Its Not a Tumor: Neil Goedhals Special Edition
Thursday, February 18, 2010
To tie in with my talk at the Dada South? Symposium tomorrow and the YOUNGBLACKMAN exhibition tomorrow night, I figured that I may as well post a few more entries from my Goedhals-related research. Below is an interview I conducted with Ivor Powell and John Nankin in 2007 as part of my research for the Michaelis monograph project I was working on at the time. The other entry is a (brief) reading of the exhibition version of Trollop Slaap te Veel, although it may seem entirley arbitrary without the exhibition to contextualise it. Only one way to rectify that...
It's Not a Tumor Presents:
Somme: In Conversation with Ivor Powell and John Nankin
Tim Leibbrandt: Ivor, according to the chronology of Ivan Vladislavic’s piece Remembering Neil Goedhals, you would have met him in 1979 when the occupants of the house you were staying in became involved in Dave Piemer and Jeff Zerbst’s play Last Revolt. Neil composed the music for it.
Ivor Powell: That’s right, it’s all coming back to me now. It was more or less the time that I moved in. They were involved with it. I remember it was an absolutely dreadful play. [laughs]
TL: [laughs] Was it?
IP: Unspeakably. It was like a sort of student rebellion thing. But Neil did the music, that’s right. It was a very well-meaning piece of theatre but maybe not that successful.
TL: Do you remember anything about Neil’s music for it?
IP: Well Neil was always interesting. Remember Neil was an engineering student at that time. A very reluctant engineering student. But he always had a completely different edge. That’s the one thing that came out. The actual play was incredibly programmatic and obvious, amateurish I think. Neil always brought something sideways to things. I think everybody noticed that at that time. He was a pathologically creative individual.
TL: According to Ivan’s account he was accompanying a slide sequence that Chas [Unwin] did.
IP: Chas and I were at school together, we were very close friends. I’d been staying with Chas before I moved into this house.
TL: So were you around then when Neil decided to start moving into art?
IP: Ja, but there’s a lot between those two points. After the play we moved into a house in Hunter Street and Neil was in Raleigh Street, which was just around the corner. And sometime around then John came up and he ended up in the Raleigh Street house as well. And Chas was also in that house. But the two houses were more or less interchangeable entities in a lot of ways. The same community of people-
TL: The same core.
IP: Ja. And Neil then dropped out of engineering and I think may have made music for a year or two before moving into art.
TL: According to the bio in the retrospective catalogue it was 1980, so it would have been the year after the play.
IP: So it was straight away. I remember him having a part-time job because there was a certain amount of resistance by his parents to doing the Fine Art thing. He was working at Hillbrow Records and collecting a whole lot of music and playing quite a lot at the time. And actually getting very, very good as a guitarist. When he started off, he clearly had musical talent; he was one of those people that could pick up any musical instrument and play it and had whatever magic it is that makes some people really good. But not that much skill. But while he was at Hillbrow Records he was honing it.
TL: So did he only start on guitar at a later stage?
IP: I think he’d always done it, but he focussed. And got himself up to a professional standard. Which is what is really interesting. Because the moment he did that he thought “Fuck this!” and decided to do something where he had no natural skill at all. And that was one of the things that really fascinated me about Neil. Do you know that Prisoner’s Go-Go Band record?
IP: You don’t really get a sense there; I don’t think...well, you get a sense of talent and so on. But he actually did become pretty skilful as well.
TL: Did his art develop in a similar way once he started at Wits?
IP: No, with art Neil always had it. He never went through a learning phase. He’d already invented himself as an artist. He didn’t sit down with a life model and do figure studies. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He went as an artist not an art student. [To John] Don’t you think that’s true? That when Neil decided that he wanted to do art he already knew what he was and what he wanted to do.
John Nankin: In art?
JN: I met him in 1979 because they were doing Johan van Wyk's play Wieretuin. I moved into this room that Neil used to live in, in Raleigh Street. It was painted grey. He had just moved out and I moved in. There were works in this room that I just chucked out. They were lying on the floor, there was one on the wall ...those were Neil’s first works. I’d been told in Cape Town by Chris Pretorius that there was this guy in Joburg who was incredible, Neil had done the music for his two films. Chris was an artist but he was more interested in dada & surrealism than contemporary art, and Chris’ thing on it was “No. Neil will never make it as an artist. He has no fucking clue about art but he’s a brilliant musician”.
