Superficiality and Exoticism in The Gourmet Club

Tanizaki Junichiro’s The Gourmet Club follows the journey of Count G, the leader of a group of Japanese men whose main aspiration in life is to experience culinary pleasures, as he attempts to discover the next experience that will titillate their palettes. In a scene where Count G is taken into a room used for smoking opium, Tanizaki’s use of contrasting diction reveals an awareness of the superficiality of this culinary experience, providing a subtle criticism of culinary exoticism.

The language that the Count uses to describe the hall upon his initial encounter with has positive connotations, indicating how enticing he finds the idea of the cuisine promised by the hall. Count G envisions it as “a place where a purely Chinese style of life prevailed,” a description which points towards how he essentializes what “Chinese” life is (Tanizaki 112). The cuisine promised by the hall tempts Count G because it promises authenticity—something “purely Chinese.” Tanizaki’s word choice here indicates the Count’s positive impression of the hall. It is “flooded with light” (113), the interior furnishings shine “brightly” (114). By choosing these descriptions, Tanizaki indicates that the hall is a place that the Count regards highly. Thus what Count G finds in the hall’s resplendence is this “Chinese style of life,” the promise of something authentically “Chinese” and exotic which will sate his weary palette.

In contrast to the diction used to describe the restaurant initially, there is a shift in Tanizaki’s word choice when Count G enters the room used for smoking opium, with the negative connotation of the language serving to indicate the superficiality of Count G’s desire for Chinese cuisine. In direct opposition with the light-filled first impression of the hall, this room has a “shadowy interior,” a deliberate comparison which goes to show how there is a shift in understanding on a narrative level (127). To underline this general feeling of unease and negativity, the room has “dim light” and is furnished with “tired-looking couches” (127). As Count G enters this room, the reader slowly comes to realize how the temptations offered by the restaurant are only one level of significance to the culinary establishment of the hall and to Count G’s desires.

What Count G sees initially on the surface level of the hall is the glamor—he commodifies this glamor as the “purely Chinese” experience that he seeks, marveling at the exoticism of the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and tastes. However, this is only a superficial understanding of what is “Chinese,” and the narrative points this out by showing the less desirable side to the hall. Tanizaki now describes Count G’s guide, who had previously been “tall,” “good-looking,” and “honest-looking” (122), as “unpleasant” and “lifeless,” with “the look of a ruined race” (127). While the Count is enticed by the culinary pleasures of the hall, he ignores the complexities and nuances of actual life in China, only seeking a superficial exotic experience through what is specifically desirable to him. Thus in establishing this disparity, Tanizaki shows an awareness of how shallow Count G’s culinary exoticism is.

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