Vera Qi Yang The Exotic Monster
Centuries have gone by since the start of human colonization and globalization when Japan finally got involved in the modern development in the early 1900s. Within an era of cultural interaction, Japan like any other countries of Europe 400 years before, started facing exoticism. Focusing on this social trend of Japan, Junichiro Tanisaki’s in his novel “The Gourmet Club” depicts a food-hunting group of five members following their desire for foreign ethnic food. Specifically, by deploying extreme language in a narrative genre to suggest the danger behind an obsession with food, Tanisaki exoticizes ethnic food and therefore, expresses his vigilant attitude towards exoticism as well as exotic pleasure.
Throughout the text, Tanisaki implies the potential danger caused by the crazy desire for exotic food by exaggerated description. Most notably, in the last sentence, after introducing the most unusual daily banquet directed by Count G., Tanisaki predicts the outcomes of the club members to be “either raving lunacy or death” (139). This conclusion, driven by the narrator, clearly points out the author’s standing. The extremely straightforward words emphasize the danger behind the desire for food or any exotic pleasure.
The potential danger can be mainly seen from two perspectives, either physically or morally. For instance, during the introduction of the gourmet club members at the beginning of the novel, the narrator comments on the health conditions of the food hunters by saying “… their cheeks and thighs were as pump and oily as the pig’s flesh used in making pork belly cooked in soy sauce…. none of them was worried about illness….nobody was so craven as to quit the club on that account… (100)”. When connected with their inexhaustible pursuit for exotic food, the extreme metaphor such as “the pig’s flesh” and the strong comparison here suggest the their strong desire and also an ironic attitude towards their immoderation. By quoting their words such as “we’ll all be dead of stomach cancer one of these days”, Tanisaki provides the readers with an imaginable future depiction of them.
To frame this desire, or obsession for exotic food with moral danger, Tanisaki mentions negative addiction people may have to face if overly pursuing unorthodox pleasure in his narrative. When talking about the gambling activity the gourmet club members usually have, the narrator states that “they would gather…and spend their afternoons mostly in gambling…from boar-deer-butterfly to… five hundred, they play an endless variety of betting games… (100)”. By introducing the other activity the club members have with an objective language, Tanisaki stimulates readers to think about the connections between gambling and food-hunting. Clearly, the obsession with unusual food is similar to the addiction to gambling and may have negative effects on their life. Besides causing healthy and financial crisis, the endless desire for owning exotic experience and pleasure will cause people to be consumed and controlled by their desire.
This conclusion is noteworthy if we consider how desire expands with the increase of opportunities during the early westernization of Japan. Driven by extreme obsession with unusual pleasure coming from foreign land, people never ceased to pursue the more exotic. Gradually, as what the narrator states at the end —- “To all appearances, the members no longer merely ‘taste’or ‘eat’ fine cuisine, but are ‘consumed’ by it. “ After all, although the Chinese banquet Count G. makes for the club may never turn to an end, the dangerous greediness will finally bring these people to crisis, no matter physically or mentally.
Junichiro Tanisaki (1919). The Gourmet Club.