Shinji 9000 debuted his new novel, Pleasure Center, on October 10th, 2015, at Kunstraum, an art gallery tucked into the side of Cremer Street. The event, entitled A Whole Lot of Dirty, a novel vs a rap mixtape, took place on a makeshift hay stage, in Kunstraum’s L-shaped room; the audience formed a jagged “C”.
Shinji took the stage, shifting in a nondescript, all black outfit.
He mumbled something about how Beckett would enjoy rap and swayed awkwardly.
He launched into a first set off his mix tape, which featured a traditional rap background (thick, medium-speed beats) with energetic ejaculations of phrase. Shinji swayed, lifted the microphone, jumped up and down on the black hay. The music was loud, the crowd absurdly dressed and completely still. One of the best moments of the performance was this contrast. There were no smiles, no cheers, no errant blunts passed around.
This divide was conceptually reinforced by the atmospheric contrast between when Shinji rapped versus read his novel. There was no smooth transition. He would abruptly stop. With no music, the room was left with a dense cloud of silence. Shinji took out a small pink book and read.
Pleasure Center is a novel that bills itself as “a post-Beckettian work of fiction that follows the surreal ponderings of Samo the samurai come painter”. When reading the book after noticing this description, one wonders whether this categorization was done behind Samo’s back. Surely he would not want to be fossilized in the resin of an Amazon description.
“Knock knock Samu are we back?”
“Knock knock Samu where did we come from?”
“Knock knock Samu it’s time to die…
I hereby end contractual obligation”
Pleasure Center is a novel that argues with itself and comes up empty, that revels in this emptiness. A novel that plays hopscotch with itself in the middle of the street, purposely laying itself down when a car comes. Negation becomes means of refuting given static identities and signifiers, physicalities taken for granted; negation becomes a means of affirmation.
“The words I know, and know I know, in words and out of words, and in thought out thought, thought thought, through in and throughout. More than an identity, good god, they gave me a name. Samo. And a history, a line, and a development. Good God.”
The trajectory of Samo’s journey is one in which one monolithic identity is subsumed into another, the hero Samurai becomes the hero Artist/Painter (and Rapper on the side), with shards of doubt and uncertainty mixed in between. It becomes an exploration of the notion of self that can be seen in the tradition of Samuel Beckett — mentioned in-event, in-text: “Oh, I could go on all day about him”. It explores a more fragmented self, finding ironic humour in the shit and grime of the inescapable realities of (de)construction of self. Pleasure Center takes these influences and applies them within the field of a contemporary reality with the specific bleakness and joy deriving from multiple levels… rap, cars/traffic, Kanye, <3, “Gone are the days of…”
Word games become means of tracing of signification, questioning whose voice is speaking and why (why not). Samo becomes a dualistic character who on the one hand is striving for the markers of success and approval via identity, but one who goes back on every step forward towards this goal, tracing circles of negation and irony. He takes the familiar outlines of The Heroic Story and makes them laughable, silly. This begins with mixing the old trope of starting from nothing and hard beginnings that could apply to Rapper, Artist or Samurai, all roles steeped in myth. “There I was, Samo before Samo, I could have been eaten, been eaten by wolves but no luck, I plodded on.”
Who is Samo before Samo? A non-entity wandering in the wilderness amidst the wolves, striving to don the cloak of specific designations that will make his identity whole. He finds various tropes and kind of appears to triumph, but something is wrong, because from the beginning he a) has taken too many, and somehow everything becomes cross-wired, and b) just doesn’t care; every yes is a no and a maybe and a could be and that’s ok or maybe not ok. “A system of yes-no-maybe. The maybe function remains a mystery. And yet it is all about the maybes. Maybe I see maybe I don’t.”
Meetings are (and become increasingly) surreal. Short, staccato sentences and stark characterizations for which the mix tape provided a backdrop of adding yet another element — exploring the fusion of Kanye, Wu Tang Clan, Samurai culture, art speak, play, word games, what is Shinji getting at? Am I supposed to… is he trying to be funny? I think maybe he is trying to be funny but no one is laughing. I think he is rapping but no one is swaying, Quiet Observations tinged with venom. “I amuse myself by way of false accident. The removed digits I would send to my associate gangsters.”
There is a self-indulgent glimpse into a stream of consciousness line of impulses regarding adjustment of self or lack thereof. Become a painter? Fine. Samo paints and finds himself devoted to a stream of rhetoric regarding how to move, how to fling the paint, how exactly one paints, does one paint? It seems a painting is never made. One is vaguely discussed: a civil war painting? Of him. Oh? Arriving at this point, about three quarters way through, one feels as if they have been running down the street and trying to touch a point at the end while never reaching it, while throwing ping pong balls at it and watching them bounce down the sewer, bounce out at unknown points.
The reader becomes haunted by questions that have been posed since the beginning of Samo’s journey:
“How do I show it? Duration? No, perhaps intensity. Is it not enough that I exist?”
“Where do you live, they ask.
What do they mean, where?
I live, is that not enough?”
Pleasure Center becomes a game of stamina determined to poke holes through the vestiges of identity, to wear it thin to the point of ambiguity via sheer tenacity. A dogged dance between the self-assured Rapper taking on old words, renaming and claiming them, the Abstract Expressionist flinging paint and declaring the world as his, and the Japanese Samurai, careful of every movement: measured, moving stealthily, quickly, flitting between worlds, between enemies, triumphing. Early on in the book, Shinji/Samu/Samo wearily references this, stating, “To inhale my own air that is the air of a thousand others… to be able to turn the nose off would be a luxury.”
“Thank you”. Now what? Everyone remained still for a minute and then moved to encircle Shinji 9000, enclosing him in generic praise.
Gone from Cremer Street, caressing the pink tome, these abject platitudes seem to melt away, yet… become useful. Samo wouldn’t have it any other way. Pleasure Center utilizes these generalities, dominant narratives, signifiers of success/power in order to break down and examine them. “Thank you” could be repeated a thousand times, but differs each time it is twisted from a different angle. This is deconstruction of language to illuminate the divided self, highlighting the malleable assortment of identities we assume in order to don the veil of authority, influence and control. The centre of pleasure is glorious fragmentation.
Rachel Pafe Worked in curatorial collective, vessel, from 2011-2014. Graduate 2015 MRes Art Exhibition Studies, Central Saint Martins, UAL. Researcher, writer, artist whose practice centers on iterative ideology, desire and associated politics, juxtaposing the mundane, absurd and ideal through the lens of messianism. She (often, but not exclusively) examines this within the exhibition format: through academic writing, fiction and a hybrid involving spoken word. Recent work includes collaborative lecture performances with Sakina Dhif at the 2015 PARSE Biennial and Exhibition Studies Talks at Central Saint Martins, UAL (November 2015).