“The Politricks Of Fiction For Life”
— an interview with Aryan Kaganof
Aryan Kaganof was formerly known as Ian Kerkhof – South African experimental filmmaker who was based in Holland for many years. He moved back to South Africa in 1999.
His latest film, “Western 4.33” won First prize for best video made in Africa in 2002 at the 12th African Film Festival in Milan. He is currently editing a 50 minute documentary about kwaito called SHARP SHARP! which includes an interview with Arthur Mafokate concerning his controversial song “kaffir”.
“Hectic!” is a self-published, picaresque novel with equal parts humour and horror. The narrative is driven by a complex man/boy character named Cool Red Kowalski – unpredictable, unidentifiable, naïve but calculating. By turns endearing and attractive, offensive and terrifying – a solipsist and humanist in love with the world and in hate with himself. This anachronism of identity is heightened by the author who, having re-birthed himself as Aryan Kaganof, an artist adept at the manipulation of various mediums (film, digital art, writing), actively mythologises his own mythology. Taking fiction into hyperdrive, Kaganof may claim in the interview below that he is writing himself into existence, but he is simultaneously channelling for bad things, for things that make us sad and weak, hate-, or self-ridden characters operating at the lowest nazi threshold. In this, the sad and passively nihilistic passions are sucked up by Aryan Kaganof much like his character Spacey sucks up all the bed linen, and he then turns around, again like Spacey, and produces these marvellous tits, this great book, if tits’re what you’re into, if this book is your scene – anyway, he creates Cool Red Kowalski to narrate something radically ambivalent, unpredictable, unidentifiable, naïve but calculating. By turns endearing and attractive, offensive and terrifying. At one point in the novel, Cool Red defines himself as waste, as effluent, as unnecessary. At another low point, he feels himself to be the plague. All this is true – his insight into himself. Even characters in books have bad days. His grandfather who was a kapo in the Treblinka death camp. Everything. These are the “politricks” of fiction for life – the channelling of everything that hates life. For the sake and love of life.
— Paul Wessels
Why did you self-publish your novel “Hectic!”?
I believe in the book. I have sold out of the first printing (1000 copies).
You’re using the print on demand or docutech printing method – this must be costing you a fortune at the 1000 copy mark?
As long as one sells the product for more than it costs to make one is doing well. This is why eliminating the retailer and the distributor makes such good sense. We live in the digital age. This is a whole new ball game and makes the old distribution system redundant. People don’t read books much in South Africa because they are too expensive and one has to drive to a fucking ugly mall in order to buy them. In taking my book out to the people I have radically reassessed the literacy problem. Publishers in south africa are fearful, lazy, slow and entirely out of touch with the various niche markets out there.
I sold the book myself, at unusual venues, like stones pool hall etc. The reactions to the book have been fantastic. I hear a lot from people that the book reflects their reality, that it isn’t like most books at all. It is the kind of book that people who don’t read books would like to read.
Well, I read a lot of books and I really liked reading “Hectic!”. Cool Red Kowalski, the camo-wearing, crew-cutted anti-semitic Jewish anti-hero of the novel is so open and honest in a contingent, strictly contingent way, it’s quite terrifying. I’m interested in his hatred, in the way hatred works in this novel: Red seems to need the love or passion of his hatred in order for him to derive any meaning in his life. Like his incestuous mother, he needs the trust of his victims, he needs their love. In this, Red is not a fascist currently posing as a sadist: he is obsessed with his Jewishness, accepts its social rituals (under Aunty Fay’s gaze), is obsessed with the girl he eventually rapes, obsessed with women generally, obsessed with blacks, Moslems and queers, obsessed with his friendship to Sven (and the notion of friendship generally cf. harelip Markus outside the Pick’n’Pay – pure love!) – this guy simply cares too much about everything. He is many things, but abject isn’t one of them.
Is Cool Red Kowalski the last Camus-quoting humanist in a media-saturated, anodyne world where universal communication has cancelled alterity; where the other must be simultaneously produced and exorcised through hatred? Could this be a reason for “post-literates” enjoying this book?
Yes. And yes again.
“There are no good masters”
Why the name change from Ian Kerkhof to Aryan Kaganof?
I am a bastard. My mother was not married to my father. She was married to Mr. Kerkhof. A man whom I have never met. I came back to South Africa in 1999 to meet my biological father. I lived with him for two years until his death. When he passed away I changed my name officially to Aryan Kaganof. Kaganof is my biological father’s name and my bloodline. My passport and book of life have been duly changed.
So how do you prefer to be addressed? Please don’t give me the freedom to choose. Is it Aryan, AK, or Kaganof?
I’m not that bothered what people call me, as long as it’s not “poepall”.
You reclaim the name of your father (a conservative move), and yet you use this act to undermine and subvert (but in an ambivalent way). Would you be prepared to speak a little more about your decision to change your name, and embark on a somewhat terroristic artistic path?
