* Даниил Хармс. Избранные рассказы. Старуха. (пер. на англ.) *


    About Daniil Kharms (1905-1942)

Russian literature seems always able to bring forth a crop of new and
interesting writers who are experimenting somewhere at the frontiers of
literary style, language or story. Among our contemporaries, we think of
Andrey Sinyavsky (alias 'Abram Tertz'), Vasiliy Aksyonov, Sasha Sokolov and
Yevgeniy Popov, along with the women writers who emerged under glasnost',
during the last Soviet years: Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, Tatyana Tolstaya and
others. But alongside the new writers, we continue to rediscover the old.
Mikhail Bulgakov and Andrey Platonov, unexpected jewels from the Stalinist
period, only came to prominence decades after their own span. Discoveries
from the 'Silver Age' period (roughly the 1890s to 1917) are still coming or
returning to light. Neglected figures from even further back are now
achieving or recovering a belated but deserved readership (Vladimir Odoevsky
from the Romantic period, Vsevolod Garshin from later in the nineteenth
century). Another fascinating figure, the contemporary of Bulgakov and
Platonov, but with a peculiar resonance for the modern, or indeed the
post-modern, world is Daniil Kharms.
'Daniil Kharms' was the main, and subsequently the sole, pen-name of
Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov. The son of a St. Petersburg political, religious
and literary figure, Daniil was to achieve limited local renown as a
Leningrad avant-garde eccentric and a writer of children's stories in the
1920s and 30s. Among other pseudonyms, he had employed 'Daniil Dandan' and
'Kharms-Shardam'. The predilection for 'Kharms' is thought to derive from
appreciation of the tension between the English words 'charms' and 'harms'
(plus the German Charme; indeed, there is an actual German surname 'Harms'),
but may also owe something to a similarity in sound to Sherlock Holmes
(pronounced 'Kholms' in Russian), a figure of fascination to Kharms.
From 1925 Kharms began to appear at poetry readings and other
avant-garde activities, gained membership of the Leningrad section of the
All-Russian Union of Poets (from 1926), one of the many predecessors to the
eventual Union of Soviet Writers, and published two poems in anthologies in
1926 and 1927. Almost unbelievably, these were the only 'adult' works Kharms
was able to publish in his lifetime. In 1927 Kharms joined together with a
number of like-minded experimental writers, including his talented friend
and close associate Aleksandr Vvedensky (1900-1941) and the major poet
Nikolay Zabolotsky (1903-1958), to form the literary and artistic grouping
Oberiu (the acronym of the 'Association of Real Art').
Representing something of a union between Futurist aesthetics and
Formalist approaches, the Oberiut considered themselves a 'left flank' of
the literary avant-garde. Their publicity antics, including a roof-top
appearance by Kharms, caused minor sensations and they succeeded in
presenting a highly unconventional theatrical evening entitled 'Three Left
' in 1928, which included the performance of Kharms's Kafkaesque
absurdist drama 'Yelizaveta Bam'. Among the Oberiu catch-phrases were 'Art
is a cupboard' (Kharms normally made his theatrical entrances inside or on a
wardrobe) and 'Poems aren't pies; we aren't herring'. However, in the
Stalinising years of the late 1920s, the time for propagating experimental
modernist art had passed. The rising Soviet neo-bourgeoisie were not to be
shocked: tolerance of any such frivolities was plummeting and hostile
journalistic attention ensured the hurried disbandment of the Oberiu group
after a number of further appearances.
Kharms and Vvedensky evidently felt it wiser to allow themselves to be
drawn into the realm of children's literature, writing for publications of
the children's publishing house Detgiz, known fondly as the 'Marshak
Academy', run by the redoubtable children's writer (and bowdleriser of
Robbie Burns), Samuil Marshak, and involving the playwright Yevgeniy
Shvarts. By 1940 Kharms had published eleven children's books and
contributed regularly to the magazines 'The Hedgehog' and 'The Siskin'.
However, even in this field of literary activity, anything out of the
ordinary was not safe. Kharms, in his 'playful' approach to children's
writing, utilised a number of Oberiu-type devices. The Oberiu approach had
been denounced in a Leningrad paper in 1930 as 'reactionary sleight-of-hand'
and, at the end of 1931, Kharms and Vvedensky were arrested, accused of
'distracting the people from the building of socialism by means of
trans-sense verses' and exiled to Kursk. However the exile was fairly brief,
the times being what Akhmatova described as 'relatively vegetarian'.
Nevertheless, little work was to be had thereafter; Kharms was in and out of
favour at Detgiz and periods of near starvation followed. Kharms and
Vvedensky (the latter had moved to the Ukraine in the mid-30s: see Kharms's
letter to him) survived the main purges of the 1930s. However, the outbreak
of war brought new dangers: Kharms was arrested in Leningrad in August 1941,
while Vvedensky's arrest took place the following month in Kharkov.
Vvedensky died in December of that year and Kharms (it seems of starvation
in prison hospital) in February 1942. Both were subsequently 'rehabilitated'
during the Khrushchev 'Thaw'. Most of their adult writings had to await the
Gorbachev period for publication in Russia. Both starvation and arrest were
anticipated in a number of Kharms's writings. Hunger and poverty were
constant companions; indeed, Kharms can lay claim to being the poet of
hunger (not for nothing did he take strongly to Knut Hamsun's novel of that
name), as the following translation of an unrhyming but rhythmic verse
fragment shows:

