Ye Renjie, PhD student, Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages, and Literature,National Taiwan University
A landmark in Taiwanese food literature, Li Ang’s short-story collection An Erotic Feast for Lovebirds (2007) touches on issues of power, subversion, and resistance, creating an extraordinary “food-and-sex dominate” style of writing about diet. The book is divided into four sections – “Arising,” “Continuing,” “Changing,” and “Uniting” – eight stories in all: “Palm Civet and Pangolin,” “Curried Rice,” “Beef Noodle Soup,” “Pearl Milk Tea,” “Aphrodite,” “State Banquet,” “Menu Dégustation,” and “Vegetarian Delights.” In Afrodita Isabel Allende defines “Aphrodite” as any and all sexually stimulating objects and activities. Erotically titillating, An Erotic Feast for Lovebirds stories revolve around the interactions of “food” and “desire.”
Food writing in An Erotic Feast for Lovebirds is inseparable from Li Ang’s life and memories. Those memories can be divided into two levels: On one level are food recollections that relate to the writer’s father; on the other are the Li Ang’s own food memories. Because the book begins with protagonist Wang Zhaifang and her father’s joint experiences of capturing, butchering, cooking, and eating rare wild animals, the work expresses Li Ang’s nostalgic longing for her father. The second level of food-related memories are those Li Ang has either experienced herself or heard about from others; thus, the writing is a manifestation of her own individual consciousness, separate from that of her father.
An Erotic Feast for Lovebirds also links food and politics in two of the stories, “Beef Noodle Soup” and “State Banquet.” In “Beef Noodle Soup” a political dissident’s experience of eating noodles in prison is a metaphor for the interflow of politics and social culture. In “State Banquet” an official dinner party is the only time a head of state and his wife have the opportunity to dine together, but because of dissimilar food preferences they are seated at different tables. Banquet dishes are symbolically named, so the president doesn’t know what is to be served; his wife, however, is able to read English and so can decipher the menu. Consequently, the president is shown to be “at the mercy of food.” Chinese dishes signify Sinic orthodoxy but the president is ignorant of the ingredients, ironically implying that he is unsure of what actually constitutes “China.” Thus the story touches on issues of national identity.
In An Erotic Feast for Lovebirds Li Ang takes readers on a literary, philosophical, and culinary journey, breaking new ground in food writing.
Li Ang (1952) is the penname of Shi Shuduan, a native of Lugang in Changhua County. She graduated from Chinese Culture University’s Department of Philosophy and later received a master’s degree in from the University of Oregon’s Graduate Institute of Theater Arts. She has received the Lai He Literature Award, the United Daily News Literature Award, and the Wu San Lian Literature Award.
While still in high school the writer published “Flower Season,” a unique and highly representative work of Taiwanese modernist fiction. She later experimented with a variety of themes, exceling at exposing forbidden and controversial social phenomena. From the 1970s on she explored modern sexuality in her work, publishing the novels The Secular World (1977), The Butcher’s Wife (1983), Extramarital Affairs (1987) and Dark Night (1994). Her perspectives on sexual desire and ethnic politics are especially incisive, her critiques of contemporary social mores trenchant and powerful.
Li Ang continued to write frankly in the 1990s, publishing works on politics and the fate of the nation, including Everyone Sticks His Joss-stick in the Beigang Temple Incense Burner (1997), Autobiography: A Novel (2000), Mysterious Garden (2006), Seeing Ghosts (2007), and An Erotic Feast for Lovebirds (2007). Her works’ forthright treatment of love and sex satisfy readers’ curiosity, yet at the same time carve out a portrait of Taiwan’s stormy modern history. Li Ang continues to write and publish. Recent works include The Splendid Adventures of a Food Fiend (2009), Possession (2011), and Everyone Takes a Bite out of Roadside Sugarcane (2014).
In her thirty-plus year literary career Li Ang has always maintained a feminist perspective, using feminist language and themes to present her penetrating observations of historical truths, establishing herself as a model for feminist writers. Although feminist critics have mixed views of her work, Li Ang has never ceased to explore and critique sexual politics. The Butcher’s Wife, Mystery Garden, and Dark Nights have all appeared in translation, drawing worldwide critical attention.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2324
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