TL: Well you gave me that compilation that Johan van Wyk put out, Neil Goedhals: Sy Slaap and Other Punk Numbers which contained about four tracks of just Neil recording himself with a tape recorder. And there you can definitely pick it up. It’s very interesting actually, it’s the kind of thing that you have to listen to repeatedly because the first time it just comes across as a racket. As you get into it you start to develop an ear for it. amazing, sometimes very subtle things.
IP: But you know Neil really liked, even as a musician, really liked underproduction. Neil always liked that kind of cracked sound, it’s not even distortion actually. The kind of low-tech. And he cultivated that. It’s very much what he did in art as well. Trying to find other values besides the slick. He hated the slick. He was completely pathological about it. It was the time of punk and the first wave of new wave, post-punk. At Hillbrow records he had access to a lot of the music that was coming out at the time. But all along, the things that he used to really like were always the incredibly low-tech stuff. And those were the kinds of models he used, that sort of three chord distortion and shit like that.
TL: There’s a quote in Die Vrye Weekblad in an article about Koos that talks about him as a “music director” and he says “That’s not true, I make noise” ...“geraas”.
IP: Yes, but there is a kind of artistic value there, it’s working with noise. Trying to break down things. And this is, to me at least, the key element of everything that Neil was about. It was this kind of interrogation of received values. If you start off with what’s given and then you take the prettiness away, you take the finish away, you take the melody away. It’s like peeling off layer upon layer upon layer.
JN: I was going to say, Ivor, that Neil used Koos almost like a found-object. Those musicians all brought with them their level of musicianship and I think that appealed to him in a way. And when you watched them play as a band it was very much like Neil adding in things as you would add to a readymade to complete it. He’d write into the space of what they were doing.
IP: It’s the layers again. It was very much one of the key aesthetic projects at that particular time. I mean for all of us at that point. We were all very engaged at one level or another with something that was very prevalent with the avant-garde of that time and actually went back I think more to Marcel Duchamp than any of the other contemporary artists of the time. Neil particularly was very engaged and I don’t think it has been brought out enough the extent to which he was engaged with the ideas of Duchamp. He was pushing people like Kosuth and whatever other Conceptualists at the time but actually when you look at it, he was working in a very Duchampian set of pursuits. Breaking down everything that had to do with art until it’s a game about how close you can come to absolute silence. Which in a way was what Duchamp was about, absolute nothingness. A very kind of late modernistic pursuit. Neil was quite a fan of John Cage as well.
TL: People who incorporated sound and “silence”-
IP: Except Cage did it in a way that wasn’t silence because what you were meant to do was listen to the sounds around you.
TL: Right, so it was refute of silence.
IP: Ja. I do remember that Neil and I had a long conversation around a little note of John Cage’s, where if you go into a, I don’t know what it’s called, “chamber” with all noise, every ambient sound cut out, you still won’t have silence. You hear your blood rushing. Neil was very engaged with those residues and trying to activate those residues. Those things that happen when everything else has been taken away.
TL: It’s interesting that the word “silence” comes up in light of the fact that his music was dealing primarily with noise, its converse.
IP: Yes but noise and silence are complimentary values. You can only have silence as an absence of noise. And noise is predicated-
TL: As a negation of silence.
IP: Except that you can’t have silence. Silence is an intellectual value, it’s not a physical state.
TL: And that comes into his art concerns as well, perceived “bad art” and “good art” function in the same way. “Good art” serves to define “bad art” in opposition, and vice versa.
IP: Yes, but at the level of art Neil was very engaged with removing all expressive values from his art making which is obviously what Duchamp was doing with his readymades. He didn’t make it so it can’t communicate anything about him but of course it does at the same time and I think that that’s the point of the Cage thing. That you can’t have the silence because in the act of choosing-
TL: There’s some intervention-
IP: There’s something. There’s either some sort of affinity or a lack thereof. Duchamp said he’s not making art and he’s not making anti-art. He’s making an art. An absence of an “art vs anti-art” enquiry altogether. Or at least what he was trying to do. The question is can you ever do that?
