By Brendan Byrne.
The opening and titular story of the NYRB’s second collection of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s short fiction Autobiography of Corpse features a typical (for the time) protagonist, a journalist from the provinces with a typical (for the time) quest, the search for a room in newly Soviet Moscow which is accomplished in a deeply atypical (for any time) manner. Housing is a theme which crops up repeatedly in Russian fiction from the 1920s, most notably in Zamyatin’s story ‘The Cave’ and Serge’s novel City Under Siege. What makes Krzhizhanovsky’s fiction stand out is not its unacceptability to the Soviet state’s nascent notions of socialist realism (both Zamyatin, Serge, and host of other writers were censored, exiled, ignored, and/or shot) but its combination of post-Gogolian fantastical grotesque and perverse Cartesian metaphysics with explicit Kantian overtones. Krzhizhanovsky isn’t just weird for Moscow in 1925, he’s weird for anywhere and everytime.