A Community of Cannibals:
Visuality and Civilized Subjectivity in Fatimah Tobing Rony's On Cannibalism

Danielle Bouchard
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

"This is a nation, I should say to Plato, in which there is no sort of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no science of numbers, no name for a magistrate or for political superiority, no custom of servitude, no riches or poverty, no contracts, no successions, no partitions, no occupations but leisure ones, no care for any common but kinship. ..."
—Michel de Montaigne, "Of Cannibals" 153
"Landscaped as part of the jungle mise-en-scène, or viewed as the faithful Man Friday to a white Robinson Crusoe, or perhaps romanticized as the Noble Savage struggling to survive in the wild, the individual 'native' is often not even 'seen' by the viewer but is taken for real. ... It is as if the distance between the signifier and the referent in the construction of native peoples collapses."
—Fatimah Tobing Rony, The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle 5

[1] In a key moment of her short video On Cannibalism, Fatimah Tobing Rony invokes the trope of media consumption in order to evince the shocking experience of being socially interpellated as a cannibal. Happening to catch a broadcast of the film King Kong on late-night cable—an experience she describes as the video begins as well as in her book on ethnographic cinema—Rony realizes that the language spoken by the tribe of King Kong's Skull Island is one of her own, a Sumatran language, Nias (Rony 177). In this moment, she comes to know herself as a cannibal self, as indeed she will again and again as she engages with a variety of texts and institutions from the long history of imperial informatics: world's fairs, ethnographic exhibitions, graphs and charts, anatomical diagrams, museums, motion studies, documentaries. Presenting and commenting on images from such sources, the video offers a lesson in the constitution of a psychic interiority via an array of cinematic and other visual technologies produced by the conjoining of high imperialism and the "sciences" of race. [1] But in staging an answer to the question of what the "cannibal" will say once she herself gets to be behind rather than in front of the camera, On Cannibalism refuses to chart a movement of progress (however limited or halting) into the position of self-expressive subject. In fact, the acquisition of the camera and the inhabitation of the position of filmmaker leads to something much more tenuous and overdetermined, as it too subjectivates Rony into the position of the cannibal.

[2] Rony's reticence to present her own ability to produce images as offering a clear alternative to being socially inscribed as a cannibal provokes and offers complex answers to a set of questions regarding the racialized, sexualized, and gendered technologies of visuality that continue to be foundational to dominant iterations of community. Indeed the video's portrayal of Rony's own transnational trip to the "birthplace" of modern democracy and exemplar of cosmopolitan community—Paris, France—is profoundly ambivalent. Even as the journey facilitates the gathering of information about and the building of a critique of colonial and ethnographic spectacles, it also reinforces for Rony her continued positioning on the periphery of a social order that has yet relied on her otherness in order to define itself as such. [2] As perhaps one of the most extreme terms of racial abjection, "cannibalism" seems to have faded into the past, at least when it comes to serious intellectual production; other language and identifications have arisen to index racial and cultural difference. It is Rony's insight that the cannibal still exists, and that moreover it is a conceptual figure that remains foundational to western imaginings of community, of a human social and political order defined by justice and equality.

[3] Given its exploration of the ramifications of Rony's interpellation as both woman and racialized subject, whose identity is marked and codified in a variety of competing ways, On Cannibalism can be read as offering a critical entry into the problem of how different kinds of bodies and subjects are imagined to be arranged on the stage of village, city, national, or transnational life. And as recent scholarly and political attention has turned toward individuals and bodies of work which historically have been left out of preferred narratives of progressive thought and action, Rony suggests the necessity of seriously questioning how new modes of recognition also rewrite and reinscribe delimited understandings of what constitutes a well-functioning community. Inhabiting a position that has become overburdened with an intensity of investments, Rony can neither embody the participant in a democracy that has achieved its telos, nor access the role of developer of even more radically "other" others that has traditionally been accorded (white) women as the price of their recognition as socially responsible subjects. [3] The conundrum that Rony thus points to and herself inhabits takes on increased urgency in the midst of intellectual, institutional, and political efforts to include women from across the globe in projects of political, cultural, and economic self-sufficiency. Noting that, "[l]ike King Kong and the Islanders, I was born in two places, Sumatra and the United States" (3), she challenges the viewer to ask what is at stake in efforts to restore female and native subjectivity, particularly when they cannot take account of the types of violence concomitant with the community formations of colonialism and imperialism.

