Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms

by Daniil Kharms

Other authorsMatvei Yankelevich (Translator)
Hardcover, 2007

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Overlook Duckworth, 2007.

Description

Daniil Kharms has long been heralded as one of the most iconoclastic writers of the Soviet era, but the full breadth of his achievement is only in recent years, following the opening of Kharms's archives, being recognized internationally. In this brillant translation by Matvei Yankelevich, English-language readers now have a comprehensive collection of the prose and poetry that secured Kharms's literary reputation--a reputation that grew in Russia even as the Soviet establishment worked to suppress it. A master of formally inventive poetry and what today would be called "micro-fiction," Kharms built off the legacy of Russian futurist writers to create a uniquely deadpan style that developed out of, and in spite of, the absurdities of everyday life in Stalinist Russia. Featuring the acclaimed novella "The old woman" and darkly humorous short prose sequence "Events" (Sluchai), Today I wrote nothing also includes dozens of short prose pieces, plays, and poems long admired in Russia, but never before available in English. Including a comprehensive introduction to Kharms's work and life and notes on the text, this bold look at the work of a neglected master is both an invaluable contribution for students of Russian literature, and an exciting discovery for readers of innovative writing eveywhere.--Book jacket flap.… (more)

Media reviews

Reading Kharms makes us look askance at more traditional stories. We see more clearly what they are: beautiful reductions. They are more substantial, yes, more moving, more consoling. But his work constitutes a kind of noble boundary, the limit to which stories can go before succumbing to the necessary falsification — dozens of small crouching men, misshapen but dignified, refusing, forever, to jump.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
3.5 stars. Russian surrealist/absurdist short fiction. Nonsense prose pieces that often start one place and end up, through a chain of unpredictable literary tricks/devices, in a completely different territory. Wonderfully playful, fun, and funny, but reading more than 10 at a time often reduces said effect. Thus, I think the book should've been edited down a little more... there's like 300 pages worth of this stuff, which took me months to read because of the constant feeling of having over-indulged in Halloween candy. Also, a lot of the pieces (especially in the first half of the book) use very similar techniques and devices, so it gets old fast, whereas in the last half there's more variation. I suggest cutting down on the pieces that achieve the same effect, and keeping the very best ones.

The cream of the crop here is really high quality stuff. The ones I've dog-eared: Blue Notebook #10, Tumbling Old Women, An Unsuccessful Play, What They Sell in Stores Nowadays, Pakin and Rakukin, A Knight, Untitled (p. 214), A New Talented Writer, A Treatise More or Less Following Emerson, Rehabilitation, Untitled (p. 181), Untitled (p. 188). I'm sure there were a few more that I forgot to dog-ear because I was laughing so hard, but you get the jist.

Sample excerpts:
WHAT THEY SELL IN STORES NOWADAYS

Koratygin came to see Tikakeyev but did not find him at home.
Meanwhile, Tikakeyev was at the store buying sugar, meat and cucumbers. Koratygin milled around in Tikakeyev's doorway and was about ready to write him a note whne he saw Tikakeyev himself, carrying a plastic satchel in his hands. Koratygin saw Tikakeyev and yelled:
"And I've been waiting here for a whole hour!"
"That's not true," said Tikakeyev, "I've only been out 25 minutes."
"Well that I don't know," said Koratygin, "but I've been here an hour, that much I do know."
"Don't lie," said Tikakeyev. "It's shameful."
"My good sir," said Koratygin, "you should use some discretion in choosing your words."
"I think...," started Tikakeyev, but Koratygin interrupted:
"If you think...," he said, but then Tikakeyev interrupted Koratygin, saying:
"You're one to talk!"
These words so enraged Koratygin that he pinched one nostril with his finger and blew his other nostril at Tikakeyev.
Then Tikakeyev snatched the biggest cucumber from his satchel and hit Koratygin over the head.
Koratygin clasped his hands to his head, fell over and died.
What big cucumbers they sell in stores nowadays!

