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The Rudiments of Daniil Kharms in Further Pursuit of the Red-haired Man

The Rudiments of Daniil Kharms in Further Pursuit of the Red-haired Man

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THE RUDIMENTSOFDANIILKHARMS:INFURTHERPURSUITOFTHE RED-HAIREDMAN1
Russian literaturehaslongbeen adroitatbringingforth new andfascinatingwritersat theforefront ofliterary experimentation,instyle, language,andstory.Alongwiththenew 'alternativeprose'writers,older ones have continued to berediscovered.MikhailBulgakovandAndreiPlatonov,two of theleadingtalentsattemptingtooperateintheStalinistperiod,did notcome to realprominenceuntil decades aftertheirown time.Discoveries,orneglected figures,fromthe'SilverAge' periodandeven furtherback,as wellas arangeof womenwriters,are stillrecoveringabelatedbut deservedreadership.Anotherintriguing figureto come into his owninrecentyears,acontemporaryofBulgakovandPlatonov,but withanevengreaterresonancefor themodern,or indeed thepostmodern,world,has beenDaniil
Kharms( 905-42).
Thebasicfacts aboutKharms have nowbecomecommonknowledge,but arestillbeworth briefrecapitulationhere. 'Daniil Kharms' was the mainpen-name(andlater theonlyone)ofDaniilIvanovich Iuvachev. The sonofanotable StPetersburgintellectualfigure(I.P.Iuvachev),Daniilwas toachieve,within hislifetime,onlylimited local renownas aLeningrad avant-gardeeccentricand
children'swriterof the
I920o
andI930S.Amongotherpseudonyms,he had
employed'Daniil Dandan' and 'Kharms-Shardam'.2Thepredilectionfor 'Kharms'allegedlyderivesfromthe tension between theEnglishwords 'charms'and 'harms'(plusthe GermanCharme;ndeed,thereisan actual Germansurname'Harms'),butprobabyalso owessomethingto asimilarityinsound to SherlockHolmes(pronounced'Kholms'inRussian).Ishall return to Holmes later.From1925Kharmsbegantoattend'left'poetryreadingsand otheravant-gardeactivities.Hegainedmembershipof theLeningradsectionoftheAll-Russian Unionof Poets(from
I926),
oneof themanypredecessorstotheeventualUnion ofSoviet
Writers,andpublishedtwopoemsinanthologiesin
1926
and
I927.3
Almost
unbelievablynow,thesewere theonly'adult' works Kharms was able topublishinhis lifetime.In
1927
heanda numberoflike-mindedexperimentalwriters,includinghis talentedfriendand close associateAleksandrVvedenskiiandthemajorpoetNikolaiZabolotskii,formedtheliteraryandartisticgroupingOBERIU(thenear-acronymofthe 'AssociationofRealArt').This short-livedmovement,something resemblinga unionbetween Futuristaestheticsand Formalistapproachesandconsideringitselfa 'left flank'oftheliterary
Thisessayis a revisedversion of apaper presentedat the 'Russian ShortStory'seminaratthe SchoolofSlavonic and EastEuropeanStudies,UniversityofLondon,in
1993.
Some oftheintroductorymaterialgivenhereis reworked frommyintroductionto DaniilKharms, Incidences,d. and trans.byNeilCornwell(London:Serpent'sTail,I993).For further contextualdetail,seemy'Introduction:DaniilKharms,BlackMiniaturist'and AnatoliiAleksandrov,'A KharmsChronology',inDaniilKharmsand thePoeticsoftheAbsurd:EssaysandAlaterials,ed.byNeil Cornwell(Basingstokeand London:Macmillan,I99 ),pp.
3-21,
32-46.
2
'Kharms, Khorms, Khkharms,Charms,Pul'khirei D.Kh.,DaniilDandan, Shardam, Garmonius,KarlIvanovichShusterling...-Il'defons,Tsar'Irod, Karakuliambro,BoguslavIks':this listof Kharms'spseudonymsisgivenbyS. N.Chumakov,'Galchin'skii iKharms: oprirode skhodnogo khudozhestvennogoiavleniia',inTekst kontekst:russko-zarubezhnyeiteraturnyeviaziXIX-XXvv. Sbornikauchnykhrudov(Tver':Tverskoi
gosudarstvennyiuniversitet,1992),p.92.3
Foracomprehensivelistof Kharmspublications,from
I926
to
I994,
see Galina Nosova's'Bibliografiia',inKharmsizdatpredstavliaet:bornikmaterialovStPetersburg:M. K.Kharmsizdat/Arsis,1995),pp.121-30.
 
