He would rather be bad than boring
Anton Krueger reviews Jou Ma se Poems, a collection of poems by Aryan Kaganof
I was born in the sixties
The title for this review comes from JM Coetzee's Youth (2002:165) and refers to the poet's perennial dilemma, also expressed by Gregory Corso in his famous Marriage poem: "Should I be good?" Coetzee goes on, speaking about the young poet he was: "What gives him a pause is the question of whether he can go on being a poet while doing the right thing ... The right thing is boring."
I met Aryan about a year and a half ago when he submitted a poem to LitNet while I was still the gatekeeper for the English poetry page. We corresponded a few times and then met up to play pool at Stones in Melville. Resplendent in an old SADF uniform, Kaganof burst into the room with manic Erazorhead hair and braces on his teeth, trailing a cute blonde he'd just met. In the course of the evening I was surprised at the candour with which he spoke of his many perversions and idiosyncrasies.
Although his views are often offensive, speaking to Kaganof has the odd effect of making one feel as though one's own views are inauthentic, prescribed, and institutionalised; since he brazenly investigates and exposes the currents and courses of the received wisdom on social dynamics. I was reminded of the archetypal image of the quack, and half expected to see an exaggerated light bulb reflecting in a pot-lid strapped to his forehead as he peered below the surface of customs and conventions. His sharp, inquisitorial eye and insatiable curiosity are daunting, to say the least.
If I remember right, he spoke about the rugbification of the country; about how elderly Afrikaner tannies have been trained to speak in high squeaky voices like little girls; and how he had rewired his brain with DMT. Surprisingly, since he reinvented himself (the standard bio reads "Kaganof was born again in Randburg in 2001"), he's fairly scant on the vice score; and besides a few social beers, he doesn't smoke, and doesn't drink and doesn't take drugs. Kaganof's vices arise rather from his frenetic and insatiable sexual explorations and, particularly, from his penchant for torture and uniforms. The cover of Jou Ma se Poems - a famous bondage picture of Betty Paige - may give an indication of his particular tastes.
I first noticed Kaganof back when he was still called Ian Kerkhof and made what is still his best-known film to date, Wasted (1996), the first film in the world to be shot on digital video and boosted up to 35 mm. He's recently also made the first feature to be shot purely on cell-phone MMS (SMS Sugarman - currently in post-production). Kaganof has always embraced new forms of media and this latest collection of poems is culled from the hundreds of poems of his which have appeared on the internet.
It may seem paradoxical that the predominantly image-based culture of the internet has had such a powerful effect on reviving poetry, which is possibly the earliest textual aesthetic; but it's true - the internet has revived poetry, since it combines the low cost of digital reproduction with the possibility of a wide international audience; and since it operates outside of the conventional economic exchanges, the quality of the work, and not its saleability, becomes the important determinant, which makes it a fairly pure form of artistic expression.
Well that's all very interesting, I hear you say - but what about the poems? Are they any good?
One of the reasons I've spent so much time talking about Kaganof as a person is that his poems are a very direct expression of who he is. In this sense, all of his poems are autobiographical, and yet, to quote Coetzee once more, "All autobiography is storytelling, all writing is autobiography" (Doubling the Point, 1992:392). These are poems on the move, and appear to have been composed en route, in bars, on planes, in hotels. They provide no stable resting place, but are possessed by an energy of displacement, movement, fragmentation, inconsistency.
Kaganof is ruthlessly honest about his endless desires, and about the absurd spectacle of the mass movements he witnesses around him, whether these are governments, religions, or set systems of morality. As already mentioned, the greatest "problem" for many people when confronted by Kaganof's explicit content is the issue of morality, and his apparent disregard (and disrespect) for the moral franchises of society. When reflecting on the work of Kaganof's previous incarnation, Ian Kerkhof, Dutch art critic and historian Anna Tilroe wrote:
... morality as a system of ethical principles and norms is incompatible with what for Kerkhof constitutes the artistic vocation. For him, good and evil are concepts like identity: they lay down in the form of rules and regulations that which is essentially fleeting and mutable and, above all, infinitely nuanced. Morality is tantamount to a denial of the depth of the human spirit, a depth that, oddly enough, is mainly perceptible in what is generally regarded as evil. And that is the area in which Kerkhof chooses to be active. (http://people.africadatabase.org/en/profile/16662.html)I've already said enough (perhaps too much) about Kaganof's sexual peccadilloes; but the cover of his book may actually be misleading, because, for the most part, these are not poems about sex; these are predominantly thoughtful and intelligent verses. But there are many different types of intelligence. One of the most popular contemporary methods is to measure reaction time, so I would say that Kaganof's intelligence is reflected by his lightning fast reaction time to circumstances, rather than by extended periods of reflection. This lends them a certain charm, but it also means that they run the risk of superficiality.
Kaganof is the foremost counter-culture revolutionary in South Africa. Often his virulently oppositional stance reminds us that that we have a culture at all. He's ruthlessly extreme in his views; there is no middle ground for him, and it seems that people's reactions to him and his work are similar: either people are mesmerised by his fiery enthusiasm and inspired by his prodigious energy, or they find him perverse and obnoxious. But love him or hate him, he's impossible to ignore.
Above all, Aryan Kaganof is a loner. He is a one-man cultural industry, producing paintings, books, clothes, films, music, photographs, and criticism. And yes, it's true that in the midst of Kaganof's multi-faceted creative output he is frequently bad, but he is never boring. This has endeared him to some, but also alienated him from others. Yet Kaganof's is a chosen alienation, and he exists in a self-imposed exile from the morality of the bourgeois, the mainstream, the masses.
Jou Ma Se Poems (ISBN 0-9584874-9-9) is available at better bookstores countrywide, and also directly from Pine Slopes Publications, PO Box 86, Westhoven, Johannesburg 2142.
Aryan Kaganof's website is www.kaganof.com.
Did you enjoy this review? Have your say! Send your comments to email@example.com, and become a part of our interactive opinion page. Or submit your own poetry to Michelle McGrane for consideration.
© Kopiereg in die ontwerp en inhoud van hierdie webruimte behoort aan LitNet, uitgesluit die kopiereg in bydraes wat berus by die outeurs wat sodanige bydraes verskaf. LitNet streef na die plasing van oorspronklike materiaal en na die oop en onbeperkte uitruil van idees en menings. Die menings van bydraers tot hierdie werftuiste is dus hul eie en weerspieŽl nie noodwendig die mening van die redaksie en bestuur van LitNet nie. LitNet kan ongelukkig ook nie waarborg dat hierdie diens ononderbroke of foutloos sal wees nie en gebruikers wat steun op inligting wat hier verskaf word, doen dit op hul eie risiko. Media24, M-Web, Ligitprops 3042 BK en die bestuur en redaksie van LitNet aanvaar derhalwe geen aanspreeklikheid vir enige regstreekse of onregstreekse verlies of skade wat uit sodanige bydraes of die verskaffing van hierdie diens spruit nie. LitNet is ín onafhanklike joernaal op die Internet, en word as gesamentlike onderneming deur Ligitprops 3042 BK en Media24 bedryf.