Thursday 14 May 2015

Today I Wrote Nothing, The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms, was where I was going before I got ill. I like the fixed stare he has, the dangerous childish eyes, tight white collar, faintly prognathous thrust to the jaw. Something harrowing about his look, especially next to the red on the cover of this edition. No surprise that he died of starvation in a Russian prison in 1942.

It is a relief that writing like his is out there. Thunderbolts in the shape of pancakes. Tiny stories that defy you to find a meaning, and then punish you by lethargy if you do.


'Tumbling Old Women' is one story I keep going back to.
Because of her excessive curiosity, one old woman tumbled out of her window, fell and shattered to pieces. 
Is how it begins.
When the sixth old woman tumbled out of her window, I got sick of watching them and walked over the Maltsev Market where, they say, a blind man had been given a knit shawl.
Is how it ends.


By then, numbed and pleased, you're beyond the tumbling old women and with the blind man, then without him either. The non sequitur, the strangeness, the lack of resolution, leave you where a long strand of avant-garde art leaves you: a little emptier and freshly composed. Meaninglessness has a kind of peace.


Hard not to read into Daniil Kharms' intense and vehement gaze the physical vastitudes of Russia, the several climates, the uneasy look west and east, revolution, destitution, fairy tales gone wrong. Beyond the lands of Thrice Nine in the empire of Thrice Ten there lies not eternal life but the sane madness, or mad sanity, of Daniil Kharms.

I read Kharms to make my reality more visible, especially the parts that make me angry, like the destruction of landscape (I nearly wrote language), of habitat, creatures scurrying every which way, predators hovering. Writers who do this should have their own shelf.

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