By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-03-26 08:00:00-04:00 No comments
Of all the books I've written so far, Shunga-Satori arguably has the most roundabout and tortured path from origin to destination. In fact, I'm not even sure at this point what exactly counts as the "origin" of this project, but I'll do my best to parse the fossil record.
But if this project started anywhere at all, it was with the title.
Interesting and evocative titles are hard to come up with. Whenever I come across something that feels like a good title for something, I write it down. Every now and then I peek at my list of saved titles to see if something there suggests a project, or attaches itself to an existing project currently without a name.
Shunga-Satori was a title I bumped into by way of the band Missing Foundation. It was a track title from their album Go Into Exile, and nothing in the song itself seemed to connect with the title. Shunga meant "spring pictures" — that is, pornography — and satori we all know means "enlightenment". How do those two things connect?
This question washed around in the back of my head for a long time — several years at least — before I even began to suggest answers for it. All that I derived from it at first was the contradiction of opposites: desire, and the transcendence of things including desire. So, again: what kind of story would come from that?
Over time, a story did wash ashore that seemed like an embodiment of the ideas in the title. It involved two men, both artists, who take violently divergent paths in life. One, a photographer, cannot reconcile what he wants to capture with his camera with the real world he's stuck living in. The other, a conceptual artist, wants to get beyond all such dichotomies by creating what amounts to a virtual work of art that one could live in. The story opens with the death of the second man, and the journey of the first man into the work he left behind to try and reassemble the pieces. And he's further torn between trying to wrest himself free of the other man's seductive pull, and submitting to this strange new underworld created by him.
I chewed over some form or other of this thing for a couple of years, without ever fully swallowing it or spitting it out. Somehow I could never get it to coalesce, and I'd had enough experience with stubborn projects to know that I could not make that happen the hard way. So I set it aside, and over time found myself meditating on what the story was pointing at or trying to evoke. The "hyperspace" created by the artist — what was that really all about?
What I was really circling, it seemed, was the idea of a dreamspace, a place within from which creation arises spontaneously, and takes on a life of its own. The story I had been trying to write would have made that inner space into something fantastic, mythic, symbolic, protean. Maybe the better approach was to start inside the dreamspace and work my way out from it. And once I hit on that insight, things really started to cook.
In Part 2, I'll talk about the story that emerged from these ideas.