[4] The certainty that such subjects require liberation from the strictures of local and uncivilized models of community suggests the extent to which liberal humanist visions of social and political order have been reliant upon a disavowal of racial difference as formative to the concepts of freedom, equality, and humanity themselves. This disavowal operates, ironically enough, through a continuing aestheticization of people of color, involving a scenography of bodies gathered together in either idealized or eccentric formations. Such formations become the objects of scrutiny for a set of visual technologies and logics which seek to define the terms for a harmonious and well-functioning community. Jacques Derrida gives one account of the trope, central to western philosophy, of the native village that is small enough to enable its members to gather face-to-face and enact an idealized self-presence; he famously diagnoses this vision of community unriven by any knowledge of difference as an "ethnocentrism thinking itself as anti-ethnocentrism" (120, emphasis in original) for its attribution of knowledge of such a community to an implicitly western subject (110, 134-7). And in her work on the historical and epistemic enclosure defined by chattel slavery, Saidiya Hartman suggests that the mutual visual contact secured by face-to-face relations and required for the idealized equal community is similarly at work in the sorts of racist depictions of black enjoyment pervasive both during slavery and after. In such depictions, black identity is produced by the spectatorial recognition of others whose privilege secures them, among other things, the authority to determine what constitutes a legible performance of community identification: thus the common is in part an enforced condition, given slavery's imposition of the "centrality of racial identity or the selfsameness or transparency of blackness" (Hartman 59). Depictions of ideally functioning communities have served explicitly to produce black subjects as "good" subjects—as, in other words, happy and fulfilled by servitude during slavery and, after slavery, by their recognition as the targets of a state injunction to enact proper citizenship (Hartman 13-14).

[5] While, unlike the work of Hartman and Derrida, On Cannibalism does not explicitly present its project as an intervention into philosophies of community, I am struck by how much it lends itself to a reading that does make such an intervention. Apropos of this, Rony's invocation of her own cannibal identity is provocative in many ways. Radically different from portrayals that position women of color from "non-western" locales as embodiments of inequality and difference, and as subjects only insofar as they exist in a moment of perpetual needing-to-be-included, the Rony of On Cannibalism refuses to be recuperated into such a position within the community of fully intending subjects. Her work thus recalls, but also adds significantly to, Gayatri Spivak's work in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present, which inquires into the constitutive position of the "native informant" within modern projects of human development and social justice, as well as its relation to the more recent figure of the postcolonial subject. While this figure is in its earlier appearances (for example in Kant) "[r]hetorically crucial at the most important moment in the argument, it is not part of the argument in any way" (Spivak 13). The native informant is in other words both "needed and foreclosed" in such texts (Spivak 6). [4] Spivak notes the difference between its earlier appearances, in which the native informant's exclusion from the properly human is a non-issue, and more recent ones, in which the native informant is "taken with utmost seriousness" and in some cases considered as having a "fully self-present voice-consciousness" (6). But this historical shift in the role of the figure of the native informant is less in the mode of a liberation than a reinscription of a questionable model of the subject. Indeed, Spivak's reading strategy here—she takes the term from its later, anthropological iterations, insisting on its before-the-fact presence in earlier texts even where it is not named as such—suggests both the impossibility and undesirability of such a "progress" model for understanding the transfigurations of the native informant. For Spivak, the proclaimed arrival of the postcolonial as a fully intending, voice-conscious subject on the stage of global politics and knowledge production in fact covers over the continued necessity of the native informant in its earliest role as a figure of foreclosure—that is, as requisite to the identification and recognition of the self-present subject (18).

