The anti-canon


Influx Press have a nice feature on their blog, The Anti-Canon, a “collection of short essays focusing on writers less well known, positioned outside of the literary mainstream or simply deserving of more attention”. A little like Writers No One Reads, another series after our own hearts. The brilliant Daniil Kharms makes Influx’s list.

A few months before 36 year old outlaw writer Daniil Kharms starves to death in a psychiatric prison in 1942, a German bomb hits a block of flats during the siege of Leningrad. One side of the block is destroyed. On the other side, windows implode. Inside one of those shattered apartments. Kharms’ second wife, Marina Malich and philosopher Yakuc Drukin frantically gather up his papers and notebooks. These fragments floating through the bomb blasted air are his collected works. They’re what’s left of him.

Included in the notes are a series of thirty violent, absurd prose miniatures called ‘Incidents’. The writing is sparse. Plots stripped to the brutal bare bones. In the first piece, even those narrative bones are reduced to nothing,

The Red-Haired Man

There was a red-haired man who had no eyes or ears. Neither did he have any hair, so he was called red-haired theoretically.

He couldn’t speak, since he didn’t have a mouth. Neither did he have a nose.

He didn’t even have any arms or legs. He had no stomach and he had no back and he had no spine and he had no innards whatsoever. He had nothing at all! Therefore there’s no knowing whom we are even talking about.

In fact it’s better that we don’t say any more about him. (1937)

Kharms’ narrative writes itself into extinction before your very eyes. But this is not simply an exercise in absurdist humour. It is the reality of his life in Stalinist Russia. At the time of writing Incidences Kharms had been banned from publishing any of his work after a decade of harassment and censorship. Many of his associates had been sent to gulags, never to return. These secretive short works were written on the very precipice of existence.

More Kharms over at Tandeta.