TheRudimentsfDaniilKharms
avant-garde,causedaminor sensationwith ahighlyunconventional theatricaleveningentitled'Trilevykhchasa'('ThreeLeftHours')in
I928.
Thisincludedaperformanceof Kharms'sKafkaesqueabsurdist dramaElizavetaBam.The time forpropagatingexperimentalmodernistart, however,intheaesthetically hardeningStalinist climate of the lateI920swaspast.Hostilejournalisticattention ensured thehurried disbandment oftheOBERIUroup,followinga small numberoffurtherappearances.4Kharms and Vvedenskii withdrew intotherealmofchildren'sliterature,writingforthe children'spublishinghouseDetgiz,knownfondlyas the 'MarshakAcademy'(run bytheredoubtablechildren'swriter,SamuilMarshak,andinvolvingtoo theplaywright EvgeniiShvarts).By
I940
Kharmshadpublishedeleven children'sbooks andhecontributedregularlytothemagazinesEzhandChizh.However,eveninthisfield,anythingoutoftheordinarywas not safe.Kharms,inhisplayful
approachto children'sliterature,usedanumberof
OBERIU-type
devices,already
denounced earlierin aLeningradpaperas'reactionary sleight-of-hand',andattheendof1931Kharms andVvedenskiiwerearrested,imprisoned,andexiled,albeitfairly briefly,to Kursk: thetimes,in apunitivesense,beingstill thenrelativelymoderate.Littleliteraryemploymentwasto be hadthereafter;work atDetgizwaserraticandperiodsofnear-starvationfollowed.Kharms andVvedenskii(thelatterhad moved to the Ukraineinthe mid-93os)somehow survived the'greatpurges'of the1930s.However,theoutbreakof Warbroughtnewdangers:KharmswasarrestedinLeningradinAugustI94I,whileVvedenskii'sarrest occurred thefollowingmonthinKhar'kov. VvedenskiidiedinDecemberof thatyearandKharms(itseems of starvationintheprison hospital)inFebruaryI942.Bothwerelater rehabilitatedduringtheKhrushchevThaw,butthegreatbulk of their adultwritingshad to await the GorbachevperiodforpublicationinRussia.Both starvation andarrestwereanticipatedin anumberofKharms'swritings;indeed,hecanlayclaim tobeingthe'poetofhunger'(notfornothing,asIshallshow,didhetakestronglyto KnutHamsun's novel of thatname).The arrest ofKharms hasrecentlybeen describedbyhiswidow,Marina Malich(now Durnovo),interviewedinVenezuelainI996:Therewas aring.Andwe knewt wasthe GPU....Oh,it's asthoughtwasyesterday.MyGod!Oh,mylord,mylord! ..He said:Iknow,t'smethey'veomefor...'Iwent toopenthe door.Three ittlesortofstrange-lookingypeswereookingorhim.5He wasapparently chargedwithspreadingdefeatistpropaganda:there isevidencethat even at the timehemanagedtoclearhimselfonthischarge, possiblyby
4
Recentpublicationsofand on
OBERIU
nclude theanthologiesVannarkhimeda:onstantinaginov,ikolaiZabolotskii,aniilKharms,ikolaiOleinikov,leksandrvedenskii,gor'Bakhterev,d.byA. A.Aleksandrov
(Leningrad:Khudozhestvennaialiteratura,
I99i),
andPoetygruppy
OBERId,
ed.byM.B. MeilakhandV.I.
Erl',Bibliotekapoeta,Bol'shaiaseriia(St Petersburg:Sovetskiipisatel',
i994);
NikitaZabolotskii,TheLifeofZabolotsky,d.byR.R.Milner-Gulland,rans.byR. R. Milner-GullandndC. G. Bearne(Cardiff:University
of WalesPress,I994),pp.44-87andpassim;AleksandrKobrinskii,'Daniil Kharmsipoetika
OBERIU
(priroda-chelovek-prostrantsvo)',inKharmsizdatpredstavliaet,p.68-76.
5VladimirGlotser,ZhenaKharmsa',Literaturnaiagazeta,5December1996,p.6(translationsremy own).On the circumstancesurroundingKharms'sdeath,andcontroversyverit,see alsoMikhailMeilakh,DaniilKharms:Anecdotaposthuma(Posmertnye nekdotyDaniilaKharmsa)',Russkaiamysl',LiterarySupplement,
23 June 1989,pp.x-xi;AnatoliiAleksandrov,'Mesto smerti Daniila Kharmsa-?',Literaturnaiaazeta,
21February
990,
p.5;V.I.Glotser,'KistoriiposlednegoarestaigibeliDaniila Kharmsa(pis'maM. V.
Malich k N. B.Shan'ko)',Russkaia literatura(1991:I),204-09;E. S.Spitsyna, 'Vy pomnite,Daniil Ivanovich[...]khudozhnikSterligovosmertiDaniilaKharmsa',Russkaiamysl',i8SeptemberI992,p.13.
I34
 