[6] Beginning with the knowledge that, similar to the native informant, the cannibal has long been a figure central to and formative of philosophies of community, a reading of Rony's work suggests that this key figure exists through the present despite the common presumption that it is largely confined to recognizably atavistic approaches to race. In An Intellectual History of Cannibalism, Cătălin Avramescu makes the very convincing argument that the cannibal attains the status of ethical subject in western philosophical writings prior to the nineteenth century, at which point the cannibal begins to appear mostly as an anthropological figure or a figure of criminal and/or psychological pathology targeted for correction. In classical and Enlightenment philosophies, Avramescu finds the figure of the cannibal operating in a broad array of arguments (from legal statutes regarding under what conditions stranded sailors might sacrifice one of their group to save the rest, to Christian theology regarding resurrection) and used for competing aims (from arguments that Native Americans were natural slaves to arguments against the exploitation of these same peoples). While Avramescu does not pursue his study much past the nineteenth century, and is careful to not make broad claims regarding the similar use of the cannibal now, he does locate the cannibal as a central figure of authors who still form part of the core of the western philosophical canon (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Smith) and indeed as more important to philosophies of radical equality, such as communism, than is often recognized (213-32). Rony's work in a sense picks up where Avramescu's study leaves off, tracing the cannibal's persistence and new life in the kind of racialist scientific projects coterminous with the age of high imperialism (beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century) and thereby suggesting its persistence, as an even more abjected figure than in the past, in current projects of community-formation via discourses of the spread of democracy, uplift, development, and cosmopolitanism. This is to say that the cannibal might serve as a foreclosed figure in such discourses, and if we follow Avramescu's argument, we might say that this foreclosure is relatively recent. In this way the cannibal is more like the older than the newer native informant; indeed while for Spivak the native informant becomes an object seen as deserving of "serious" consideration only with the anthropological turn, it is with this turn that the cannibal might be said to take on the status of the simply foreclosed. The cannibal is a figure that is not currently "part of the argument in any way," even as it is needed to constitute the self-present subject of a cosmopolitanism that treats difference as always-already included within or as unimportant to the well-functioning community.

[7] The cannibal gives the lie, and dramatically so, to the ethnocentric nostalgia for the face-to-face community uncorrupted by the imposition of the violence of difference. As the figment of an anxious colonial imagination and its perhaps most radical example of a more generalized enforced abjection, the cannibal lurks on the outskirts of the native village's idyllic tableau, highlighting the continued reliance of even democratic conceptions of community on constitutive others who precisely cannot be recuperated into it. Moreover, that the cannibal community has been used to illustrate human society in its most free, civil, and/or equal form in some arguments, as well as in its most irrational, anti-civil, and/or despotic form in others, suggests that even as the necessary constitutive other to civilization the cannibal also does not form a stable term against which either western subjectivity or, more recently, a postcolonial subjectivity, might be defined. Precisely as a figure positioned at and defining the limits of law, the reach of sovereignty, natural rights, and other such objects of western philosophical inquiry, and having been central to a variety of distinct and even incompatible arguments, the cannibal—in spite of the argumentative uses to which he has been put—emerges as the impossibility of an agreement on what constitutes community. In its way, the cannibal thus enables an inquiry into the possibilities that might emerge from this failure to locate agreement. Accordingly, Rony re-writes the philosophy of community from the position of the cannibal, making the cannibal a gendered author and reader where previously he had been even at the best of times the subject of others' speculation; for, whether as an ethical subject or as merely a figure of community degradation, the cannibal has mostly been a presumptive and invisibly-gendered he.

[8] Speaking of her own attempt to articulate a critique of texts of imperialism, Spivak notes that "[i]t is, strictly speaking, 'mistaken,' for it attempts to transform into a reading-position the site of the 'native informant' in anthropology, a site that can only be read, by definition, for the production of definitive descriptions" (49, emphasis in original). In other words, such a reading cannot operate in the mode of a recuperation of the native informant as a full subject—not only because the native informant by definition cannot be a full subject, but also because its positionality is overdetermined by gender. As Spivak suggests elsewhere, the figure of "woman" has operated in multiple ways in relation to the native informant, for example as the specific form of the foreclosed subject in current discourses of economic "development" projects, as well as the model of achieved social recognition and political inclusion that the native informant might follow (6, 13, 70, 89). That is, their roles within the formation of both western and postcolonial subjectivity have been distinct, never coterminous—and precisely because of this, must be understood for the work that they do precisely as figures, rather than being taken simply as lost or excluded voices. [5] Similarly, for Rony, the identification of the cannibal as a gendered reader and writer operates less as an attempted recuperation of a pre-existing subjectivity and more as a means to open to question the typical channels of social and political recognition through which community is often imagined to be constituted.

