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What does reading poetry have to do with savoring “beef stew cooked in a bronze cauldron,” or “scallop whose exquisite flavor gives you headache?” For the Song thinkers, the art of language is embodied in the pleasures of the flesh. The idea of the palate of the mind, along with a wide semantic range of gustatory lexicon, emerged from the gastronomic literature that proliferated in the eleventh century and permeated subsequent discursive practices. Such phenomenon gestures towards what I call a “gustatory epistemology,” whereby intellectual discernment and aesthetic appreciation become increasingly predicated on the body, and, in particular, the corporeal experience of savoring.
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About the Speaker:
Huijun Mai is an Assistant Professor of medieval Chinese literature and culture in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her works seek to give novel accounts of canonical writers, texts, and literary and intellectual trends by considering noncanonical sources—literary texts from genres traditionally disparaged as low brow, and nonliterary texts ranging from botanical catalogues to recipes. She is currently at work preparing her book manuscript, “The Gentleman in the Kitchen: The Song (960–1279) Epicure and the Birth of a Gustatory Epistemology,” a critical inquiry into the entanglement of the body, culinary culture, and poetic and aesthetic discourse evolving around taste.