I’d like to begin today by proposing a difference between a “fragment” and a “segment.” Segment derives from the Latin secare, to cut; it suggests the division or subdivision of some thing X; implies a part that is bounded by a line, whether real or imaginary; and in this division, this notion of some strip, piece or part divided, it suggests how those divisions remain sworn and bound to the whole unified thing from which they were originally cut off and which they now, in their present form of being a segment, remain a segment of X, or a subsection or subdivision of X, where X may be a circle, but X may also be a bowel. It is thus fitting that Eisenstein, the great stylist of the cut, would admonish that “With such organically thought-out and photographed parts of one large significant and general conception, these must be segments of some whole, and by no means […] stray, strolling études” (Film Form 92). Every segment holds out the seductive lure of every ideology of recombination and totality.
A fragment is an entirely different thing. Frangere, to break, as in bread, or a glass—but also a neck or a skull—but also to breach (as in to breach a contract); the fragment involves a mutilation, a broken piece of an undiscoverable something; a remnant; a scrap; a fracture; but also sharing the root frag- with fragilis, fragile, what is, in fact, easily breakable. (And as in George Crabb’s early-19th century dictionary entry on the term, what is ultimately most subject to fragmentation is what is also subject to finitude: “Man, corporeally considered, is a fragile creature, his frame is composed of fragile materials.”) A fragment is a part broken away, and this broken piece contains within itself the dimension of what is broken, what is incomplete, what is interrupted in its continuity. While a segment is acted upon by the cut, the fragment contains within itself the pure dimension of already being broken without making recourse to its origin; or, rather, the fragment is broken from an always imaginary and impossible to recover origin. If that break constitutes something painful, the source of that pain is not rediscoverable; the pain is born out in the very ontology of the fragment. Any fragment bears each fragment’s fragile mutilation, which is to say the very form of mutilation, in itself. I suspect this is a fairly uncontroversial distinction.
I am beginning with this division because it would seem that there are theorists and artists who hold to the unity-cut logic of the segment, and those who bond themselves to the episteme of the break in the fragment. As this panel is broadly about the role of the critique of metaphysics in film theory, it should go without saying that I am putting the fragment on the side of the affirmation of the play enabled by the noncenter which is not a loss of the center that the Derrida of “Structure, Sign, and Play” associates with the Nietzschean turn. And again, I suspect it is fairly uncontroversial to link the fragment to a broader poststructuralist affection for the particular, the contingent, the detail, from Barthes’s work on the punctum to Derrida’s attention to paratextual and parergonal textual effluvia.
The underground filmmaker Aryan Kaganof, about whom I will speak today, makes films constituted around an aesthetic and an ethic of the fragment. His films feel like constant restatements or reappropriations or accumulations of perversities; these schemas of enumeration paradoxically destroy the eidos of enumeration, which is a relation based on hierarchization. Indeed, Kaganof insists on this fractured dimension of his work, writing in a manifesto that “the atomic unit of the RE:MIX is not the shot, but the fragment—which is a clump, a volatile conglomerate. Granular, dense, and stuck together” (Nostalgia for the Future).
But if Kaganof emphasizes the remixed collection of fragments at the risk of reinstating an assembled totality, I am more interested in one of the consequences of organizing one’s corpus around the fractured fragile piece of the fragment as such. Specifically, that in its remnant dimension, the fragment as a form holds out the pure notion of the break. Kaganof’s films thus are decomposed as much as composed; the privileged atom of his work is a 2-to-6-minute long mutilated piece of film marked by a kind of violence, not one that explicitly takes place in the otherwise unbroken image, but a force bound up with the fragment as its formal condition of possibility.
Kaganof was born in South Africa, but fled to Amsterdam when he was 19 to escape conscription into the Apartheid army; in his early years, he made films under the name Ian Kerkhof. His work is influenced by Debord, Bataille, Rilke, and Burroughs; by porn and by extreme performance art; and as much by contemporary South African jazz musicians and poets as by the British avant-garde filmmaker Peter Whitehead. (Whitehead, if originally best known for his 1960s pop music promos with the Rolling Stones, is perhaps better known these days for his assertion that Osama Bin Laden made the most significant film of the 21st century.) This assemblage is mutually concerned with the transformative possibilities of radical aesthetics, each working through, mutatis mutandis by field, the expressive dimension of modes of bodily and formal strain, discomfort, disintegration, degradation, and extremity.