[9] In The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle, the book to which On Cannibalism serves in many ways as a companion piece, Rony notes that foundational to the project of "scientifically" studying race through the recording of "native" peoples' bodies in motion (one of the first uses of cinema technology) was the idea that the non-civilized were defined in large part by their lack of a fully developed capacity for language. This lack supposedly accounted for their use of gesture, which was taken to be a more natural form of communication than the more conventional form of speech (Rony 3-4). [6] Concomitant with this was another "common trope of early ethnographic cinema ... that the peoples who were filmed were ignorant of film technology" (Rony 12). This leads Rony to suggest the necessity of a different interpretation of such images of "natives," namely one that understands them as performance. This cuts into the work that ethnographic spectacle does to constitute indigenous peoples as representatives of man's more natural state (Rony 12, 17)—and hence as idealized embodiments of an ethical common who yet do not possess the requisite knowledge to understand themselves as such. Noting Lévi-Strauss's desire to reenact Michel de Montaigne's sixteenth-century encounter with the Tupi people of what is now the Amazon (6), Rony obliquely references the persistence of figurations of indigenous peoples as exemplars of the kind of community that has not been degraded by the violence of difference. Indeed while the account that Montaigne gives of Tupi society in his essay "Of Cannibals" does not precisely characterize it as ideal for the reason that it is not fully rational, he argues that it may be favorably contrasted to European society because the Tupi do not engage in violence against members properly of their own community (Montaigne 156). He thus portrays the act of cannibalism as in fact re-constituting the common, [7] favorably contrasting the way the Tupi treat their enemies to the contemporary European practice of punishing "neighbors and fellow citizens" (which he finds reprehensible) (155). Describing the Tupi as literally bereft of language—"The very words that signify lying, treachery, dissimulation, avarice, envy, belittling, pardon—unheard of" (153)—Montaigne posits the natural common of kinship as in effect prior to the violence wrought by the introduction of difference via language. (Apropos of this point, toward the end of his essay Montaigne begins a recounting of the travels of three of these Tupi men to Europe by predicting "that of this intercourse will come their ruin," a knowledge which he also posits them as being ignorant of (158).) While this kind of account of natural man is not to be conflated with post-Enlightenment understandings of well-ordered community, Rony's work suggests that the understanding of difference on offer here still characterizes current formations of political community. Indeed, it would seem to achieve new currency in the late-nineteenth century assumption that "native" communities could best be understood through the scientific study of motion and gesture. In other words, the idea that they lack language, that they do not have words for violence, power, etc., is foundational to the failure or refusal to read them as themselves capable of performance.

