Using aesthetic language and dreamy imagery, Tanizaki’s The Gourmet Club compares the pleasure of dining with eroticism and associates the skillfulness of cuisine with fine art. The aesthetics and pleasures of fine dining are so captivating that, instead of gobbling down the food, the members of the Gourmet Club seem to be swallowed by it. The obsession towards the perfect plate leads Count G, who organizes the Gourmet Club, to the discovery of a magical cookery which may eventually lead the members to destruction.
Food in The Gourmet Club is compared and contrasted to many things. It is compared to “art” in general, for its captivating aesthetic value, and specifically “orchestra music” for the rapturing excitement it provides (99). The pleasure of cooking is also associated with sexual pleasure in the very first sentence of the story. The narrator explains that the members of the Gourmet Club loved “the pleasures of the table” as much as “those of the bedroom” (99). The most important thing or, more appropriately figure, which food should be compared with in the story is the femme fatale.
As professor McKnight explained in the lecture of Tanizaki Junichiro, food in The Gourmet Club is as enchanting as a femme fatale. The features she lists for a femme fatale is so similar to the traits of the food delineated in The Gourmet Club that she characterizes it as a “food fatale” (McKnight). Indeed, the food in the story is aesthetic, as it is depicted as a form of “art”; seductive, for a pork loin is compared to a woman with “soft, white, and luscious” skin; and dangerous, since it is so “unbearably delicious” that “one’s stomach (may) burst open” (Tanizaki 99, 114, 104).
The charm of the “food fatale” is so intense that Tanizaki often associates it with something that may lead to death (McKnight). The Gourmet Club’s obsession with food drives the members across the country to satisfy their cravings for a dish. Club members will take any necessary measures in order to appease their appetite. “Once you’ve set your heart on eating something,” a member says, “you’ve just got to have it” (Tanizaki 101). Count G, the leader of the Gourmet Club, dreams of a, “music like food,” referring to a food that would “make men dance madly, (and) dance themselves to death” (Tanizaki 104).
Even after the Count finally encounters with this fascinating cuisine, he is still obsessed with food and proposes that the members of the club should only “focus (their) interest and curiosity fully on the things to be eaten” (Tanizaki 137). The members become possessed by their lust for food, and other pursuits in their lives are dissolved. It seems like they no longer “‘eat’ fine cuisine, but are consumed by it” (Tanizaki 139). The narrator predicts that the fate of the members of the club will lead them to either “raving lunacy, or death” (139).
The Gourmet Club illustrates both the positive and the negative side of the obsession with food. When one knows their limits, cuisine can be the highest form of art and captivate the gourmet. When one becomes obsessed with it however, it may lead to destruction. Just like a femme fatale, food may be fascinating and dangerous in the same time.
Tanizaki, Jun’ichiro. “The Gourmet Club.” The Gourmet Club: A Sextet, trans. Ed. Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy.Tokyo; London: Kodansha, 2001. 99-140. Print.
McKnight, Anne. “Tanizaki Junichiro.” Japan 70. Haines 220, Los Angeles. 28 October. 2013. Lecture.