In taking on my father’s name I was given a unique opportunity: the chance to create myself. And this task of self-creation cannot be haphazard. It must be based on ideas that transcend ordinary meanings. To believe only in what we see does not create us.
In November of this year Dick Tuinder and I will be co-hosting a three-week show at the Central Museum of Modern Art in Utrecht, the Netherlands. For this show I will be making a large wall writing, covering the main hall of the museum ( in a similar vein to work I started at the NSA Gallery in Durban last year). This work has been hand-written in a Journal of my father’s that he never finished. The journal is dated 1967 and the work is called The Author. The first 17 pages of the hand-written manuscript were presented in the NSA Gallery as a 34 metre long digital printout that ran along the entire length of the Gallery’s floor and up its walls. People attending the exhibition were forced to walk onto the artwork, thereby literally trampling on the artist’s soul; a metaphor for how artists are treated in this country of rugby, soccer and cricket worship where art is not taken seriously on any level. In Utrecht, the remainder of the hand-written pages will be copied large onto the museum walls using thick felt marker pens. The work is called The Author and is a writing into-being of the dark psyche of Kaganof. This work will be re-written onto the museum’s walls in a process mirroring the way in which Kerkhof re-wrote himself as Kaganof. (Or was re-written?). Like Pessoa’s Book Of Disquietude, this book is never finished, the story continues…
“Honesty always takes people by surprise. Perhaps that’s an indictment of the culture we live in.”
Is Jihad Rashoon the deus ex machina for representative politics? Is this why his insertion in the novel is stylistically quite violent and haphazard? During an emergency news-broadcast concerning the local transport wars, Jihad keeps blabbering on. When Cool Red notes to himself: “He’s oblivious to politics; only concerned with himself and his personal journey through the long nights passage to death” is he criticising or maximalising Jihad?
Jihad Rashoon is the protagonist of a novel I am writing called, wait for it, Jihad!
The novels intersect. The interstices are moments of rupture, breaking with the diegesis of the novel in question. This formal device suggests a hidden world behind the world we are privy to in the apparent verisimilitude of the text. In this way a cosmology of sorts is gradually developed, step for step, over a long period of time. It is a slow process and more akin to sculpture than the novel.
Michael Moorcock’s many interconnecting novels impressed me a lot when I was a teenager and I have always retained the ambition to play in a similar vein, albeit not in the science fiction/fantasy genre.
“My voice is a virus that infects my body.”
Could Ian Kerkhof have written “Hectic!”?
I don’t think Ian Kerkhof could have written Hectic! Aryan Kaganof is a much funnier guy, more relaxed and in greater control of whatever medium he puts his hand at. He has of course benefited from all of Ian Kerkhof’s mistakes, in other words, he has a lot more experience, which is a priceless commodity.
This ability you have, or should I say, this character trait of juxtaposing sentiment with political awareness (often via humour) flows through “Hectic!” from start to finish. Experience is a priceless commodity – truth, simply up for grabs to the highest bidder. But this sort of hip and ultra-cool nihilism is constantly undermined by a vein of emotion – sometimes near the surface, sometimes buried deep. So, I knew all along that Red was going to get hurt by Spacey and Sven. There were early intimations, but the clincher in the end was them doing some shopping together. Red didn’t see it coming. Also, Red’s almost chivalrous attitude towards the women he’d like to fuck. Given the presentation of certain of his less inhibited character traits in the progression of the novel, I’d have expected him to press the issue with both Miss Malurby and Spacey – but instead, he actually, in his unique way, tries to woo them to his idea of romantic love, and actually wants to get married in the end!
Is this tension in “Hectic!”, between subversion and convention deliberate, or is this just what people are like (what you are like)?
I am certainly not at all like Cool Red Kowalski. The tension is deliberate in the sense that he is a fictional character and as a novelist one has the extraordinary power to choose the traits that form the composite being one is creating. Ultimately the only medium left to the artist nowadays is the medium of the self. Self creation, self knowledge and self evolution to the point that art is unnecessary and life itself becomes the artist’s medium. This is true freedom.
What’s the difference then, between the fiction of “Aryan Kaganof” and the fiction of “Cool Red Kowlaski”?
The difference is that I wrote Cool Red Kowalski. Aryan Kaganof is writing me.
“The rohypnol pops the truth out of me, like a juicy cum load. I slap Barrell out of my way. He falls to the floor. With my left arm I upturn the kitchen table over the insane Rashoon who is still on his non-stop confessional roll. Spacey gasps. I look down. My cock has pushed its way out through a gap in my trousers. The glistening purple helmet is glaring at Miss Malurby’s mountainous boobies. My voice comes out deep and confident, “Nice tits, chick.”
this interview is published in donga, edited by alan finlay and paul wessels, published by bleksem and dye hard press