[10] On Cannibalism thus does not seek to locate or describe the community that would be fully inclusive, but rather performs a critique of the ethnocentric underpinnings of the idealized (equal, nonviolent) pre-contact community. Rony's own critical response to the visual technologies that have produced the cannibal, the concept of the "third eye," suggests an approach not posited as coming from a position completely outside of the meanings that such technologies make: it is neither simply a look back at the camera claimed by a pre-existing subject, nor does it reveal the hidden depths of native consciousness. Rather, the third eye offers a critique and a re-performance of racialized visual technologies insofar as it disturbs and exceeds the back-and-forth rhythm of the looker and the to-be-looked-at. Resignification of the cannibal can only happen through a refusal to attach this signification to the "real" experience of a pre-existing subject, as Rony implies in her critique of the long history of representations of native subjectivity as existing precisely outside of representation (5). From its opening sequence, On Cannibalism invokes and re-performs the ethnographic spectacle that has been so essential to recent and current understandings of community. In this sequence we are presented with a view of the base of the Eiffel Tower from just outside the fence that surrounds it. For several seconds the camera focuses on the cameraperson's/Rony's hand touching and exploring the fence, and after this there is a traveling shot that moves along the fence. During the traveling shot we hear a portion of dialogue from King Kong, from a scene in which the members of a filmmaking team are discussing Skull Island, the intended destination of the voyage they are on. The character Carl Denham, the filmmaker who initiated the expedition, tells of a wall on the island that hides something that members of the indigenous population are fearful of, even though they have no knowledge of it (the hidden something turning out, later in the film, to be King Kong himself). Denham comments that the natives have forgotten the lost "higher civilization" that built the wall, and that he is determined to photograph whatever the wall hides, even if it "doesn't want to have its picture taken." Rony is positioned in this scene, in one sense, as one of these natives, relegated behind a wall (both literally and figuratively) that only whites will be able to venture beyond (as indeed is the case in King Kong). The Eiffel Tower's history and the figural work it has done and still does are evoked here: namely, its building for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, which marked the hundred-year anniversary of the French Revolution. Amidst the exposition's displays of European and American artistry, technological prowess, and governmental legitimacy was a "negro village," along with other live ethnographic displays of the kind that would be popular and common for some time (Bancel et al.). This history becomes relevant to Rony's own ability—or lack thereof—to access not just the actual space of but also the meanings of the tower. Remaining on the outside of the fence, able to move but only along the fence's perimeter, Rony is both necessary to a civilized subjectivity and thus unable to access it herself. She might pass through the fence as a member of the "native" village, to be fenced in once again. In another sense, the dialogue in this scene can be understood to be turned back upon Paris and those denizens privileged enough to have no knowledge of what really lies beyond the wall or why the wall is there in the first place, thus refiguring the Eiffel Tower as a racialized and sexualized monstrosity in its own right: the King Kong of France, itself a place of skeletons and skulls.

[11] The experience of watching King Kong serves as the central conceit and visual reference point of the film, standing in for a variety of encounters with texts that grant Rony both a social existence and sense of self, in a process that has no discrete origin and is never completed. Immediately before its first invocation in the video, when in a voice-over Rony tells of her childhood memory of learning that her mother's people had been considered cannibals, she states that "I don't remember when" this was. The video enacts a sensibility of a continuing uncomfortability, anger, pain, and disorientation that are yet presented as the very conditions of having a sense of self at all: formally speaking, the video is short, it begins and ends in the middle of things, and at the same time it is completely full and even overflowing with layers of sound and a continually shifting palimpsest of images. Thus while written words, music, images, and voice-over work together to create a studied and complex composition, much of the video also seems to express the experience of shock at being presented—at any given moment and especially when one might least expect it—with an image of oneself as a savage, as an object of study, or as a living example of an earlier stage in man's evolution. The moment of accidentally seeing King Kong and being apprised, without her consent or desire, of her cannibal status is a moment that is reiterated over and over. At the same time, it is this reiteration that opens up the possibility of critique, resignification, and a sense of self not entirely circumscribed by such ur-texts of western and white supremacy. Writing of the experience of watching the film, Rony makes the provocative statement that "I am the Bride of Kong" (3), evoking the particular racialized heteronormativity that attends the cinematic construction of civilized subjectivity. In King Kong, the "bride" is meant to be sacrificed to Kong, in a ceremony that serves as an explicit testament to the islanders' "improper" sexual relations and an implicit one to the filmmakers' and spectators' own desires, and that plays upon the trope of human sacrifice in the long history of accounts of savage community. It is in fact during this ceremony that the members of the film crew happen upon and catch their first sight of the islanders (at whom they gaze unnoticed and unimpeded, for a while at least). The bride is juxtaposed to blonde starlet Ann Darrow, who is portrayed as the better and more natural object choice for everyone, a portrayal which obscures the long history of indigenous women's violent figuring as objects of desire and sexual availability—she literally displaces the bride, being kidnapped by the islanders to be offered to Kong in the bride's place. The bride becomes, in other words, a bit player in a drama about the constitution of civilized, white and heterosexual community. But Rony notes too that the bride herself, while silent, does look (17). Transposed into the position of the bride, Rony thus engages in a reading and reinterpretation of a variety of texts while inhabiting a fraught position that is at times looking, at times looked-at, and at times both.

