Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Daniil Kharms.


Daniil Kharms, the genius of absurdism, was born 110 years ago, on 30 December 1905.

His was a hard path to the hearts of readers. He was first arrested in 1931 as part of the 'anit-Soviet children's writers' case but escaped with internal exile. For the second time he was denounced by an NKVD spy within his own literary circle and arrested in 1941, soon after the beginning of Hitler's invasion of Russia.

Kharms died in prison in 1942, most likely of starvation, during the hardest winter of the siege of Leningrad. (read this Wikipedia article.)

Until rediscovery in 1970s he was mostly known for his works for children. Luckily, much of his literary work for adults survived thanks to his family and friends and began trickling out after the first English compilation by George Gibian and then under Gorbachev's glasnost.

I bought Gibian's book, Russia's Lost Literature of the Absurd, (link to Amazon, different cover) at a sale in the 80s. His Blue Notebook #10 ("Голубая тетрадь №10") still gives me chills. (From here, with a link to a Kharms page with a searchable collection of his works.)

Blue Notebook #10

There was a red-haired man who had no eyes or ears. Neither did he have any hair, so he was called red-haired theoretically.

He couldn't speak, since he didn't have a mouth. Neither did he have a nose.

He didn't even have any arms or legs. He had no stomach and he had no back and he had no spine and he had no innards whatsoever. He had nothing at all! Therefore there's no knowing whom we are even talking about.

In fact it's better that we don't say any more about him.

Watch two readings in Flemish (Dutch) and in English on Moving Poems here and here. A Russian version with a video is on the Russian side of Tetradki here

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