Food and identity in contemporary Lithuanian and Latvian émigré narratives: imagological approach

Mokslo publikacijos / Scientific publications
Document Type:
Straipsnis / Article
Anglų kalba / English
Food and identity in contemporary Lithuanian and Latvian émigré narratives: imagological approach
In the Journal:
Literatūra; Lietuvių literatūra; Latvių literatūra; Išeivių literatūra; Grožinė literatūra; Imagologija; Maistas literatūroje; Nacionalinis maistas; Kulinarinės metaforos; Emigracija; Tapatybė; Tautinis tapatumas
Literature; Lithuanian literature; Latvian literature; Exile literature; Fiction; Imagology; Food in literature; National food; Culinary metaphors; Emigration; Identity; National identity
Summary / Abstract:

ENIn semiotic research alimentary and vestimentary codes (eating and clothing, respectively) were commonly used to describe the role of food and garments in social practices. The great achievement of semiotics lies in its assumption that food is symbolically charged and can be analyzed as a means of communication and signification rather than just physiological need. The discussion about food in literature is as much (if not more) about ethnicity and cultural diversity as it is about nutrition and nourishment. Imagologists also contributed to linking food in literary representations with cultural and ethnic identities. Food potential in literature could be addressed and discussed within a framework of "sensual imagology" through taste and smell. From the standpoint of the imagological research if the food is mentioned it is usually done in the context of other national icons either embracing or rejecting them. Research of culinary imagery is especially engaging when it registers the impact of food on the national mentality and indicates the social status of the character. Subjects of transit narratives are often tasters of different cultures, and therefore culinary imagery serves in migrant literature as a means to approach another culture penetrating it through the taste receptors and gustatory perception. Although the topic of food is sporadically appearing in most of the Baltic migrant texts, Lithuanians and Latvians still don't have so-called gastro-travelogues. Currently, the Baltic States experience the boom of culinary-related books, which is possibly stems from the tangible and material nature of food, its preparation and consumption. Since our contemporary lives are permeated with mobility and virtuality (even more so for uprooted individuals in emigration) the tangible nature of food and continuity of cooking traditions provide a sense of stability.Professional Latvian fiction authors have recently published a few books offering literary plots connected to food rituals and stressing the importance of socially uniting cooking practices in daily life. Some profound theoretical works on Lithuanian and Latvian "ingestible topography" have been also published recently. The folklorist Janīna Kursīte in her "Kitchen Dictionary" ("Virtuves vārdene", 2012) - an attractive compendium of more than 900 pages - tried to prove that "food and drinks are not just food and drinks, which we consume every day, but also a part of our national culture and identity". Kursīte discusses the place of food in the Latvian culture, its reflection in folklore, literature, its place among the natural and cultural worlds, as well as various alimentary taboos, beliefs and superstitions. The book is presented with words by the Latvian emigre author Agate Nesaule living in the USA: "I presume that food is as important as language, which unites Latvians". Food not only prominently features alongside the language as a means of preserving the migrants' cultural identity when abroad, it itself becomes a sign system. As Armann Jakobsson has noted, "Eating turns out to be a speech act, and there is no way to eat without conveying some meaning. You might even say that to eat is to speak". In this context, it is interesting to explore, what an eating Lithuanian or an eating Latvian tells us about the representation of Baltic (diasporic) subjectivity in literature?Food can be employed in Baltic emigre narratives in the variety of ways. Some texts bear witness to the often-horrifying work conditions of those emigrants who labour in vegetable or mushroom farms (Mantas Areima, Laima Muktupāvela), food factories (Andra Manfelde) or restaurant kitchens (Aleksandra Fomina), some highlight the social aspects of (anti)consumerism (Manfelde, Unė Kaunaitė) or address heavy alcohol consumption as a routinized everyday practice (Vilis Lācītis, Marius Ivaškevičius), etc. In this article I will focus specifically on the representation of food as a constituent of building (or denying) Baltic selfimage, both literally and figuratively. [...] Increasing national uncertainty when individuals live abroad strengthens the importance of national food. Closer analysis of Lithuanian and Latvian emigre fiction reveals that there is a much deeper meaning to eating and drinking than just superficial layer of gastronomically charged images. Seemingly simplistic metaphors actually possess more complicated and multi-layered potential for detecting Lithuanian/Latvian mentality traits or specifics of displaced communities. [Extract, p. 120-121, 128]

2500-9508, 2661-5541
Related Publications:
Correlations between environment and social characteristics in Baltic émigré literature: grey&colorful, black&white / Laura Laurušaitė. Perspectives of Baltic philology III / pod red. Jowity Niewulis-Grablunas, Justyny Prusinowskiej, Justyny B. Walkowiak. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Rys, 2017. P. 165-175.
2020-07-28 20:26:11
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