The fiction featured in the August 6, 2007 issue of the New Yorker, So It Is in Life, is by Daniil Kharms, a Russian author with a short, hard life extinguished under Stalin in 1942. His work, just now published in English for the first time, has drawn critical comparisons to Beckett, Camus, and Ionesco. Wrote Kharms in 1937: “I am interested only in nonsense, only in that which has no practical meaning.”
Here is the editor’s introduction to the short short stories published in the New Yorker:
Born in St. Petersburg in 1905, Daniil Kharms was one of the founders, in 1928, of OBERIU, or Association of Real Art, an avant-garde group of writers and artists who embraced the ideas of the Futurists and believed that art should operate outside the rules of logic. In his lifetime, Kharms produced several works for children, but his writing for adults was not published. In 1931, Kharms was charged with anti-Soviet activities and briefly exiled from Leningrad. In 1941, he was arrested by the N.K.V.D. for making “defeatist statements”; sentenced to incarceration in the psychiatric ward of a prison hospital, he died of starvation the following year, during the siege of Leningrad. It wasn’t until the late nineteen-seventies that Kharms’s playful and poetic work began to appear in mainstream publications in Russia. Several books followed, as did festivals in Kharms’s honor and critical comparisons to Beckett, Camus, and Ionesco. The following texts have never been published in English.
Each of the pieces in the New Yorker is only at most a handful of paragraphs long. Here is one of my favorite passages, written in 1932-33, which eloquently describes and issue I deal with all the time in my own work — remembering ideas long enough to get them down on paper:
I suddenly had the impression that I had forgotten something, some incident or important word.
I painstakingly tried to remember this word, and it seemed to me that it began with the letter “M.” No, no! Not with an “M” at all but with an “R.”
Reason? Rapture? Rectangle? Rib? Or: Mind? Misery? Matter?
I was making coffee and singing to myself all the words that started with “R.” Oh, what a tremendous number of words I made up beginning with the letter “R”! Perhaps among them was that one word, but I didn’t recognize it, taking it to be the same as all the others.
Then again, perhaps that word didn’t come up.
Notes the Wikipedia entry on Kharms (italics are mine):
In 1928, Daniil Kharms founded the avant-garde collective OBERIU, or Union of Real Art. He embraced the new movements of Russian Futurism laid out by his idols, Khlebnikov, Kazimir Malevich, and Igor Terentiev, among others. Their ideas served as a springboard. His aesthetic centered around a belief in the autonomy of art from real world rules and logic, and the intrinsic meaning to be found in objects and words outside of their practical function.
By the late 1920s, his antirational verse, nonlinear theatrical performances, and public displays of decadent and illogical behavior earned Kharms—who always dressed like an English dandy with a calabash pipe—the reputation of being a talented but highly eccentric “fool” or “crazy-man” in Leningrad cultural circles.
Notes the Wikipedia entry on the OBERIU group:
The great Russian artist Kazimir Malevich gave the OBERIU shelter in his newly created arts institute for a while, letting them rehearse in one of the auditoriums. It is reported that he said to the young “Oberiuty” (as they are called in Russian): “You are young trouble makers, and I am an old one. Let’s see what we can do.” Malevich also gifted a book of his own (“God Is Not Cast Down”) to one of the founders of OBERIU (Daniil Kharms), with the relevant inscription “Go and stop progress!”.
Go and stop progress! Beautiful.