TL: So was there a general interest in Duchamp then within that circle?
IP: Yes. Well, I was very involved, I did my Honours dissertation on him. Rory Doepel was lecturing at the time and he was very involved with that stuff. There was generally a buzz. There was also [Robert] Rauschenberg and Cage and they were kind of the heirs of what began with Duchamp. And Joseph Beuys.
TL: Along those lines, there was a work by Neil that Kendall Geers was describing in his Hidden and Obscure obituary, which was very Duchampian. It was a kitbag sewn out of an old oil painting on canvas, inside which he had placed all of the paint tubes and brushes that he decided that he wasn’t going to use anymore. It’s very coherent with the idea of a painting as an inherently already an assisted readymade, a rearranging of already-existing paint.
IP: Why Neil was actually so good, I think, was because he grasped that more clearly than just about anyone else. When you take your brushes that you might have used to make paintings you are creating a huge space of virtuality and that word “silence” again. A huge silence that can get filled but doesn’t get filled. That negates itself. It’s like structuring a paradox and Duchamp did that a lot. The point is a lot of people picked up on very superficial things about Duchamp. Neil got to the guts of it and there were a number of pieces that were like that, where he actually achieved a kind of glow or energy. Duchamp also achieved that. Now I know that I’m attributing all sorts of wrong values to it but I think that that’s the truth of it, the depth. There is such a thing as a good readymade and a bad readymade. I know it’s contradictory but there is. And Neil was actually capable of making good ones.
TL: You say capable, do you think he ever achieved that during his lifetime?
IP: Well putting his paint brushes in a canvas kitbag would be a good readymade; in that sense. The other thing about Neil was that he had this pathological end to his character. He was obsessively hypochondriac in a lot of ways. Very fascinated by his own processes and balefully fascinated by his own bodily functions and things like that. And he also had this obsession about psychiatric concerns. He couldn’t get away from it. And his work becomes particularly interesting because it happens at the intersection of the public which is a kind of intellectual process and the private which is an own psychological process. But in a way that doesn’t reduce to expression. He’s not like Van Gogh who imbues a sunflower with his own psychic process. Neil worked in a funny and deconstructed way. And I think that it’s quite unusual and where he was really good, that’s where the stuff came through.
TL: Can you suggest an example?
IP: Waiting Room is a very good example. It has another level even though he’s achieved it through completely unexpected means. [To John] Don’t you agree?
JN: With readymades Neil went through phases. I mean, we knew him for a long time, this was twelve years after I guess when you met him [turns to Ivor], Twelve years, so he went through phases. In the one stage when he used to talk a lot about readymades it became quite playful. This was after he made Waiting Room, which for him was quite serious attempt to make a big painting. You know, “real art”, which was quite a thing for him. He was always fighting against that tendency as much as he was drawn to it as he was very aspirational but at the same time historically clever about what it meant to aspirational. He was always fighting against these urges that one inherits from history. But at a later stage he started to become quite playful with readymades and then the focus, then the game became about “when do you say it’s completed?” And he’d make completely minimal readymades which might be a piece of that Fasson paper that’s like marble, with a knife lying on it. And I’d look at it without any idea of what he was trying to do, and then I’d just relate it to my way of seeing things which is that the paper reminds me of a morgue. This marble with a knife on it evokes a morgue and/or a butcher’s shop. And these aren’t obscure references so they’re there for him as well, you can take it for granted that they are. But then what’s interesting about it is that the marble is this really solid thing, it’s a solid material & a solid fake, even the fake has a really solid presence ..but its just a cheap covering, thin plastic used for kitchen shelving. This particular example he actually made for a poster for a dancer.
IP: One of the things that Duchamp particularly introduced into consciousness was “thisness”. “This” knife at “that” angle-
JN: At this point in time-
IP: in this way, and that somehow was important and you can read all of that out but at the end of the day, it’s all somehow held there by this unique, mysterious, enormously significant yet totally irrelevant way at the same time.