These titles of a few of Kaganof’s many films betray, despite his stylistic heterogeneity, his enduring conceptual interests: Nice to Meet You, Please Don’t Rape Me! (a satirical musical about violence in South Africa; one ad for the film reads “From the Country that Gave You Apartheid, Now the World’s First Rape Musical”); another is Beyond Ultra-Violence: Uneasy Listening by Merzbow (a documentary about the experimental Japanese noise musician Masami Akita, whose otological excesses have also appeared as scores for several of Kaganof’s films); the Bataille-citing and bodily-fluid gushing The Dead Man 2: Return of the Dead Man; and the fairly self-explanatory The Boy Who Masturbated Himself to a Climax. Kaganof works in numerous media formats, often shooting on digital video that is blown up to 35mm, and is best known outside underground circles for one such experiment: the 2007 SMS Sugar Man, a feature-length film shot entirely on cellphones. He curates and churns out work; and his website, kagablog, functions as a manic archive of assembled writings, images and meditations. His work, replete with vomit, shit, urine, cum, is also, it must be said, oddly playful.
The 1994 film I’m focusing on today, 10 Monologues From the Lives of the Serial Killers is, in some ways, exactly what it claims to be—except in so far as the title lies (more on that later).
The film is organized around the rhythm of fragmentation, the cadence of wrecked, degraded things—broken bodies, genitals, histories, voices. It opens with a voice intoning one of Kaganof’s poems over a painfully white screen: “In the beginning was the mountain, Then the cloud, Then the radar station, Then the helicopter, Then the cancer…”; Fragment 1 turns on the real voice of serial killer Ed Kemper (aka “The Co-Ed Killer”) over the grainy blue-tinted image of a man framed in a cell, smoking a cigarette, rendered less object than cause of the making-exquisite of disrupted light. The opening lines of the film abdicate the privilege of speaking monologically: the pronoun “I” is first posited in a state of pronounced refusal: “Well, I’m not an expert, I’m not an authority; I’m someone who has been a murderer for almost 20 years.” Fragment 2 reverberates to “Murder Avenue” from the Geto Boys; in 3, a black man nearly invisible in the far left corner of a dank space speaks the 1968 “The Generations of America” litany from J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition in a clipped preacher’s cadence that rises to a crest of guttural bluesy exhalations of “Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert F. Kennedy. And Ethel M. Kennedy shot Judith Birnbaum. And Judith Birnbaum shot Elizabeth Bochnak…” Fragment 4 sets grainy and degraded home movie footage to Roberta Lannes’ short story, “Goodbye, Dark Love,” a farewell to the abuses of a lover who has shot himself: as the meat of the decaying film fades, we hear of the post-mortem hillside that it is all “hair and skin and blood and flesh and him and him and him.”
Fragment 5 wilds to Charles Manson’s meditations on freedom, while 6 turns to a recorded dialogue between Ted Bundy and James Dobson on the dangers of pornography, recorded the day before Bundy’s execution, and set to the image of Kaganof masturbating while double exposures project pornographic images onto his body (so he is screen and surface, cause and effect of his own arousal). Says the actor speaking Manson’s words, in modulating sound sync that devastates the immediacy of the performance: “My head is empty; I have no opinion.” (One cannot help but note, given the title of the film and the conceit of its fragments, that Derrida says of the specificity of the interior monologue that it is a form of auto-affection—here, Kaganof literalizes and pornographizes this notion.)
Fragment 7 returns to Ballard, a voice recounting an anal sex scene from Crash. Over a mostly black screen with flashes of indeterminate peach and pink, this image is reduced to tones, the nervous spasms of a textual body in cut-up forms, like reopened wounds, like bits, even, of lovely skin. After returning to the dark crimson of the Geto Boys, Fragment 8 sets a grainily whispered diary entry from Henry Rollins over surveillance imagery trailing a woman, violence always about to arrive without arrival. Monologue 9 places a 1979 voice recording of Kenneth Bianci over a long shot of a body bound to a chair—each mode of violence opening up a formal modification in the arrangement of limbs. Fragment 10 returns to the Ballard Atrocity Exhibition, and at the end, an off-screen voice commands, “Stop,” and so the film does.
So those are the monologues that comprise Kaganof’s Ten Monologues from the Lives of the Serial Killers.
But the title of this film, as I mentioned, lies. Or, rather, there is a curious and pronounced carelessness to its choice of words. Monologos, we all know, means “speaking alone, speaking singly” (from monos: single, singular, one, alone, only; logos, of course: word). Several of the fragments, however, involve multiple speakers. Furthermore, despite the titular insistence, not every mode of speech, whether monological or dialogical, is associated with a serial killer. But once the monologue is no longer the definitive mark of each fragment, then the epigraphical and epilogical voice droning “In the beginning” should properly count towards the final tally; or, if the title seems to hold out the promise of unique or singular monologues, then the two repeated sections should count as two, not four, units of monological discourse: so the film either contains 8 monologues or 12, but it does not contain 10.
