SUMMER READING: Avant-garde Collection of Nonsense by Daniil Kharms

Daniil, Kharms, russian, avantgarde, nonsense, writer
Kharms and Tatyana Glebova posing for the home movie Unequal Marriage. Photo by P. Mokkiewski. Early 1930's.
What to read at the beach where pages of your favorite comics can get wet and therefore be ruined forever? Not everyone is blessed like Italians which can get their favorite comics Corto Maltese for a very cheap price at any newsstand, so they can buy a copy just for the occasion.

Well maybe cult Russian avant-garde writer Danil Kharms would be a perfect solution for a gadget-free vacation, as his micro-fiction just gently tickles, instead of heavily massaging reader’s brain as most books tend to do. And if it wears out – all the better: books need to work, and a worn out book is a book that did it’s job.

“Today I wrote nothing. Doesn’t matter”, says one of Kharms’s notes, which ended up as a title for American edition of his work, published seventy years later.
Somehow he remained obscure for the English speaking audience, even though he had a cult following among continental- European hippies… And now that anglos have discovered his work – all kind of fancy critics are exercising their posh vocabulary in order to “introduce the author”, a practice which actually scares away the readers, instead of inviting them to approach the read.

“I’m only interested in nonsense”, he wrote in 1930-es…
So skip checking the author: if Kharms’s crazy miniatures were good enough for hippies high on THC, LSD, mushrooms or whatever they were using – his absurd, grotesque and paradox reading would be perfect reading for all who want to depart from gloomily everyday life, while at the same time, thanks to the short form of his “nonsense” – it’s a read that enables you to take a look at the new girl on the beach, or just light a smoke and stare at the seagulls flying in the sky above your beach chair while you turn pages.

Incidents (April 13, 1933)

WRITER: I am a writer!

Self-portrait, 1940

READER: But in my opinion you are horse shit!
(The writer stands several minutes, shaken by this new idea, and then falls down dead. They carry him away.)


II
ARTIST: I am an artist!
WORKER: But in my opinion you are horse shit!
(The artist turned pale, like a sheet,
And then swung like a reed,
And he suddenly died, indeed.
They carry him away.)


III
COMPOSER: I am a composer!
VANYA RUBLYOV: But in my opinion you are horse shit!
(Heavily breathing, the composer sank down. They unexpectedly carry him away.)


IV
CHEMIST: I am a chemist!
PHYSICIST: But in my opinion you are horse shit!
(Without a word the chemist collapses heavily to the floor.)


Blue notebook No. 10 (1937)


There was a red-headed man who had no eyes and ears. He had no hair, so he was called red-headed only conditionally.
He could not speak, since he did not have a mouth. He also had no nose.
He did not have even arms and legs. And he had no stomach, and he had no spine, and he had no backbone, and he had no innards.
He had nothing! So it is not clear whom are we speaking about.

And it would be better if we do not speak about him anymore.