JN: Everything reduced to belief. All the history and all the theory and everything, somehow transformed into beliefs. He knows that it’s like this but it’s not something that he’s questioning logically or that one can interrogate logically. It is like this and tomorrow it might be like that and it might be something else. Like he’s standing at this point where all these tunnels intersect and you can only see into all of these tunnels if you have access to a particular idea or belief
TL: It seems to relate to a certain underlying idea within much of his work of the relationship between Point A and Point B-
JN: And the double dating in a lot of his work.
TL: -Yes, and even materials like formalin, as something that can preserve something else within a specific moment, resisting linear progression.
JN: Yes what was this formalin thing? He went through a long period of formalin being one of his things that he was always working with.
TL: Right, well the other work that the Johannesburg Art Gallery bought was titled Formalin.
JN: But he also referred to formalin within other works. Quite early on. Yesterday I was trying to get myself back into that time and thinking “What would conceptual art mean to somebody who was a student who didn’t have access to the internet, who had access to the Wits libraries- there was also quite a good art library in Joburg-and we had access to the odd magazines (which in those days were better than the ones that we have today). What did conceptual art mean? You know if Neil said that he wanted to paint in a no style way.
IP: It was fucking thrilling. I just remember that. I started off as an English student and I sort of blundered into art history as a filler course and it was so fucking exciting to find these things that people were doing and there was this sense of being able to totally reinvent the world. And just reinvent yourself.
JN: But who were those people?
IP: What do you mean?
JN: Who were the conceptual artists that someone like Neil would know about?
IP: Well Neil was...Duchamp, number one. I mean really number one.
TL: Basically all Art after Duchamp was fundamentally conceptual.
IP: Ja, but Neil was into a whole lot of people that I never really got excited by. Joseph Kosuth and-
JN: - like how it’s not about an aesthetic, if you construct an idea, the idea will construct the work. And I think that at some point Neil’s work changed. When I was first aware of his work, it was …. he didn’t produce objects of presence. They were just these mucky, scrapey, scratchy, scribbly kind of things that obviously a whole turmoil of ideas and feelings went into but it wasn’t there. It was quite private and quite turgid and a lot of people couldn’t understand why he was trying when he had such a gift for music... At some point his work changed and became quite orderly and quite flat. It’s the painterly equivalent of Kosuth’s installations where there would be two chairs and something hanging on the wall and that’s all it is.
TL: Usually with some text functioning as a legend of sorts.
JN: One of the things that Neil was playing with all the time was creating codes, but they weren’t codes that were intended to be decoded. The meaning of the work wasn’t in the code. The code was part of his game and part of his process. All of these references to dates and things that people interpret as him planning his death two years before.... It drives me nuts. [To Ivor] Do you agree with that?
IP: Yes I do agree.
JN: When I say code it’s like a slightly more obsessive version of a metaphor or symbol. So if he painted a rocket or a loaf of bread or a gun, those representations which were often based on those shitty sign-writing images. They functioned for him almost like codes. They didn’t represent just “gun”. They represented everything in Neil’s head that related to “gun”. The same with certain dates and things.
TL: That idea of the interpretation of codes being relative, it’s kind of bringing those Roland Barthes-esque notions that the viewer brings with them all of the inherencies of lived experience, it’s a floating signifier.
IP: One of the things the code does is it takes it away from the person. It’s another way of building things up. Duchamp also used those weird non-mathematics but as a way of taking the personal out of it and allowing something else to happen.
JN: Neil was very interested in the occult. Not in the way that he was a believer or a follower of a particular set of beliefs, but he seemed to accept all kinds of beliefs as ideas, and he presented ideas as if they were beliefs.... everything was a belief to him. I’ve always had a problem with people calling Neil a conceptualist. I think that there’s an element of the magician in him. And there’s an element like Joseph Beuys where he creates a work which is imbued; not just with meaning but with life. And it’s independent from him, it’s over there. It is a kind of force.
IP: It’s what Duchamp called the “art coefficient”. It’s the life of the artwork once it leaves you, and it’s accumulation of interpretations.
JN: And that’s probably true of all artworks but in a way more so of a certain kind. I’ve said that Neil’s artworks were like the knight’s moves, you never see the whole process....
IP: But it’s also obviously true. When you introduce a sense of planning, of strategy. Then it moves onto a different level. Then you’re playing with the aura of the art object. Duchamp was completely successful and I think that Neil was certainly involved and very engaged with that kind of idea.
TL: So Neil saw himself as a constructer of art-object aura?
JN: Neil saw himself very much as an artist. It sounds weird today to say this but it was quite rare in those days for someone to say “I am an artist”. I was with Neil once, we picked up a guy who was thumbing for a lift on the way back from us working on the set for Dave Peimer’s play. He introduced himself and said “I’m Neil Goedhals, I’m an artist”. And I used to just say that I was a carpenter, I was completely ashamed in 1982 to say “I’m trying to be an artist”...Fuck man, the country was burning! People were starving, people were being tortured. It wasn’t something to be proud of. It was like saying “My parents have got some scraps of excess income that I’m living off and fucking around.” Neil didn’t feel that at all. He was one of those contemporary artists and that’s what he had chosen to be.
IP: Ja, but in a way his sense of being an artist wasn’t “I’m somebody who makes art works”. It was I am an artist; every breath I take is as an artist. And that’s the big difference between where he was coming from and where everyone else was coming from. In a way what he made was less important than what he was. What he made was a sedimentation of processes and ways of being involved with the world. Possible modes of being.
TL: So it almost comes back to that formalin idea again, I am an artist and my state of definition is timelessly as such.
JN: I don’t know how his artistic vision would have developed had he lived another ten years, one doesn’t know. I was talking to Marcel [van Heerden] of KOOS yesterday and he cut in exactly on that point, that everything Neil did was art, therefore he killed himself as art. That’s kak.
JN: Of course it’s kak. To me, it’s kind of sinful to say that because you deny that person their pain. When he jumped, you know, he must have been in such fucking turmoil. And I’ve heard so much now about the effects of this seizure medication that he was on.
TL: It presents his death as a sort of tragedy’s grand finale.
JN: And of course Neil, with his weird intelligence, his historic sense and his ambition. If you’ve got that kind of ambition, you don’t want to overplay your hand. If you can get away with instead of handing in an answer, handing in a question...you do that. You don’t compete, you know, because then you’re already playing the high art game, and that’s death. It’s unavoidable in a sense but you try. So Neil would never have attempted to cap his life with a big statement, it’s not within his rationale.
TL: Another problem with that interpretation is that people then start applying it to everything he did as a build-up.
JN: All his artworks are about his suicide!
TL: Everything from 1990 functions as a miniature suicide note. It’s such a-
JN: It’s Crap!
TL: -fascist way of means of interpretation. So Tombstone has to be read this way, Cul-De-Sac has to be read this way.
IP: I’ve been thinking a lot about sextants. Neil did a lot of work about sextants in the way of always measuring things up.
JN: He was like a fucking mad scientist.
IP: He was. And a lot of what he was doing always goes back to insomnia. Insomniacs are kind of cursed with altered states of being.
JN: Absolutely, the world presses in on insomniacs relentlessly...
IP: Sleep deprivation kind of fragments and shifts your psychology and perception and that sort of thing. And very much what Neil was about as an artist was experimenting with derangements of consciousness but then trying to find the relationship between that object which doesn’t change and the different ways of seeing it. He pries it loose from the everyday into different, less stable ways of looking at the work.
JN: In retrospect I think that work in your flat for the ‘Possession’ exhibition was really good.
IP: I also think so.
JN: And I was wondering about this whole thing of being a painter, which he invested a lot into at the time because that’s what he was doing at Wits. I mean he carried on with it and he believed in it, but I think that eventually he would have found his way back to installations and working three dimensionally and maybe incorporating sound and performance into his work once again. He had a gift for those things. This thing in Ivor’s flat, he used some of that Fasson effect paper, the wood grain and ran it up from the floor, creating this illusion of the floor curling up into the wall. It was actually quite alarming. You had to keep it in mind all the time in case you stepped in it, because you would have gone right through it and ruined his artwork. It ran into this scene that was painted as a link to his painted Freud head.
IP: It was actually a very good work. And there was a chair as well.
JN: And a radio.....
IP: What makes that very good is that there was a thing about flatbed painting. And that was
what Rauschenberg particularly was doing. It was about taking objects away from...gravity essentially. And make them exist in consciousness in a different way. In a funny way he played that out incredibly successfully in the piece because he takes the floor and the floor becomes the wall. And then you have the hanging elements of Freud who was very much a figure in Neil’s consciousness.
TL: It sounds very ambitious.
IP: One of the really important truths about Neil, I think it’s generally the truth about artists, artists are often successful insofar as they fail to meet the rigours of what they plan for themselves [laughs]. Neil was second-guessing everything about art making, like that incredibly crude drawing, “Styless style” and that sort of thing. He wanted things to mean absolute nothing and to have no references. So he was second-guessing all the time what he expressed and conveyed. What makes him particularly interesting is that he could never get away from his own pathology; it always imposed itself on his work in one way or another. That deranged, altered sense of reality, he could always bring to things.
TL: Could you suggest a work that exemplifies Neil producing successful art through failing to achieve his original intentions?
IP: I must say, I have a very generalised memory of Neil’s works as such. I don’t particularly recall any one piece. I had a sense of what he was doing and what he was about. I suppose it’s because there was so much, but also because one always read it as a process as opposed to manufacturing work.
TL: I’m sure that he’d love that.
IP: I just want to go back to this thing about the intersection between theory and pathology with Neil, I really do think it’s the crucial-
IP: -Crux of what makes him really interesting. People like Kosuth I found fucking boring because there’s just theory, there’s nothing else. There’s no kind of...life space.
TL: Well there’s that quote in Kosuth’s seminal paper Art After Philosophy that talks about how aesthetics as a branch of philosophy are irrelevant to art as Art. The second part of the paper sees him drawing a distinction between the Conceptual artists and those incorrectly (in his opinion) classified as such. The defining criteria for considering someone as a Conceptualist being “usage of theory as a whole”. There can’t be a fragmentation of the theory because that negates the principal of “theory as medium”. As soon as you fragment it, you bring in other influences and it doesn’t count as “pure” conceptualism.
IP: Maybe some people would find that interesting. I mean, I don’t find it uninteresting as theory but-
TL: That kind of thing can exhaust itself very quickly.
IP: Ja, the problem is that I don’t think it actually leaves any work behind. It leaves a piece of theory behind. And that’s where it’s interesting. Neil tried very hard to make theory, to embody theory but he’s only interesting to the extent that he failed to do that. The “Neil” came through, and it’s that “somme” thing, which is very key for me. Do you know this story John?
JN: Which story is it?
IP: He got kicked out of the army after about four months.
JN: I had forgotten about it, Ivan mentions it.
TL: He does, but this is the part that Ivan forgot.
IP: What he did was he refused. They said “tree aan” and he said “Ek sal nie”. And they fucked him up for about four months.
JN: Was he sent to one of the psychiatric wards?
IP: Eventually. The army was brutal. And when it came down to it, they said to him “Maar hoekom sal jy nie?” and he said “Somme.” And to everything, he said “Somme.” For four months, and eventually they sent him off for psychiatric evaluation and he eventually got kicked out. But it was just “somme”, that one word.
JN: You know there’s one thing that I’ve never heard anyone say about Neil and I’m going to say it now because it’s something that I’m thinking while I listen to all of this. It’s that we mustn’t underestimate what a strong person he was. He had a fucking stubborn strength that was fearless. Which is strange because he wasn’t a rough, tough person at all. But he’s the kind of person who if he refused to move, you’d have to kill him to get him out of the way. That was Neil.
IP: Ja, somme.
Date of interview: 14 October 2008
“Wat Doen die Aap”
“A Reading Generated by a Particular Combination of Trollop Slaap te Veel, the Poetry of Johan van Wyk and the Music of Neil Goedhals”
Sy slaap, die bye snork
Sy slaap, die jakkalse gaap,
Sy slaap die maan staan naak,
Wat doen die aap?
Wat doen die aap?
Sy slaap naak.
Johan van Wyk- Sy Slaap Naak
Considered alongside the poetic narrative of Trollop Slaap te Veel, there’s clearly a substantial amount of sleeping being undertaken by van Wyk’s protagonists. “To sleep perchance to dream” as the Shakespearean adage goes, although there is very little absolution to be found in Trollop’s dreaming. Instead one finds oneself in the midst of a nightmarish apartheid haze, a disjointed miasma of fragmented encounters with the characters that collectively leave Trollop with no apparent option but to slaap te veel.
More than aptly conveyed by Nikos Konstandaras’s disquieting photography, there is very little background information provided as to Trollop’s relationship to these characters. It is suggested that he has been discharged from the military due to his recollection of his time in the Militêre Hospitaal, where the Colonel “wil my skokbehandeling gee” and “my hare laat sny”. Being discharged due to perceived insanity is a trait common to both van Wyk and Goedhals. The journalist’s question “Is julle neo-nazis?” certainly lends further support to the notion that Trollop has found himself under investigation by the government of the time. Although it may all be a dream.
And that’s wherein everything unravels. Trollop finds himself unable to believe in the ideals of a government allegedly enacting “the will of God”, and extends this to the point where he finds himself unable to believe in anything.
“Ek glo nie in nasies nie. Ek glo nie aan God nie. Ek glo nie regerings kan orde handhaaf nie,” he declares to the journalist in the book’s concluding segment. One can’t help but draw parallels in an Aesthetic sense:
“In precisely this way…writing…by refusing to assign a ‘secret’, an ultimate meaning, to the text (and to the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases- reason, science, law.” (Barthes, 1968: 150)
Goedhals, for his part, acknowledges the sentiments in the song And Now We’re Here, but poses the question “what not?”
And now we’re here, now we’re here.
What you going to do about it?
What you going to say about it?
What you going to feel about it?
Which is not to say that Trollop remains unperplexed by his predicament, pondering “Is dit naief om niks te wees nie?”
Ultimately, one returns to this notion of fragmentation. With nothing left to believe in, one is stuck within a perpetually fragmented state where dreaming and “reality” become interchangeable due to the lack of establishable meaning in either. When either becomes too much for Trollop, the result is the same, “Hy voel soos ‘n boom met ‘n klomp swaaiende ape in.”
Entrenched in apathy, Trollop finds himself a passive observer in both states of consciousness. The will to be proactive has long since dissolved although the question of why people persist in adhering to a moral code continues to puzzle him. “Waarin ek belangstel is waarom daar weldoeners is as daar geen God is wat ons eendag gaan oordeel nie”. And then there is the question of where exactly he stands. One has speculated on his status as a “conscientious objector”, which none the less renders him equitable with the SS in the eyes of the state. As Trollop puts it, when morality is relative, “Ek kan nog besluit wat ek is nie”.
This relativity extends into the rest of the photo comic’s insomniac’s dream, the lines between reality and dream are blurred as tangible supporting structures fall away and all that remains is a series of a occurrences, open to interpretation by those involved. In a sense, this takes the form of an encroachment. “Dit veroorsaak dat ons altyd in iemand anders se droom lewe”. Thus whether it be the Colonel in the Military Hospital, the hypocrisy-imbued “Jesus-Aanhanger” of his dreams or the irritant of Martha in “reality”, Trollops’ haze is populated by those perceived to be living in his dreams.
In consideration of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, Geoffrey Hartman observes:
The discourse of the analyst remains within the affective sphere of the discourse it interprets; it is as much a supplement as a clarification; and instead of an aseptic and methodological purism, which isolates the interpreter’s language from the so-called object-language, creating in effect two monologues…”The analysand’s discourse, Andre Green has written, is a stream of words that…the analyst cannot shut up in a box. The analyst runs after the analysand’s words. (Hartman, 1985: 375)
Thus whilst Trollop may indeed “voel soos ‘n boom met ‘n klomp swaaiende ape in”, the question, in turn is posed, “Wat doen die ape?”
Sy slaap naak ook.
- Barthes, R. 1968. Death of the Author. in Lodge, D and Wood, N (eds.).2000 (2nd edition). Modern Criticism and Theory: a Reader. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Ltd.
- Hartman, G. 1985. The Interpreter’s Freud. in Lodge, D and Wood, N (eds.).2000 (2nd edition). Modern Criticism and Theory: a Reader. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Ltd.