The monologues promised in the title, we might say, appear in the opening credits, appear under the sign of the title, only to disappear, to erase themselves with each non- monological, non-serial killing performance. This film more generally is comprised of many such forms of erasure, fading, retreat. Each narrative focuses on some dimension of the past, bearing out a nostalgia for what is lost and gone. What has passed on in the film is multiple: bodies, now corpses; corpses, now decayed; unity, now fragmented; the past, now obliterated; but also more ephemeral things, like memory (as in Kenneth Bianci’s uncanny monotone: “This one I killed; this one I don’t know about; I remember that cunt”). In the midst of this film of disappearances, the text also troubles its own visual presence, constantly retreating into illegible images and the failure of speech to manifest as something seeable. And, of course, each fragment in turn passes—each is there in so far as it comes to not be there, comes to be replaced with yet another.
How is one to read these disappearances, this dimension of where things are not in the text? My claim is that this is fundamentally a film that frustrates any language of formal analysis that would rely on accounting for what is present in the film.
When Derrida aimed to “shake metaphysics,” one of his central targets was the displacement of presence as the center and foundation of Western philosophy. One of the most pernicious effects of the obsession with presence, argues Derrida, was that the history of philosophy becomes a photology, “a history of, or treatise on, light” (“Force and Signification,” 27). This emphasis on the seeable and the visible has produced formalisms (neo- and otherwise) in film theory that, even when they claim not to, turn ultimately on discourses of presence. They are therefore ill-equipped to read the ephemeral traces, non- appearances, self-erasure and the violent disappearances that structure Kaganof’s destructured film.
My argument is that a revitalized non-metaphysical formalism in film studies would need to trouble mise-en-scène as a logic of presence. Freud taught us how to take grammar seriously; in his theorization of the unheimlich, he writes, “the prefix ‘un’ [‘un-’] is the token of repression.” In a similar fashion, in order to interrupt formal analysis as photology, I want to insert the sign of negation into the building block of cinematic analysis: a little n. Formal analysis after presence requires reading for what I call in my forthcoming book mise-n’en-scène. This phrase is a grammatical impossibility; it is an error in French. It is useful less for what it represents than for the possibilities it sets loose. Mise-n’en-scene suggests that in addition to reading for what is put-into-the-scene, one must also read for all of its permutations: what is not put into the scene; what is put into the non-scene; and what is not enough put into the scene.
The genealogy of non-unities written by an attention to the mise-n’en-scène is a fitting anti-narrative for Kaganof’s fragments about disappearances. Reading for form after the critique of metaphysics requires beginning with the premise that form has a force, that it is not reducible to any duality between form and content, that it is not to be put to work for the cognitive processes of spectators. Taking seriously a form organized around form’s waning and absence, for its traces and formlessness, suggests that violence in a film such as Kaganof’s is not in the text, in what is visible, audible, speakable or comprehensible, but is an unstable process bound up with the act of reading for its formal charge. Mise-n’en-scene suggests a critical practice that reads with the fragmentation of the fragment without attempting to piece the fragment back together—or, rather, tarries with the fragment, without attempting to turn each fragment into any segment.
Is there a way for the title of this film not to be lying? If we emphasize the logos of monologos, we are back to a metaphysical privileging of presence, and of the imagined immediacies of speech. What I’d like to suggest is that any analytical mode that ultimately takes the title at its (spoken) word, and looks for the presence of what is in the scene, will ultimately reduce this film to an articulation of its themes and fall for the metaphysical lure of logos’ purported bond to self-presence, immediacy or what is as a pure conveyance of meaning.
Put another way, I’d like to engage in a thought experiment and see what kind of critical possibilities are opened up if we begin with the premise that presence and speech are not where we want to focus our critical energies.
So, once again, does the title of this film lie? There is a tradition of the theatrical monologue in which a person is made to declare or put on trial their own attributes, such that it might be the case that the speaker plays the parts of multiple advocates and of a judge. This forced declaration of attributes might be more what is at stake here. In the classical requirements for the monologue, the speaker must not be the poet; the speaker must address himself in the form of self-prompting (we see this in Fragment One, posed as a series of questions and provocations to Kemper from himself); and, crucially, the speaker must address his soliloquy to a silent interlocutor. Indeed, the non-response of the listener is what makes for the anti-dialogical dimension of the monological. On the one hand, if the other is the spectator, then we should recall Christian Metz’s point in The Imaginary Signifier about the difference between the theater and the cinema—the actor is always present at our absence, and our presence requires their corresponding absence—in which case every film is monological. If, on the other hand, the silent interlocutor is within the text, then we might at least consider whether there are formal manifestations of this required non-responsiveness.
