Today’s post is about the genius of Russian Absurd – Daniil Kharms (1905-1942).
I am only interested in “nonsense”; only in that which makes no practical sense. I am interested in life, only in its absurd manifestations. #quote
He is mostly known for his whimsical poems for children, but his heart belongs to absurd. His stories (or plots) are particularly fond of tantalising comic negations: the beginning that is not a beginning, information that is not information, the story that is not a story.
‘Once upon a time, there lived a four-legged crow. Strictly speaking, it had five legs, but that’s not worth talking about.’
Deaths in his stories contain countless comic reversals, fantastical or nonsensical outcomes, as well as outbursts of unmotivated violence.
An old woman leans out of her window and, ‘because of her excessive curiosity,’ leans too far: she falls to the ground and shatters to pieces. A second old woman leans out of her window to see what has happened to the first – and also leans too far, tumbling to the same fate. More women follow suit ( third, fourth, fifth, sixth), a chain that ends only because the narrator of this story, ‘sick of watching them,’ breaks off to go to the market.
Khrams was a very eccentric person in real life:
- Once, when he visited his friends for dinner, he took off his pants in the hall, and continued to the dining room in his boxers… as he said – ‘to shock the ladies’.
- An old neighbor reported seeing Khrams standing often on the balcony, absolutely naked. To the police, he explained: “I believe, those who are passing by… would prefer to look at the young naked guy in the window than at the wrinkled and dressed old aunt”.
- He had 40 pen names.
- He created his own language and used it for writing his personal diaries.
- He didn’t like kids but published more than 20 books for children. He said he wrote it only to make money. He once said: “All children and old people should be brought to the center of a town and thrown into a huge hole in the ground.”
- He was accused of anti-soviet activity and escaped execution by simulating/playing a psychopath. He was sent to a clinic, where he died.
- Kharms died young (36 years old).
- His favorite authors: Knut Hamsun, Gogol, Lewis Carroll.
Kharms’s work has been classed as:
- absurdist (similar to Beckett)
- a black humorous allegory (similar to Kafka)
- an Aesopian anti-totalitarian prose
A joke from Kharms: “My phone number ends with 32-08. Easy to remember – 32 teeth and 8 fingers”.
Tony Wood, Art is a Cupboard! (London Review of Books; 8 May, 2008)
Next post – Humorous story “Murder in the Hot Cocoon Hotel”