Aryan Kaganof's Acinema and the limits of Lyotard's cinematic writing.

For those who don't know, Aryan Kaganof is an astonishing South African Artist. He writes brilliant surreal novels, makes disturbing movies, short film and, most pressingly for this post, remarkable avant garde documentaries. He is also a political activist with a prescience and insight that is both humbling and terrifying. While everyone else was celebrating the 'rainbow revolution' in South Africa, Kaganof, then still Ian Kerkhof, made a bleakly funny musical called Nice to meet you, Please don't rape me that highlighted the on-going, deeply structured misogyny and violence that was being overlooked in favour of optimistic futures. This is a long and difficult piece but I'm posting it because Aryan's work is so important and, while my post typically engages with more mainstream work, truly important global voices will also be part of the fabric. For those of you who struggle through - enjoy!

This essai began as an intuition. The intuition was that assessing the films of South African cultural activist Aryan Kaganof through the lens of Lyotard’s writing on film would prove to be an intellectually productive process: offering both insight into Kaganof and further understanding of Lyotard. The intuition became a hesitant paper at the symposium held at Dundee University where I showed the short film Amsterdam Avenue Black Cadillac Blues a recent piece that draws on Kaganof’s willingness to use existing media without permissions and re-contextualise them. In this case it was the little known, but incredibly powerful Joyce Green 1959 recording of the song.

 The film is part counterpoint, part music video, part something else. It refuses, like all of Kaganof’s work to be reduced, simplified, explained. I did not intend to explain this film, but I did assert that the true spirit of Lyotard’s acinematics is found in Kaganof’s work. The physical discomfort of watching, the visceral pain the ‘rupturing’ that Kaganof seeks in his film is present here – yet in essence this is a meditation of walking down a street. While I was not looking to explain Kaganof, I was working with his film to make manifest the meaning of Lyotard’s essay, and the violence it demands.
However, it became clear to me in the act of writing the paper that there is a difficulty in trying to yoke Kaganof and Lyotard together: at least there is a problem if the assertion is a simple one of reciprocal exegetical growth and some kind of ‘insight’. One difficulty is the sheer breadth, range, volume, and variety of Kaganof’s works. To claim to be discussing ‘Kaganof’ (and I’ll complicate this further below), even at the level of author-function is simply not possible. And if I choose a single film, then what is that telling us about the broader cultural significance or aesthetic challenge offered by ‘Kaganof’?
The other problem is Lyotard, especially his writing on film. I made the point at the symposium that Lyotard is not a film critic. Nor is he a film theorist (although ‘Acinema’ has aspects that one may choose to consider film theory). Rather, he is a philosopher who uses film and / or films to act as examples in arguments that are about something else (libidinal economics in relation to Joe;

 narrative pragmatics and ideas of seduction with Apocalypse Now

and  notions of post-Kantian aesthetics in relation to The Magnificent Ambersons.). 

In none of these examples is the film really analyzed as film. By this I mean, that Lyotard is interested in what the films can contribute to his broader philosophical speculations than he is with them as pieces of film art.

These twin realizations (Kaganof’s output is too complex to be unified into an oeuvre; Lyotard’s film writing is not writing about film) presented a challenge. If it is not possible to read each set of texts against the other in a fashion that might create new knowledge or insight, then is it worth pursuing the juxtaposition purely, to borrow from Lyotard, ‘to see what happens – just for the fun of it’ (‘Acinema’). This affirmative Lyotard, fighting against nihilism and negativity is the Lyotard James Williams prioritizes in his book, Lyotard and the Political

As Ashley Woodward points out, William’s problem with later Lyotard’s turn to the sublime is one predicated on a belief that Lyotard embraces nihilism. For now, this is not my concern, rather Woodward’s effort to read this Lyotard alongside the conceptual artist Yves Klein and to allow for the artist and the philosopher to mutually inform each other is:

The intertwining of art and philosophy I propose here is mutually productive: Lyotard provides Klein with a philosophically sophisticated situation within the field of contemporary aesthetic theory, while Klein materialises Lyotard’s aesthetic philosophy in the realm of the sensible and gives it a thoroughly life-affirmative determination. Together, Lyotard and Klein direct their differing perspectives (philosophy and art) towards the mutual illumination of a common problematic: our understanding of matter and of the sensible in relation to the problem of nihilism.

(Yves Klein - WideWalls)

My working with Kaganof and Lyotard does not promise such positive possibilities, as Kaganof’s work is less and less able to withdraw from nihilism itself.
Approaching the problem from a different position, it may be prudent to admit that there is not any productive relationship possible. The intuition of similarities may actually mask a differences of such import that they cannot be reconciled. Rachel Jones offers a way of engaging with the seemingly similar in her ‘Lyotard and Irigary on Eros, Infancy and Birth: the Dissymetrical Horizons of Being Between’. In the opening sentence she makes the following point: ‘There is a differend between the work of Jean-Francois Lyotard and Luce Irigary. The apparent similarities between their philosophical languages […] serve only to conceal and intensify the differend.’ (Bickis and Shields 119). There is not, I think, a differend between Kaganof and Lyotard, but there are in Lyotard two absences that are so central to Kaganof that it may be equivalent. These are apartheid and post-1994 South Africa; and documentary film (I am using the terms documentary and ‘experimental documentary’ interchangeably. Kaganof tends not to use either).
My intuition that there may be a way of reading the works  of each with the other, and a seeming confirmation of the apparent similarities between them, was presented by an essay by Henk Oosterling entitled ‘Self-Immolation: the pornological acinema ofAryan Kaganof’. The article was written in 1994 and is responding to Kaganof’s early work which is heavily influenced by ideas from Bataille, Klossowski and so on, and which is (as I discuss briefly below) very sexualized, or ‘pornological’.
Oosterlink’s essay on Kaganof’s ‘pornological acinema’ offers a sustained engagement between Kaganof’s earlier work (when still Ian Kerkhof – see below), and Lyotard’s text. This essay definitely provided me with the sense that my intuition was correct, but my interest is more in his later experimental documentaries where the claims made here seem less clear. However, as a guide to a way of thinking between Lyotard and Kaganof, the essay is instructive:

How can this emptiness be filmed? Or to pose this question more precisely: how can this immobility, this inertia, be enacted in a medium whose essence is precisely the depiction of movement? Given this paradox Kerkhof’s [Kaganof’s – see below] work can be described in the words of Jean-François Lyotard as acinematic: ‘The acinema’, according to Lyotard ‘should be situated at either end of the extremes of film, where film is conceived as the depiction of movement: thus extreme immobility and extreme speed.’

The slow, excruciating, discontinuous and diffuse images in The Return of the Deadman have a tendency to solidify themselves into tableaux vivants, as is found particularly in the work of Pierre Klossowski.

 From this perspective the fact that Lyotard, in the passage quoted above, is here referring to the phantasmagoric effect of Klossowski’s slow-motion ‘perverse’ images and the fact that Aryan Kaganof has filmed one of Klossowski’s short image sequences, La séquence des barres parallèles is not entirely coincidental. 

This deceleration is then depicted against a speeding up which is called into being by the mutual effects of form and content, medium and maker or in short hyper-reflexivity. Lyotard sees in the work of abstract-expressionists such as Rothko, Pollock and Newman this acceleration come into effect through the self-referentiality contained in their art, where the material of the work has itself become the subject. The conscious mis-handling of artistic means affects the viewer’s experience. If the spectator wants to undergo the ambivalent pleasure of these abstract works, to quote Lyotard, this implies ‘the rejection of his own physical unity and the coordination of his movements which provide the conditions for its existence: these art objects demand (..) the paralysing (…) of the ‘subject’-consumer, the decomposition of his organism’. In this sense, The Return of the Deadman is pornological acinema. And it is because of this dubious quality that enjoying the film remains a precarious undertaking. Not least because the film-maker consciously focusses on that diffuse area, by morality and politics deemed unconscious yet consciously shunned, that area where rape and intimacy, violence and union – and in an artistic sense, kitsch and art – imperceptibly merge into each other.

The sections below attempt to work through my initial intuition but do so by enacting the tension that is felt between the possibilities implied by Woodward’s essay, and the different challenges implied by Jones’s. The space between the sections is ambiguous. Kaganof’s found footage, plagiarism, interpolations and borrowings are also part of my textual strategy.
End of prologue.

A. Aryan Kaganof is not Aryan Kaganof. This is not a simple question of 'author-function' or of having a professional name. Aryan Kaganof is a version of Ian Kerkhof. 

Ian Kekhof was born in 1964 in Durban in apartheid South Africa. To avoid conscription into the army, he went into self-imposed exile in Holland. There he studied and made films. But these films are outrages; perverse, violent, self-serving, solipsistic; savage; disgusting; boring; sterile.
Kerkhof left South Africa behind. Along with it, he left his racist mother behind. His father had left before he was born. He joined the Netherlands Film and Television Academy. Before he even graduated, he was awarded the Golden Calf (the most prestigious film award in the Netherlands) for Kyodai Makes theBig Time. With its stark, empty style, shots that last minutes at a time; sado-masochistic sex and unapologetic direction, the film implies a trajectory that Kerkhof's films would follow. His graduation piece was  Dead Man2 Return of the Dead Man. It passed (with Kerkhof's success with Kyodai, it seems impossible that it couldn't have) but "…the editing teacher was disgusted by the film and he said at the graduation ceremony that it was a disgrace that I was allowed to graduate with the film. I think he was right. The film does not operate according to the rules and maxims that the academy was propagating and hence by their terms it was a failure. They should have acknowledged that and refused me the degree" (Kaganof).
The film is a defiant imagining of Bataille's erotic texts. It opens with two men, naked, filthy, seemingly in prison, or some other contained, degrading space. The one rams his fingers down his throat and pukes over the other who masturbates to climax.

 In the whole film, this is the only true act of tenderness. We then move through a series of scenes, some of which have more direct resonance with Bataille (a seeming Madame Edwarda, a possible Marie) - and the characters exist between disgust and despair; empty erotic loneliness, violent urine soaked degradation. With an almost unbearable score form Japanese noise artist and bdsm expert Masami Akita (with whom Kaganof collaborated on four films, with Akita calling himself Merzbow

 in honour of Kurt Schwitter's grottos destroyed by allied bombing in 1943), the visual and auditory assault is devastating. But the real horror is the inter-cutting of scenes from the Waco siege.

"The sequence just after the one with Madame Edwarda, and before that the two men – the footage showing the “siege of Waco” where we hear cries of children trapped in the building – is the most obscene in the film. Viewers might be sickened by the opening sequence of the two men, the vomit, and then Madame Edwarda, but we watch such obscenity as Waco almost every night on the news, where it is packaged as “making the world safe for democracy” or “war on terror”," (Cummiskey).

Kaganof is an avant garde film maker.

 His early engagements with Bataille indicates one of the thematic focuses of his work which is sexuality, and indicates too one of the shared points of contact with Lyotard, and the pornologcal acinema that Oosterlink discusses so well. Whether it is a film of him masturbating naked, standing in front of a large number of televisions all showing porn films (The Man who mediated himself to a climax); a woman suspended in a cellar redolent with perversion and the trappings of bdsm, swung back and forth by chains attached to her nipples with the image then inverted so that she looks as though she is the right way up and defying gravity (A Willing Suspension of disbelief); or any number of other sexually explicit, provocative, difficult sex-related works, Kaganof is keen to explore the relationship of sexuality to culture more broadly. This continues throughout his work across a range of media. The Libidinal Lyotard and the acinematic Lyotard  seem to offer a number of interesting ways into this libidinal Kaganof. However, we should remember that one of the most striking aspects of Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy is its lack of attention to film. While Chaplin is mentioned, the majority of examples in the book are from literature, philosophy, theatre, music, fine art. It is hard to avoid the conclusion, that film does not really feature for Lyotard as a serious cultural form (in its more popular expressions), nor as an especially important aspect of the avant garde (remembering his injunction that avante garde films fail because they are ‘didactic’). Kaganof’s sexual films are too oblique to have any clear didactic aspect, but it is equally apparent that he has a profound sense of a project and a desire to speak.

"Thus cinema becomes the inaudible game of a solipsist. It is no coincidence that Kerkhof's first short, made in his first year at the Film Academy, was simply called The Solipsist. He was never a film student. He merely used the academy as a production vehicle. He arrived full-blown, a consummate filmmaker with a program, a mission." (Stammelman)

"Ian Kerkhof is no more. No one has heard anything from him since he left the Netherlands under dramatic circumstances in 1999 and headed for South Africa, the land where he was born and raised. Someone else has taken his place and has assimilated everything having anything to do with Kerkhof. That may come as a shock to those who expected so much from this talked-about filmmaker, but fortunately there’s been no real loss. Because although Kerkhof may have disappeared as a name, there seems to be no end to his output as a creative spirit. Books, films, drawings and written work appear one after another, and these plus an endless series of pamphlets, e-mails and web publications all point to a mentality that reflects Kerkhof’s down to the most minute details. It’s just that all the work is signed nowadays by a certain Aryan Kaganof." (Anna Tilroe, trans. Nancy Forest-Flier)

"My mother was married to a man called Tommy Kerkhof for two years before I was born and he divorced her because she was an intolerable woman. She subsequently had, I think it was, a 32 minute affair with my father and I was the product of those minutes and so because my father didn't want to spend any more time with her and she didn't want to be known as the mother of an illegitimate child I was given the name Kerkhof. I met my father for twenty minutes in 1993 and then later on for two years in 1999 and when he died I took on his name, Kaganof. I took the name Aryan because my father was of the Jewish faith and meeting him I became very interested in the history of the Jews and what Jewishness is and of course, if one looks at Jewishness one can't not look at Hitler, at Auschwitz, at the six million and when I read Mein Kampf I realised that one of the big obsessions Hitler had was that no Jew can be an Aryan, no Aryan can be a Jew. So for the Jews I am not Jewish because my Mum's not, but for Hitler I am. Now for Hitler ontologically no Aryan can be a Jew so I thought if I become the Aryan Kaganof which is the Aryan Jew I will disprove Hitler's theory so by his own terms the six million will be healed." (Kaganof 2002. Interview with Virginia MacKenny).

B. In July 2014, I received a package in the post. On the obverse of the padded envelope was the name 'Kaganof', written in its distinctively sharply angular script. I had been sent a few such packages with a range of his films over the previous few months, but I was not expecting this one. I opened it with excitement (Kaganof's work had already become a source of intense… intense what? I still do not know the answer to that question. It is a source of intensity; and I opened the package with excitement). As with previous parcels, there was no note, just a plastic sleeve with a DVD in it. On the DVD was written the film's title, the date and the director, along with some other information. June 12014. Kaganof. Acinema. All in the angular, disturbing, precise but volatile handwriting.
Kaganof's Acinema is a short film, about 14 minutes in length and it is a working through of some of the key terms from Lyotard's essay of the same name. This essay is not concerned with the cinematic exposition (profound, troubling, brilliant and challenging though it is) of Acinema. I shall be focussing primarily on the later experimental documentaries and relating them to Lyotard's' writings in order to see where Lyotard offers us insights and possibilities from his philosophical speculations that use film as examples. But Kaganof’s Acinema is important insofar as it explicitly acknowledges the relationship between the theorist and the filmmaker and the (if not shared, then at least imbricated) political and artistic questioning that both are engaged with.

C. Lyotard begins "Two metamorphoses of the Seductive in Cinema" by saying there will be two case studies: a scene from Apocalypse Now and "the work of Syberberg". This extraordinary juxtaposition - a contained and demarcated scene from a single movie, and a gesture to the entire oeuvre (we assume, Lyotard does not really offer much more guidance) - is a typical Lyotardian provocation. The provocation is augmented by his admitting that "I will say hardly anything at all about the work of Syberberg"
Lyotard is not a film theorist or a critic. He is a philosopher who uses film to enable him to think through questions that elsewhere might be approached through fine art, literature, psychoanalysis or a number of other media, ideas, frames, concepts, discourses. What he has to say about the films in the relatively small corpus of film writings is, for the most part, not especially interesting. In "Acinema" there is a discussion of a film. The film is presented explicitly as "an example" and could as easily have been substituted for any of the 'thousands" of other potential examples. The film is Joe. What is interesting is that the film's title is given, but not its director, its writer, its year of release. None of the scholarly apparatus one might expect is offered. (They are John G Avildsen; Norman Wexler; 1970). Not a single proper name. It is not clear what this means, but it suggests an implicit denigration of the film as cultural object, especially as the discussion of the film is surrounded by a swarm of proper names from 'proper' culture: Freud, Klossowski, Joyce, de Sade, Lacan, Pollock, Rothko and, from the worlds of serious or experimental film, Renoir, Richter, Baruchello, Eggeling and Pierre Zuca. These names operate akin to the 'rigid designators' described elsewhere by Lyotard, "a world of names - the cultural world" (1992:56). here the" cultural world" is a world of names; Joe is merely a title.

D. "Acinema" does not tell us much about Joe. But it does tell us why the image of the struck match is such a powerful one for considering the relationship between cultural production, capital and the circulation of both. The child's delight in the "hissing of the tiny flame" is the enjoyment of "sterile difference leading nowhere", of "the dissipation of energy". The nihilism of the acinematic Lyotard, embroiled in his Libidinal Economics develops into a view that "the origin of nihilism is neither economic nor social but metaphysical. This is why Lyotard speaks of 'the System", and "the techno-scientific system", and not capitalism" (Crome 2013: 162).. He continues, 'to act against nihilism it is necessary to bring the contemporary age to crisis. Or to modulate the claim, and to exercise caution that is strictly warranted if one is to avoid the metaphysical and eschatological demand for an immediate transformation of the world, to respond to nihilism is to prepare the possibility of bringing the contemporary age to crisis" (ibid).

E. "I did not then [in "Acinema"] aim to understand neo-realism, but rather to oppose the work of the cinematic avant-garde to the great narrative-representative form of commercial cinema. And yet in the best “experimental” films a kind of ingenuousness prevails, the good ingenuousness of the explorer: one believes that one can eliminate the realism that is linked to the narrative-representative form and make a totally sovereign film. But sovereignty is absolutely allergic to totality." (Lyotard: 2000)

"(the only critique one must make of the films of the avant-garde is that they are didactic, and therefore subordinated to a programme)." (Lyotard: 2000)

"Syberberg’s work is obviously a reflection on seduction by the Nazi narrative, of which the Wagnerian narrative was – not only in its romantic and mythic themes, but in its form of total spectacle – a sort of paradigm." (Lyotard 1980)

"My claim is that the Jews represent something that Europe does not want to or cannot know know anything about" (Lyotard 1993:159)

"Dear Matthew,
I have tried and tried to really get "into" your piece on Lyotard's hyphen but I am not going to pretend that it's been easy. It's a kind of writing, a kind of very carefully articulated step by step movement into something bewilderingly difficult (for me). And it's possibly exactly the precision with which you make the, elegant, steps in your argument, that, gradually, cuts me out. But this is due to a number of factors, possibly the most important of which is that the leap from Saul/Paul to Auschwitz seems far too simple, too glib, to be taken at face value. But if not at face, then what? I don't know. It reminds me a little of that book by Derrida where he compares drawing to being blind (because you can't see the nib as it makes its impression on the paper). Well that's just nonsense and anyone who accepts the first paragraph then gets necessarily lost in the maze of his thinking, which is brilliant thinking but all based on an entirely incorrect premise. It's a raft that won't float no matter how one pretties it up. Something about this movement that Saul makes to Paul leaves me entirely unconvinced, unentertained. The hyphen? I feel in my water that it's a MAJOR CONCEIT. So in a way something deep in my bowels makes me want to refute your reading. Anyway, I did struggle with it and I'm not going to pretend that I didn't!" (Kaganof 2014)

F. Kaganof is at his most eloquent, his most angry, his most difficult when he is making experimental documentaries. In recent years, his focus has been on the different manifestations of what he would see as the failures of post-1994 South Africa. Lyotard has little to say about either of these areas. His involvement with African politics resided largely in the legacy of French colonialism in north Africa ; and he does not mention documentary film. However, in a recent works such as an exhibition of vandalizm (2010); Interactions: A strategy of Difference and Repetition (2012); An Inconsolable Memory (2013) and Night is coming: Threnody for the Victims ofMarikana (2014), Kaganof has created works that in some cases and at some moments are quintessentially acinematic. But the formal qualities of the acinematic work is allied, totally and unapologetically, to a politics. In Night is Coming it is a politics of fury; in vandalizim it is one of regret. The avante garde is indeed didactic here, and its didacticism is what affords it the acimenatic grace and importance that Lyotard’s rebuttal would seek to refuse.

G. Night is Coming. . In the week leading up to August 16th 2012, ten people had been killed at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa. These included two police officers, two security guards and union members. Two different unions were involved in strike action. The National Union of Mineworkers was seen as an ally of the ruling African National Congress, and disenchanted members of this union began to join the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. The Congress of South African Trade Unions blamed the AMCU for politically motivated violence and bullying at this mine and at others. The tension and the deaths led to hundreds of police being deployed at the mine on Tuesday August 14th. A stand-off between the strikers and the miners developed, with the miners choosing to locate themselves on a hill near the mine. As the miners descended the hill, the police, as shown on National television, opened fire and for three minutes shot at the striking men. While some had sticks, none was armed or had any protective clothing. After three minutes, the body count that had precipitated the police's arrival had been added to by 34 - all shot dead at close range by the South African police force.

The head of the AMCU saw the violence as an act of collusion between the NUM, the management and the police: "We have to send condolences to those families whose members were brutally murdered by a lack of co-operation from management. We have done our bit. If the management had changed their commitment, surely lives could have been saved." (Guardian, Friday 17 August, 2012).  Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa expressed his regret at the violence but seemed to locate the violence within the confines of the union conflict, and ignored entirely the role of the police in killings: "We call upon the labour movement and business to work with government to arrest the situation before it deteriorates any further. I have instructed law enforcement agencies to do everything possible to bring the situation under control and to bring the perpetrators of violence to book." He added: "We extend our deepest condolences to the families of all who have lost their lives since the beginning of this violent action." Given that the "law enforcement agencies" were the perpetrators of most of this violence, there was, at least, a mixed message being given.
On November 4th, 2014 it was reported that the deputy prime minister, Cyril Ramaphosa, had been a board member of the Lonmin mine at the time of the attacks and there were allegations that he had lobbied his ANC contacts to take action against the striking miners. As a consequence, there was to be an attempt to take a prosecution of Ramaphosa to the International Criminal Court as the Marikan shootings were a "crime against humanity", "self-evidently a systematic attack resulting in the murder of a civilian population", and there was a need, according to the lawyer, that there be "an exposition of who the real culprits are outside of the people who pulled the trigger". (
From 9th - 11th September 2013 (a year after the Marikana shootings) there was an academic conference held at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. It was called "Hearing Landscape Critically". Among the many talks, performances and events there were two screenings of films by Kaganof. Kaganof's career as a film maker has been marked by an explicit rejection of commercial convention both in terms of the aesthetic and production aspects of his work. The two films screened, The exhibition of vandalizim (2010) and An Inconsolable Memory (2013) are recent examples of his engagement with what may be thought of as documentary. 

(zim ngqawana 1959 - 2011)

They are also examples of his engagement with South African history and culture. This essay is not about those films, but their presence at the conference, and the fact that Kaganof was commissioned to make a new film as a record of this conference makes a couple of observations about these works pertinent. The first is from Sean Jacob's essay "How do we talk about Apartheid" in which he discusses An Inconsolable Memory. He writes, "One thing the film [and the book] made me think about is that there must be more productive ways to write or think about black people whose lives or work were compromised by colonialism or Apartheid in South Africa". In addition, in interview with Jacobs, Kaganof explains his film's independence from the strictures and legal constraints of the release forms that may limit the accompanying academic book (and by extension, other film makers) allows him to stand outside of 'official' histories. In an editorial of Exhibition of vandalizm, the following is written: "Kaganof's camera interprets the events in a virtuoso, musically sensitive epic of grief and loss. Fundamentally, the film speaks to the broken and torn fabric of South African society, and the place of music in such a society".
The films articulate productive new ways of articulating responses to Apartheid (and its legacies); they stand outside of the 'official' histories of the academy, the government, the elites (and their justifications and legal supports); they are aesthetically challenging (Kaganof's camera, and Kaganof's presence are always disarming in his films); and they both attend to the intersections of race, music, history.
The organisers commissioned Kaganof to make a documentary about the conference. If they were hoping for a celebratory mutually-admiring work of approbation, they were to be disappointed. If they had seen Kaganof's excellent A Strategy of Difference and Repetition, the realisation that commissioning a piece offers absolutely no editorial control, and that Kaganof will make what is truest to his vision would have been apparent. Strategy is an astonishing "documentary" and is both a response to an academic conference and a dialogue with the organisers' displeasure at his initial cut. The final cut includes email exchanges between himself and the organiser as well as images of the political and social violence taking place in the streets just outside the doors of the conference. Helge Janssen sums up the film's importance as a refutation of funder-led content: "The underlying statement is that artists must be able to create art free from the prescriptions of the funder, otherwise it is not art that is being funded, but a product".
Night is coming is no less scathing of a seeming abstracted academy. As Meriam Webster observes, ‘The omission of the Marikana massacre in a conference called “Hearing Landscape Critically” was remarkable, and Kaganof decided to make the event the chief subject matter of his film of the conference. Sound and landscape combined then in Night is Coming: A Threnody for the Victims of Marikana which took the form of a Death Song about Marikana.’
She continues in a surprisingly Lyotardian tone, and describing Kaganof’s acinematic techniques:
The central question of the film is the one that also keeps me busy: can you give traumatic events, like this one at Marikana, a place in cinema, without doing an injustice to the reality of the event? Kaganof admits the difficulty of filmic images already quite early in the film. He samples and shows YouTube images of the Marikana massacre in extreme slow motion. The filmic technique emphasizes what we see in the image, but primarily emphasizes the artificiality of the seeing. By filming an event such as this, in all its detail, you always trivialize the reality of it. You reduce a trauma to a filmic exploration of the trauma.

And again, a little later,

And there we come to the most important thematic problem in Night is Coming. That of ideology. Night is Coming delivers an audio and visual critique on the failing of ideology. In the film’s central scene, we hear the black activist, artist, writer and poet Lefifi Tladi, reciting in the SeTswana language over the images of the Marikana massacre, a requiem for ideology written by Jesus Sepulveda:
“Ideology crystallizes itself like a map in memory. It legitimizes itself by propagating the false idea that the world in which we live is the best possible world. Or the system is the best system regardless of its shortcomings. For this reason it is common to hear that democracy is better than fascism, military dictatorship beter than communism, etc. However many of these arguments are launched, they all are ultimately absurd because they tend to justify repression at the altar of a supossed necessary order […]’’

Kaganof repeats in different contexts Tladi saying the following, ‘Because we got independence, and independence simply means[…] that what the imperialists do is, when they see that you are about to get your freedom, they give you independence. And independence simply means that they give you the machinery that they are oppressing you with so you oppress yourself with it.”. Repeated images of the massacre, drawn and slowed down from YouTube; repeated shots from the conference; extended sequences with one of the participants at the conference whose blindness is both metaphor and critique. All the repetition, all the curious cutting, strange framing (the massacre footage is inside a picture frame – the slowed down YouTube images offered up as static art, as distanced, diffused, yet horrifyingly near and loud) is left behind for a traditional head and shoulders shot of a spokesman for the ANC refusing to condemn the actions of the police. The film ends with a caption from Kaganof, : “I watched the film until the film itself became a kind of blindness”.

The film, Night is Coming is aesthetically, politically and emotionally challenging. Lyotard’s analysis in “Acinema” in particular, of the struck match, the use of energetics, the possibility of repetition, stasis, rapidity and so on as aspects of commercial film making, offer useful formal-theoretical ways into thinking about Kaganof’s film. However, Kaganof’s work challenges Lyotard’s rather cold formalism and austere criticism of the avate garde film makers as he discusses the idea of sovereignty in its relation to didacticism.. Perhaps the avant garde is didactic, but the anger necessary to engage in a politics requires this if we are to avoid the nihilism Williams sees in later Lyotard.

I watched the film in awestruck horror and sadness. I read reviews. I then wrote to Kaganof. I wrote, as I do, using Lyotard as, at least partially, a guide.

“Hi Aryan,
 This is an excellent analysis, I think, of an excellent film. However, I would like to find a way (a way that I think you would refute or reject,) to enable a less recursive engagement with the film, one that offers both the film and its analysts a possible politics (a politics outside the constraints of party and ideology, but a politics nevertheless) that recognises trauma, and seeks to remedy the conditions that created the trauma. I think I read your film with a greater degree of political energy than this reviewer, who I think, prioritises the film’s scepticism as much as, if not more than, its anger.

I need to think more.

It’s a staggering piece of work (the film): staggering - and I do think the reviewer sees its scope, its ambition, its capacious critique correctly. Astounding.

There’s something in the jaunty dancing of Mandela that offers a different response – a satirical, appalled, disgusted response that (as with all satire) tends towards the conservative, but which, with enough vigour and repetition becomes the satire of satire – the image assumes a kind of manifesto quality: a desperate cry for a politics that refuses this bullshit politics: not new parties, not different fuckers doing the same fucking; but a politics newly conceived.

And then my brain gives in; the thoughts are too hard and  I don’t know what to do.

But I do not see that as giving up, giving into recursive academicism – it’s just a pause, a re-capturing of breath before I try and think - and revisit your thoughts, and Harmony’s (the lilting rebuke in her name and your film’s music haunt me) and the others who replenish me – before trying to think again, anew, afresh.

We owe these people, “the jews” in Lyotard’s uncomfortable, unsparing phrase. We owe them. Your film reminds us, compels us to remember. What do we then do, Aryan, Where do we then go?”

I shall end this essai with his response. The important thing, for me, is that Kaganof and Lyotard are (as with Woodward’s essay on Lyotard and Klein) embroiled in a life-affirming entwined philosophical-artistic endeavour that can lead to a non-nihilistic politics; but they are, equally, mired in nihilistic and non-mutual journeys. Kaganof’s early pornological work may seem to have more in common with the libidinal Lyotard, but it seems to me that these later documentaries are creating a new cinematic language that recognises its complicity in general culture but also suggests ways of articulating political responses in terms of aesthetics, production and action that avoid utopianism, but eschew nihilism. Kaganof, I suspect, is less sanguine.

“Dear Matthew,
Thank you for sharing these thoughts with me. I don't know. Living in South Africa is kind of like living in agony. So much is percolating here now. There is so much tension under the surface. Watching the riots in Burkina Faso today I could not help remembering when I was there, in 1995. It seemed like such a peaceful place - to an outsider - and everybody spoke freely about Camoare's assasination of Sankara, it was spoken of in hushed tones, but spoken of nonetheless. The momentum was not there yet to actually do anything. It takes a long time for momentum to build. I sense that things are rolling quickly now in South Africa. But we'll see... maybe I'm wrong? In terms of your question, what to do, where to go... this is where I went, what I did ...”


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