Dead response form suggests a rather different intertextual source for Kaganof’s monological mode: I am thinking here of Beckett’s A Piece of Monologue, which begins: “Birth was the death of him. Again. Words are few. Dying too. Birth was the death of him. Ghastly grinning ever since.” Speaker, the single protagonist of Beckett’s play, insists that this matter is the alpha and omega of what matters: “Never but the one matter. The dead and gone. The dying and the going.” If the non-response of the other is not only the formal requirement of the monologue, it is more so the refusal of a response that Speaker names and performs for some absent him. In other words, “the dying and the going” speaks without response but also in the wake of a non-response, defers response, and declares the impossibility of response.
This same form is at stake in the privileged fragment of Kaganof’s film, which is to say one of the two that are doubled, and the one that concludes the film: the formula of deferral from Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition—“X shot Y and Y shot Z, and Z shot A, and A shot B,” and so forth. This repetition empties the meaning of any one name to the rhythm of repetition; to the violence of the formula; to all manner of formalized violence. The man speaks alone and says everything but “I”. The litany becomes eulogy becomes cadence becomes death count becomes – what, exactly? Just the deferral so that the duration of the formula can exert its pressure on the text. So the title lies a third time, not for the numerical or the falsely monological, but because speech is not what speaks here: the film is something more like a formologue, which deploys form and the formula, makes present the force of the formal.
Although the entire film involves stories about the past, marked by forms of obsession, repetition and rumination, the explicit chain of names in the Atrocity Exhibition bits takes this broader logic and literalizes, or radicalizes, it. As though pressing on what Nancy calls “the threshold of community,” the voiced deferral puts on display the form of the deaths of others. If this is unrecognizable in its mode of address, if the semiotics of the death count become pure cadence and rhythm to which no response is possible or adequate (the truest sense of the monological), this is not the case of form obliterating sense, but of the sense of deferral functioning as the impossible assimilation of these deaths. It is thus the form of deferral that enacts the double sense of Ballard’s use of the word “generation”: what is made to go on, and what has already, definitively, passed on. That double sense cannot be in the text—it is neither present, nor bound up with presence—it is, rather, where the scene defers and what is constituted by this form of deferral, this disappearance without reference to what at any point appeared.
Ballard’s chain as Kaganof stages it involves a mutual deferral of origin and end. The rhythm of the formula repeats until the arbitrary, contingent and off-screen, which is to say external to the monological, voice declares “Stop”—deferring any final or last victim. And, likewise, the rhythm of repetition brackets any notion of the origin that might begin and thus promise coherence to such a list through its linking algebraic terms. Not least because Ballard starts with 1968 and Sirhan Sirhan, he leaves at minimum before the list the assassination of John F. Kennedy; 1968 arrives too late, which suggests that it is not the beginning in the sense of an origin at all. If we go back to the literal founding text of meta-physics, there, Aristotle proposes the kinoumenon kinei, the unchanging, primary substance of the “Unmoved Mover.” Kaganof’s film defers not only a telos for the list, it also refuses the fantasy of the “Unshot Shooter” who would ground or center the fragment. This mathematical transitivity is founded on grammatical transitivity, and the mise-en- abîme of transitivities extends so long as the voice has not yet declared “Stop” to this expanded field of relations.
This scene is built on ruins; it is constituted around the devastation of origin or end. If we analyze the presence of what is “in the scene,” including the presence of the speaker—the body, the voice, the dripping water, the dankness of the space—we reassert the primacy of a vocal and visual presence, a photology, a photophilia, a logophilia. If, instead, we take seriously fragmentation and the formula, then it is transitivity as such that exerts force in this cinematic bit. No image in the film, least of all this part of it, contains explicit acts of violence—rather, the juxtaposition of word and image deploys violence in and for the form of the film. Violence at the end of the work involves this suspension of origin and end, involves the force of deferral such that it is impossible to say that it is ever there in the film.
If the fragment includes its break, then the fragment is not reducible to any formalist logic organized around simple presence (i.e., the content of the fragment). Mise- n’en-scene suggests these are not monologues, but formalogues; but if formologue still holds too tightly to the logos (it is almost impossible to do away with), then I propose yet another revolution in the title of this film in order to make it not lie: 10 Formalgias, recalling that algon, as in nostalgia, really means a mode of aching pain. For it is formal material in deferred broken pieces and not pieces of flesh or the past that suffers, that bears out a chain of transitive suffering in the film.
Kaganof’s work is no less violent for that.
Eugenie Brinkema Massachusetts Institute of Technology Paper Presented March 23, 2012 in Boston, MA Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference