The Pursuit for Pleasure

In The Gourmet Club, Junichio Tanizaki reveals the lifestyle of a true “foodie” through the experiences of a group of “gastronomers” with taste buds always on the pursuit for pleasure. The club consisted of five members who were truly devout connoisseurs of food, always searching and spending their earnings on new flavors. The day finally came when “eventually their tongues lost all the taste for the usual ‘fine cuisine’; lick and slurp as they might, they could no longer discover the excitement and joy in eating that they demanded” (102).  And so began the quest for “a kind of orchestral cuisine” (103) where the “unbearably delicious flavors would entwine themselves around the tongue until at last one’s stomach bust open” (104). Count G., the leader of the club, “often dream[ed] of food” (104). He was the most ambitious of the group and prided himself on his delectable taste buds. Upon his quest for the ultimate dining experience, Count G. encountered a Chinese banqueting hall where dining was an artistic extravaganza and not only the mouth, but the entire body, became part of the experience. Tanizaki used embellished language to metaphorically compare eating to eroticism emphasizing the sense of exoticism and blending the worlds of literature, culture and artistry to create a truly exotic culinary experience.

Exoticism, by definition, is the charm of the unfamiliar. Tanizaki’s portrayal of exoticism is vividly illustrated in the “Bok Choi Fingers” scene.  At the Chinese dining hall, entrées such as Pigeon-Egg Hot Springs, Phlegm-and Spittle Liquid Jade and Butterfly Broth were on the menu ready to be served. By the name of these dishes alone each entrée offered a bizarre vibe, quite unfamiliar to traditional Japanese, Western and Chinese cuisine accustomed to in Japan.  In this scene, an anonymous individual by the name of “A.” encountered a full body dining experience, figuratively and literally, when served his Bok Choi dish. The lights were dimmed to darkness and a young woman artistically presented the dish as A. “concentrated his sense of taste still more fully in the tip of his tongue and kept licking and sucking persistently at those fingers. Strangely, the more pressure he applied with his tongue, the tenderer the fingers became […] Suddenly, A. discovered that what had unmistakably been a human hand had somehow changed into the stem of a Chinese cabbage” (135). Tanizaki’s use of sensual figurative language metaphorically relates the bok choi, a mere Chinese vegetable, to human body parts, adding a sense of sexual pleasure to the Chinese dining experience and demonstrating the narrators appeal to incorporate eroticism in his writing style. Typically food is used as a energy source of fuel, but in an exotic world, food is capable of empowering the imagination of the mind, blurring the distinction between what is and is not reality.  This entrée left A. “feeling as though they’d been bewitched by a fox” (138), masterfully exemplifying the use of exoticism by bringing the consumer into a fantasy dream where a peculiar taste could be experienced from taste buds to the toes. Never again would the tongues of the Gormet Club lose its taste while eating a meal.

The exotic Bok Choi Fingers scene offers a bizarre example of how Count G.’s quest for the ultimate dining experience was achieved by combining the pleasure of eating and eroticism.  This entrée successfully stimulated all senses of the body and created addictive desires to always leave the consumer wanting to come back for more. Each bite offered something truly unique, unusual and exquisite, thoroughly embodying the main notions of exoticism.

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