[12] The final striking segments of the film present Rony's own body in a series of head and shoulders profile shots typical of many disciplinary projects: Rony here could be a criminal, or a medical subject, or a specimen whose physical measurements will be taken for some study of the characteristics of racial types. In this sequence we see her profile being labeled with a series of different racial classifications, each with its own particular complex history. All but one of these terms are western ones representing different languages, historical periods, and social uses. [8] The final term that appears, "Bule," is unique in this list in that it is used in Indonesia to describe Caucasians, westerners, and/or the light-skinned (Stevens and Schmidgall-Tellings 162); this is also the only shot in the sequence in which the back of Rony's head faces toward the camera. The addition of this final term adds further weight to the critique of the other classifications, and moreover calls into question the possibility of an "accurate," and hence unproblematic, designation given the history of colonial and imperial endeavors and nationalist projects in Indonesia itself. Another possible reading of this shot would interpret Rony's turning away from the camera as a direct critique of the spectatorial processes through which whiteness and western knowledge are constructed; the "Bule" here might be addressed to the spectator herself, raising the possibility that the racialized object of the scientific or punitive gaze can intervene in the exchange of looks that would normally serve to consolidate the western subject as such. That this appears immediately before the final shot sequence, in which Rony's face is repeatedly superimposed over the face of a family member's photograph, seems significant in terms of the shift in tone it evokes. In this very last segment of the video, knowledge, and particularly knowledge of the self, is presented as differently accessible to different audiences. It both invokes and reworks the modes of ethnographic knowledge presented earlier in the video, repeating ethnography's appeal to a specialized audience but with a significant difference. Here it is Rony herself (and her family members) who would have the most knowledge of whose photograph this is, and the series of shots and the voice-over create an intimate conversation. While much of the video's voice-over is directed toward the spectator, here it addresses a relative: "How is it like to be photographed, Ompung? How is it like to convert? Were we cannibals Ompung?" Earlier in the video, when Rony notes that it was her mother's side of her family that was suspected of being descended from cannibals, she suggest that she cannot remember who told her this but that it could have been her father. Suggesting, among other things, the overdetermination of the position of the native woman in particular, this figuring of the cannibal heritage as a particularly feminized one early in the video suggests a way to in turn read its closing moments. The imposition of Rony's face over her family member's, the direct gaze of both into the camera, and the fragmenting of the two bodies (through a slow pan of parts of the photograph in extreme close-up, and a rapid cutting from one shot of the face/s to the next) suggest a variety of possible interpretations: a dismantling and fragmentation of conventional ethnographic scenes and motion studies and a refusal to provide a scientific context for the photograph; the chance for the cannibal to interrupt and signify beyond the sequence of ordered looks that consolidate the western subject as such; an insistence that the figure of the cannibal does still indeed circulate, perhaps more complexly now. It also visually echoes the reference to the bride of Kong (as a scene including her appears earlier in the video as well), suggesting the possibility of a different kind of interpretation that does locate critical possibility in a seemingly abject figure.

[13] The problematizing of the possibility that "family" will provide an unmediated access to another notion of self is also suggested by the other ways in which family is invoked and figured, all of which highlight its centrality to both ethnographic spectacle and community constitution. The video presents, among its many images from the archive of scientific projects, charts and graphs depicting the "family of man" used to present human evolution as a racial story about civilizational progress and displays of native family groups in museums and at world's fairs. Embodying the work of daily life and the domestic space of the family, the "native village" serves to externalize the activities and institutions which enable western notions of politics proper. The sexualized and gendered significance of the family and the village are suggested in other ways, for example in a shot of a museum display of the internal features of a generic human body in which the camera slowly zooms in on the pelvic area, which is later echoed by a shot that pans across images of three skeletal pelvises labeled "Jaune," "Blanc," and "Noir" (yellow, white, and black). The fascination with the study of the sexual features of specific racial "types" is invoked here. In another shot skeletons are posed in a diorama to represent a family—complete with two adults, child, and dog—in a "typical" middle-class western-type living room of the post-World War II era. [9] The scene directly references the much more common such portrayals of "other cultures," the skeletons reminding of the genocidal and other sorts of violences involved in bodies being placed on display. It also reinvokes and resignifies cannibalism as a feature of western community itself: the members of the western family of man have eaten each other, unwittingly showcasing the non-self-presence that defines the community. On display here too are the gender and sexual norms underpinning the self-present community. The figure of the cannibal is necessary to and constitutive of the heterosexual reproductive nuclear family and, in turn, the western political community which presumes and itself relies on this family.

[14] Rony thus makes "cannibalism" into a name for the constitution of community via the consumption of objects of racialized difference. [10] In this sense, the larger project of the video is to make a case for the circulation of the cannibal throughout a variety of scenes and sites of modern knowledge production—the public exhibition, the home, the museum—as well as for the necessity of the cannibal to cosmopolitanism. Constructing a kind of palimpsest of figurations of the Eiffel Tower and by extension Paris—from the inception of cinema technology in the heart of French colonialism, to the tower's iconic status as a symbol of democracy and now a prime tourist destination, to Rony's own trip to Parisian archives as a filmmaker and scholar—the film anchors its analysis of cannibal selfhood to the space of the city as a persistent trope of civilized governmentality. The western city becomes the locus of a world citizenship which, to constitute itself as such, must exclude some from the universal common (or at the least strictly define the terms of their inclusion). The overdetermined nature of the native village's role in constituting this community becomes clear given its literal enclosure within the "world" city: it simultaneously is juxtaposed to the civilized culture on display next to it and serves as the embodiment of a community small enough to not be burdened by self-difference. The film's meditation on these different spaces highlights how, in a profound irony, the perfectly equal and difference-free "whole" of this community of man in his most natural state is only activated by the particular conventions of an entire visual culture apparatus. In the last words uttered in the video, Rony's voice-over states "I haven't yet learned how to see. I haven't yet begun to believe." Her use of the visual motif of her own lips speaking in close-up shots (in which just her lips and chin appear in the frame) throughout the video takes on enhanced meaning in relation to these lines. The fact that the last shot of the video is of Rony's lips and that some of the last words we hear and see her speak are "I haven't yet learned how to see" could be understood as a comment on the intimate relation between sight and speech in the establishment of the self-present community. The lips appear, speaking, refusing to present the body for study. At the same time, the shots are reminiscent of the early cinematic motion studies through which men of science sought to construct racial typologies, provoking the question of what conditions enable speech to be recognized as such in the first place. In her written work, Rony defines "seeing" as a process of interpretation that owns up to its own status as a process; in effect she reappropriates "seeing" from its common use to designate a process of apprehending an object of the gaze and defines it instead as a quality of the third eye, involving the ability to participate in a "chain of looks" in ways that exceed the meanings of the ethnographic eye (23-4). Noting the various opportunities for returned gazes and resignifications operating in new directions in ethnographic exhibitions featuring live individuals engaging in "village life," Rony suggests that such opportunities become more circumscribed with the advent of cinema: "The fence of the fair was now the movie screen ... cultures were presented as encapsulated 'villages' on film ..." (43). Whereas the space of the village in the world's fair was somewhat nebulous and permeable, in cinema it becomes less so. On Cannibalism attends to this historical transition, suggesting in a way that not only does ethnographic spectacle still play a key role in current configurations of racialized and sexualized subjectivity but that perhaps this role is even more centralized and circumscribed than ever before. But the variety of ways in which Rony's person appears, in different states of visibility, silence, and voice, can when taken together be understood as a play and a performance that uses the cinematic apparatus to engage the transgressive aspects of the live spectacle.

