or: Recipe as a Love Letter
Laura Eskivel’s novel “Like water for chocolate” is a true discovery that fascinates on more levels. The authorship and the structure of the novel where the woman’s angle of view on a world is suggested, re-actualizes the probably forgotten problem of the woman letter. Although it is not reasonable to accept that on a level of a discourse the gender of the author is detectable save explicitly signified, nevertheless, besides the nonexistence of a man letter, we have to face what might be called emancipation of the woman authorship, which can be historically located with its intensified self-consciousness. Julia Kristeva, who does not recognize the division into woman and man letter, emphasizes two categories that she acknowledges as a common feature of the woman texts: disposing of the rigid, coherent, logically directed structure and consequently disagreeing with the strict, manifest composition. The woman doesn’t feel good in a system to which the meaning is given by the reason. She gives an advantage to the fragment, to the free and apparently incoherent composition. At any rate, this attribute, emphasized by Kristeva is not a privilege to the “woman letter” only, but we can find it in the post-modernism and in the authors such as Roland Barthes, Blanchot, Sollers. (…) The woman letter is characterized, above all by metonymy, by the need to be said less than it is actually saying, by some sort of asceticism, semantization on all levels. Having analyzed the events on the level of a sign, Kristeva says that a sign in a woman always tells less than it says, that it is always bellow the point of enunciation, always connotes, that it is litotic.
The novel by Laura Eskivel begins with the motto: The invitation to a dinner table and to bed is valid just for one time and not for more, that we can understand it as a quoted folk wisdom We can’t substantiate this with solid argumentation) and as inventiveness on the part of the authoress who polemises with her own discourse, particularly with the part that in the novel’s structure refers to the love plot. (The love story of the novel in fact, is not built on a basis of such an exclusiveness, of a categorical ultimatum, but on a contrary: it is built on the motif for uncompromised, eternal, self-sacrificing love. But this aphorism for a strict, temporal determination of a possible realization of an ideal, or of two-directional love only, can be read on a font of a so called tragic irony of the destiny where the victims are both sides in the man-woman relationship, both Tita and Pedro in the novel. If in this motto we have material for detection of both genders, both the male and female principal can be betrayed in their primal impulses, an encouragement to the Other: Female perhaps, more in the initiation in the gastronomic, and male in the initiation, more?!?), in the erotic aspect, in the subtitle we can detect as objective readers, the female aspect as a dominant one after all.
Laura Eskivel writes in the subtitle: “Mexican novel on love with recipes and folk medicines in monthly subsequences” and we connect all three aspects (though the novel in subsequences can be regarded as a marker of a historically existent form in the life of the novel as genre) with female reception. In this, under the summoned characters of the text we suspect the trivial genre. However, the trivial genre in this case is ironised by sovereign theoretical information (for itself) and by undoubtedly narrative talent and that becomes clear immediately in the first sentences in the discourse. Then, with particular attention, those who do not want, who refute to be naïve readers, turn to the proceeding by which the authoress lucidly segmented the text into twelve chapters named after months in the year, with subtitles, each one of them containing a recipe. The recipes regularly refer to particular gastronomic specialty, except in VI chapter, when under the name of June is a subtitle disclosing a “non-culinary recipe”: a mixture for preparing matches.
This inserted, different, “inappropriate” discourse in the history of the novel has already been sanctioned. “The novel allows in its content to be included different genres, as artistic (inserted narration, lyrical parts, poems, dramas scene etc) so inartistic (concerning every day life, rhetoric, scientific, religious etc.). In principal, in the construction of the novel, every genre could be included, and indeed, it is difficult to find a genre never included in the novel by anyone. The genres induced in the novel usually keep their constructive firmness and self-dependency and their lexical and stylistic originality”. (Bakhtin, 1989:81-84)
The division of the text into twelve chapters suggests the allusion of life cycles, all the months build the year as a whole and as a part of a bigger whole of the lifetime in general. The allusion on the relationship between the month (as a part of the time) and the moon (as an astronomical term), in our civilization presupposes some knowledge which is regarded important for reading this book and influential for its structure. Let’s remind ourselves that the moon is a symbol of inertia and sexual unrestraint to Mayas. It is a protector of knitting and that’s why it has spider as an attribute. According to Incas the moon is a goddess, not related to the sun, the moon is of importance for Koran, which conveys the lunar symbolism and the lunar cycles enables the numeration of the days. In the astrology the moon “symbolizes the passive, but fertile principal, the night, moisture, subconsciousness, imagination, psyche, dream, receptiveness, the woman and everything that is unstable, passing and subjected to influences, analogically to its astronomical role of reflecting the sun light. (…) the moon is a cosmic symbol, ubiquitous, that encompasses all the epochs. Through the mythology and the folklore this symbol is related to the divinity of the woman and fertilizing power of life, which are embodied in the deities with vegetation and animal fertility, incorporated in the cult of the Big Mother (Magna Mater). The moon is also a symbol of dream and unconsciousness, as nocturnal values. The symbolic link between the moon and the unconscious connects the elements of the water and the earth with the qualities of coldness and moisture, contrary to the symbolism of the sun and consciousness which together with the day connects the elements of the air and the fire and the qualities of warmness and dryness. The nocturnal life, dream, unconsciousness, moon, all these are elements belonging to the realm of the double.” (Chevalier, J; Gheerbrant, 1983)