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Editor’s pick: Daniil Kharms

Credit: Portrait of Daniil Kharms by Tatyana Druchinina

Who is Daniil Kharms?

One of the most obscure and intriguing persons that came out of the Russian avant-garde movements at the beginning of the former century. Many times censored by the soviet government, exiled to Kursk for more than a year. Ten years later, he was arrested again and died under mysterious circumstances (most probably because of starvation) while being forced into a madhouse. Daniil Kharms is quite a controversial persona. He was a poet, a writer, and a playwright. Kharms claimed that he was interested only in nonsense; that he didn't like children, at the same time, he wrote children's literature, etc. His play "Elizaveta Bam" is considered by many as an early example of the Theatre of Absurd before the rise and later explosion of absurdist literature in Western Europe. Daniil Kharms is also one of the founders of the avant-garde poetic movement OBERIU, where many other poets such as Alexander Vvedensky, Nikolay Zabolotsky, Konstantin Vaginov, and Igor Bakhterev participated as well as the painter Kazimir Malevich – one of the pioneers of the non-objective art and founder of Suprematism.

For more information about his biography, you can check here.

Below you can enjoy some of his dark-humored absurdist short stories.


4 stories from Daniil Kharms' Incidencies (1939)

Blue notebook no. 2

Once there was a redheaded man without eyes and without ears. He had no hair either, so that he was a redhead was just something they said.
He could not speak, for he had no mouth. He had no nose either.
He didn't even have arms or legs. He had no stomach either, and he had no back, and he had no spine, and no intestines of any kind. He didn't have anything at all. So it is hard to understand whom we are really talking about.
So it is probably best not to talk about him any more.

Father and daughter

Natasha had two sweets. Then she ate one of the sweets and one sweet remained. Natasha placed the sweet on the table in front of her and started crying.
Suddenly she has a look and on the table in front of her there lie two sweets again.
Natasha ate one sweet and again started crying.
Natasha cries and keeps one eye on the table to see whether a second sweet will appear. But a second sweet did not appear.
Natasha stopped crying and started to sing. she sang and sang away, and suddenly died.
Natasha's father arrived, took Natasha and carried her to the house manager.
- Here - says Natasha's father - will you witness the death?
The house manager blew on his stamp and applied it to Natasha's forehead.
- Thank you - said Natasha's father and carried Natasha off to the cemetery.
But at the cemetery was the watchman Matvei; he always sat by the gate and didn't let anyone into the cemetery, so that the dead had to be buried right on the street.
The father buried Natasha on the street, removed his cap, placed it on the spot where he had interred Natasha and went off home.
He arrived home and Natasha was already sitting there. How come? It's very simple: she climbed out from under the earth and ran back home.
What a thing! The father was so taken aback that he collapsed and died.
Natasha called the house manager, saying to him: - Will you witness a death?
The house manager blew on his stamp and applied it to a sheet of paper and then on the same sheet of paper he wrote: 'This certifies that so and so has actually died.'
Natasha took the piece of paper and carried it off to the cemetery for burial. But the watchman Matvei tells Natasha: - I'm not letting you in on any account.
Natasha says: - I just want to bury this piece of palmer.
And the watchman says: - Don't even ask. Natasha interred the piece of paper on the street, placed her socks on the spot where she had interred the piece of paper and went off home.
She gets home and the father is already sitting there at home and is already playing against himself on a miniature billiard table with little metal balls.
Natasha was surprised but said nothing and went off to her room to grow up.
She grew and grew and within four years she had become a grown-up young lady. But Natasha's father had become aged and bent. But they will both remember how they had taken each other for dead and so they will fall on the divan and just laugh. Sometimes they will laugh for about twenty minutes.
And their neighbours, as soon as they hear this laughter, immediately put on their coats and go off to the cinema. And one day they went off like that and never came back again. Seemingly, they were run over by a car.

Symphony no. 2

Anton Mikhailovich spat, said "yuck", spat again, said "yuck" again, spat again, said "yuck" again and left. To Hell with him. Instead, let me tell about Ilya Pavlovich.
Ilya Pavlovich was born in 1893 in Constantinople. When he was still a boy, they moved to St. Petersburg, and there he graduated from the German School on Kirchnaya Street. Then he worked in some shop; then he did something else; and when the Revolution began, he emigrated. Well, to Hell with him. Instead, let me tell about Anna Ignatievna.
But it is not so easy to tell about Anna Ignatievna. Firstly, I know almost nothing about her, and secondly, I have just fallen of my chair, and have forgotten what I was about to say. So let me instead tell about myself.
I am tall, fairly intelligent; I dress prudently and tastefully; I don't drink, I don't bet on horses, but I like ladies. And ladies don't mind me. They like when I go out with them. Serafima Izmaylovna have invited me home several times, and Zinaida Yakovlevna also said that she was always glad to see me. But I was involved in a funny incident with Marina Petrovna, which I would like to tell about. A quite ordinary thing, but rather amusing. Because of me, Marina Petrovna lost all her hair - got bald like a baby's bottom. It happened like this: Once I went over to visit Marina Petrovna, and bang! she lost all her hair. And that was that.

Falling old ladies

Because of her excessive curiosity, an old lady fell out of the window and smashed into the ground.
Another old lady looked out of the window, staring down at the one who was smashed, but out of her excessive curiosity she also fell out of the window and smashed into the ground.
Then the third old lady fell out of the window, then the fourth did, then the fifth.
When the sixth old lady fell out of the window, I got bored watching them and went to Maltsev market where, they say, someone gave a woven shawl to a blind.
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