UNTITLED

I was born in the reeds. Like a mouse. My mother gave birth to me and put me in the water. And I swam away. Some kind of fish with four whiskers on its nose circled around me. I started crying. And the fish started crying. Suddenly we noticed that some porridge was floating atop the water. We ate the porridge and began to laugh. We were very happy, and we swam along with the current until we met a crayfish. It was an ancient, great crayfish; it held an ax in its claws. A naked frog followed swimming behind the crayfish. "Why are you always naked," asked the crayfish, "aren't you ashamed?" - "There's nothing shameful in it," answered the frog. "Why should we be ashamed of our fine bodies, given us by nature, when we are not ashamed of the vile acts that we ourselves perpetrate." - "Your words are true," said the crayfish. "And I do not know how to answer you. I suggest we ask a human, because humans are smarter than we. We are only smart in the fables that man writes about us, i.e. it means once more that it is the human that is smart and not us." But then the crayfish noticed me and said: "And we don't even have to swim anywhere to find him - because here he is, a human." The crayfish swam over to me and asked: "Should one be embarrassed of one's own body? You, human, answer us!" - "I am a human and I will answer you: One should not be embarrassed of one's own body."
… (more)
LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
Russian surrealist/absurdist short fiction. Nonsense prose pieces that often start one place and end up, through a chain of unpredictable literary tricks/devices, in a completely different territory. Wonderfully playful, fun, and funny, but reading more than 10 at a time often reduces said effect. Thus, I think the book should've been edited down a little more... there's like 300 pages worth of this stuff, which took me months to read because of the constant feeling of having over-indulged in Halloween candy. Also, a lot of the pieces (especially in the first half of the book) use very similar techniques and devices, so it gets old fast, whereas in the last half there's more variation. I suggest cutting down on the pieces that achieve the same effect, and keeping the very best ones.

The cream of the crop here is really high quality stuff. The ones I've dog-eared: Blue Notebook #10, Tumbling Old Women, An Unsuccessful Play, What They Sell in Stores Nowadays, Pakin and Rakukin, A Knight, Untitled (p. 214), A New Talented Writer, A Treatise More or Less Following Emerson, Rehabilitation, Untitled (p. 181), Untitled (p. 188). I'm sure there were a few more that I forgot to dog-ear because I was laughing so hard, but you get the jist.

Sample excerpts:

WHAT THEY SELL IN STORES NOWADAYS

Koratygin came to see Tikakeyev but did not find him at home.
Meanwhile, Tikakeyev was at the store buying sugar, meat and cucumbers. Koratygin milled around in Tikakeyev's doorway and was about ready to write him a note whne he saw Tikakeyev himself, carrying a plastic satchel in his hands. Koratygin saw Tikakeyev and yelled:
"And I've been waiting here for a whole hour!"
"That's not true," said Tikakeyev, "I've only been out 25 minutes."
"Well that I don't know," said Koratygin, "but I've been here an hour, that much I do know."
"Don't lie," said Tikakeyev. "It's shameful."
"My good sir," said Koratygin, "you should use some discretion in choosing your words."
"I think...," started Tikakeyev, but Koratygin interrupted:
"If you think...," he said, but then Tikakeyev interrupted Koratygin, saying:
"You're one to talk!"
These words so enraged Koratygin that he pinched one nostril with his finger and blew his other nostril at Tikakeyev.
Then Tikakeyev snatched the biggest cucumber from his satchel and hit Koratygin over the head.
Koratygin clasped his hands to his head, fell over and died.
What big cucumbers they sell in stores nowadays!

UNTITLED

I was born in the reeds. Like a mouse. My mother gave birth to me and put me in the water. And I swam away. Some kind of fish with four whiskers on its nose circled around me. I started crying. And the fish started crying. Suddenly we noticed that some porridge was floating atop the water. We ate the porridge and began to laugh. We were very happy, and we swam along with the current until we met a crayfish. It was an ancient, great crayfish; it held an ax in its claws. A naked frog followed swimming behind the crayfish. "Why are you always naked," asked the crayfish, "aren't you ashamed?" - "There's nothing shameful in it," answered the frog. "Why should we be ashamed of our fine bodies, given us by nature, when we are not ashamed of the vile acts that we ourselves perpetrate." - "Your words are true," said the crayfish. "And I do not know how to answer you. I suggest we ask a human, because humans are smarter than we. We are only smart in the fables that man writes about us, i.e. it means once more that it is the human that is smart and not us." But then the crayfish noticed me and said: "And we don't even have to swim anywhere to find him - because here he is, a human." The crayfish swam over to me and asked: "Should one be embarrassed of one's own body? You, human, answer us!" - "I am a human and I will answer you: One should not be embarrassed of one's own body."
… (more)
LibraryThing member jon1lambert
Nonsense at first sight, then you get the hang of it. Excellent. The author stated in 1937, as the preface confirms, `I am interested only in nonsense; only in that which has no practical meaning'.
LibraryThing member dagseoul
i bought an uncorrected proof awhile back and wore it out, then lent it out, and never received it back. All my notes in it lost because i write everything i am thinking in books because i have poor short term memory. Bought a new copy recently and am re-reading it. simply one of the great writers.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Incredibly hilarious nonsense. Best read in short doses.

Language

Original language

Russian
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