[15] Can the continued circulation and production of the kinds of visual knowledges that interpellate individuals like Rony into the identity of "cannibal" be so easily separated from current imaginings of community—and, would it be responsible to posit them as distinct? I see in Rony's mocking invocation of the name "cannibal" as the central and proper object of a philosophy that would never quite admit to its being such—as per the title On Cannibalism—an insistent heightening of the stakes of any invocation of self-present subject status or purported achieved inclusion within democratic community. Recalling Saidiya Hartman's investigation of racialized performance and spectatorship, and her insistence that they have been formative of identities and subjects not only in slavery but also in freedom, we might ask how seemingly throwback scenographies of cannibal communities continue to circulate in our ostensibly enlightened "post"colonial time; Hartman's skepticism toward the seeming legibility of self-present expressions of pleasure, free will, and sovereignty resonates with Rony's presentiment that the cannibal has not been superseded by a socially recognized "native" subject. Similarly, just as Hartman contrasts the notion of an ideally functioning community of "good" black subjects to one based in unlawful assemblies and fleeting everyday performances (56-78), Rony stages the performance of a less-than-perfect community, one that is not unburdened by internal differences and tensions but precisely because of this opens up to alternative understandings and practices of social and political representation. The third eye of On Cannibalism challenges the terms of community inclusion, interrupting the performances of racialized and sexualized spectatorship and embodiment that modern visual technologies continue to rely upon, and showcasing the demarcations and circumscriptions upon which self-presence, immediacy, and proximity rely. In doing so, it suggests the need to put into question the means through which the just community is quite literally envisioned.


[1] For other scholarship which positions the development of cinematic technology and cultural institutions not only as coincident with the historical period of western Europe's and the US's most concentrated colonial efforts, but as indebted to and only understandable within the enclosure of colonial knowledge practices, see Lisa Cartwright; Manthia Diawara; and Ella Shohat and Robert Stam.

[2] Rony directly addresses the difficulty and pain that attended the research trip at greater length in her book (3-6).

[3] Louise Michele Newman offers the compelling argument that US feminism as a movement for women's legal, political, and social recognition arose in conjunction with social evolutionist and eugenics discourses. As moral arbiters of the white, heteronormative US social order, these women argued for their own inclusion and recognition via the promise to offer others the chance at the same inclusion and recognition. For an argument that traces similar themes in relation to the more recent phenomenon of the woman-run and woman-focused NGO, see Inderpal Grewal.

[4] By "foreclosure," Spivak refers specifically to a psychoanalytic concept, which I take to mean an operation in the constitution of the subject which is necessary but cannot be recognized as such (5); Spivak then engages this concept in order to say that the native informant is what is necessarily foreclosed in the constitution of the human (6).

[5] As Spivak elaborates, "The discontinuity between sex- and race-differentiation is one of the arguments of this book. When the Woman is put outside of Philosophy by the Master Subject, she is argued into that dismissal, not foreclosed as a casual rhetorical gesture. The ruses against the racial other are different" (30).

[6] Brian Goldfarb, Lisa Cartwright, and Mary Ann Doane also provide accounts of the relationship between early cinematic technology and ideologies of race. According to Goldfarb for example, visual modes of representation had been understood as requiring lower intellectual capacity in contrast to language literacy, and thus as particularly suitable for "developing" both children and colonial subjects, at the same time that the visual was also one of the preferred modes of "scientifically" studying African subjects (7-10).

[7] "After they have treated their prisoners well for a long time with all the hospitality they can think of, each man who has a prisoner calls a great assembly of his acquaintances ... and . . . in the presence of the whole assembly, kill him with their swords. This done they roast him and eat him in common and send some pieces to their absent friends" (Montaigne 155).

[8] I have chosen not to list these terms here, because of the various sorts of violence they have been used for both historically and currently, and more particularly because of the violence enacted by their simple utterance or transcription. Clearly though it is an important part of Rony's performance to invoke and comment directly on these violences.

[9] In this shot, in which the camera pans from left to right to take in the entire tableau of this domestic scene, there are reflections visible in the glass in front of the diorama. While the reflections are hazy, they look like they could be of another display typical of museums. However, I have not been able to locate this image and so to tell if the diorama was staged for this video or if the shot was taken in a pre-existing exhibit.

[10] In her writing, Rony uses "cannibalism" to refer to the practices of "the consumers of the images of the bodies—as well as actual bodies on display—of native peoples offered up by popular media and science" (10).

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