NEILCORNWELL
feigning insanity.He hadbeen amarkedmansince hisfirst arrestinI931and wasprobablyfortunatetoescapedisaster overachildren'spoemin1937,about a manwhowent outtobuytobacco anddisappeared:'Izdomavyshelchelovek'('Outofahousewalkedaman',lateradaptedbyAleksandr Galich intoasongaboutKharmshimself).Of otherformeroberiuty,Oleinikovwasshotin
I937
andZabolotskiiimprisonedthefollowingyear.Inaddition,Kharms's firstwife,Ester Rusakova
(1906-38),
was a member of aprominentoldemigr6revolutionaryfamily,laterpurged;it isintriguingto recall thatKharmswasfor severalyearsVictorSerge'sbrother-in-law(svoiaknthe Russianterm).Aharmlesseccentric litterateur harmsmayhavebeen,butinthe circumstances that was noprotection.Concentratinginthe1930srather more onprose,Kharmsevolved,'forhisdraw'(dliaiashchika),isownidiosyncraticbrands of shortproseand dramaticfragment.Arangeofnon-fictionalwritings (theoretical,philosophical,and even mathematicalpieces)were alsopenned, alongwithdiaries, notebooks,and astill sizablebodyofpoetry.Theboundaries betweengenresarefluid withKharms,asaredistinctionsbetweenfragmentandwhole,finishedand unfinished states. Most of hismanuscriptswerepreservedafterhis arrestbyhisfriend,thephilosopherIakovDruskin,untiltheycould besafelyhandedontoa newgenerationof scholarsordepositedinlibraries.From1962the children'sworksbyKharmsbeganto bereprintedinthe SovietUnion. Isolateditems from the moreanodyneofhishumorouspiecesfor adultsfollowedslowlythereafter,as did mention ofhim in memoirs. Notuntilwellinto theGorbachevperiodofglasnost',hough,from1987,did the belated home flood ofpublications begin;the firstmajor book-lengthcollectionappearedinI988.6Abroad,an awareness ofKharms and theoberiuty eganinthelateI960s,bothinEasternEuropeandinthe West.A first collectioninRussianappearedin
I974,
andinI978anannotatedbut somewhat discontinuouscollected worksbegan publica-tioninBremen,editedunofficiallyfromLeningrad.7It ispresumablynow safe toassume thatvirtuallyall of Kharms'ssurvivingworksareinthepublicdomain,giventheappearanceofthefirst volumes ofa'CompleteCollectedWorks'.8Onerecentlypublished'find' isaselection of rathermilderotica,largely clinicallyvoyeuristicandolfactoryinnature,whichsuitably counterpointscertain tendenciesalreadynoticeableinsome of Kharms'smoremainstreamwriting.9In
I992
hispuppet playTsirk Shardam'TheShardamCircus')waspublishedfor the firsttime.?Inadditionto translations(into English,German,andItalian,atleast),inRussia
OBERIU
evenings,Kharmsshows,and'mono-spectaculars'soon became
6
DaniilKharms,Poletnebesa,d.byA. A. AleksandrovLeningrad:ovetskiipisatel',I988).
7
DaniilKharms,Izbrannoe,d.by GeorgeGibian(Wiirzburg:al Verlag,
1974);
Sobranieroizvedenii,d.by
M. Meilakh and V.Erl',4vols(Bremen:K-Presse,1978-88).
8
DaniilKharms,Polnoeobranieochineniichetyrekhomakh,d.byV. Sazhin(StPetersburg:Akademicheskiiproekt,1997-);thefirst twovolumes(1997)werenotavailable ome at the time of thecompletionof thisessay.Thepreviousmost extensive(butunannotated)all-roundcollectionisDaniilKharmsSochineniia],vols[noeditorsnamed](Moscow:AO'Viktori',994),hereafterSochineniia.9DaniilKharms,Erotika',d.byJean-PhilippeJaccard,nAmourtrotismeansalittiratureusse uXXeiecle,ed.byLeonid Heller(Berne:Lang,
1992),
pp.
213,
223-47.Ashorterselectionof these texts wastranslatedn
Incidences1993),pp.26-25.
10DaniilKharms,'Tsirk Shardam:predstavleniiev2-khdeistviiakh',ed.byAnatoliiAleksandrov,nSovremennaiaramaturgiia1992:
),
227-38(commentaryp.222-26).
I35

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