacology is the perception that the human body contains a mysterious healing power that is transmitted in ingested matter such as mummy. The pervasive presence of mummy in early modern literature and drama reveals a cultural fascination, almost to the point of obsession, with the medical recycling of corpse matter. The main objective of this book is to attempt to shed light on this fascination through an exploration of the significance of the medical consumption of corpses for the early modern cultural imaginary and, inextricably, the religious implications of this in view of the contested belief in divine flesh in the Catholic Eucharist. But it would be misleading to attempt to isolate this recycling of corpses as a product of a single historical moment, or as a curious glitch in medical history. During my work on this book, I have been repeatedly reminded of the parallels between the early modern medical market's treatment of bodies and what happens to bodies in today's global medical market. As we shall see, traces of those earlier bodies haunt the commodified and fragmented bodies that circulate in our age. In temporal terms, recycled medical corpse matter defies synchronization; rather, it is embedded with the lingerings of corpses of the distant and recent past that flow through and across time and space in a multitemporal domain. Consequently, this book does not attempt to map a chronological history of the medical deployment of the human body. Instead, while the practice and rhetoric of medicinal cannibalism in early modern England is the subject of this study, my approach is also concerned with highlighting the importance this holds for us now.