This is how hunger begins:
The morning you wake, feeling lively,
Then begins the weakness,
Then begins the boredom;
Then comes the loss
Of the power of quick reason,
Then comes the calmness
And then begins the horror.

On his general situation in life, Kharms wrote the following quatram in

We've had it now in life's realm,
Of all hope we are now bereft.
Gone are dreams of happiness,
Destitution is all that's left.

The arrest of Kharms came, reportedly, when the caretaker of the block
of flats in which he lived called him down, in his bedroom slippers, 'for a
few minutes'. He was apparently charged with spreading defeatist propaganda;
there is evidence that, even in those times, he managed to clear himself of
this charge, possibly by feigning insanity.
Kharms had been a marked man since his first arrest in 1931 and he was
probably lucky to escape disaster when he landed in trouble over a
children's poem in 1937 (about a man who went out to buy tobacco and
disappeared). In addition, his first wife, Ester Rusakova, was a member of a
well-known old emigre revolutionary family, subsequently purged; it is
intriguing to recall that Kharms had been, for several years, Viktor Serge's


By the 1930s, Kharms was concentrating more on prose. In addition to
his only then publishable works, his children's stories and verse, he
evolved ('for his drawer') his own idiosyncratic brands of short prose and
dramatic fragment.
Theoretical, philosophical and even mathematical pieces were also
penned, as well as diaries, notebooks and a sizeable body of poetry. The
boundaries between genre are fluid with Kharms, as are distinctions between
fragment and whole, finished and unfinished states. Most of Kharms's
manuscripts were preserved after his arrest by his friend, the philosopher
Yakov Semyonovich Druskin, until they could be safely handed on or deposited
in libraries. It will come as no surprise to readers with the most cursory
inkling of Soviet literary conditions in the 1930s that these writings were
then totally unpublishable -- and indeed that their author is unlikely to
have even contemplated trying to publish them. What is much more surprising
is that they were written at all. From 1962 the children's works of Kharms
began to be reprinted in the Soviet Union. Isolated first publications of a
few of his short humourous pieces for adults followed slowly thereafter, as
did mentions of Kharms in memoirs. Only when Gorbachev's policy of glasnost'
took real effect though, from 1987, did the flood begin, including a major
book-length collection in 1988. Abroad, an awareness of Kharms and the
Oberiuts began to surface in the late 1960s, both in Eastern Europe, where
publication was often easier, and in the West, where a first collection in
Russian appeared in 1974. In 1978 an annotated, but discontinuous, collected
works of Kharms began to appear, published in Bremen by the Verlag K-Presse
(appropriately enough, the 'Kafka Press'), edited from Leningrad. Four
volumes (the poetic opus) have appeared to date. It is probably safe to
assume that virtually all of Kharms's surviving works have now appeared. The
most recent 'find' is a selection of rather mild erotica, largely clinically
voyeuristic and olfactory in nature, which suitably counterpoints certain
tendencies already noticeable in some of Kharms's more mainstream writing.
The English or American reader may have come across some of Kharms's work in
the anthologies published from 1971 by George Gibian (see p. 226). In
addition, scholarly literature on the Oberiuts is growing fast. Kharms
translations have appeared in German and Italian, while the Yugoslav
director Slobodan Pesic has made a surrealistic film, called 'The Kharms
'. In Russia Oberiu evenings and Kharms 'mono-spectaculars' have become
commonplace and Moscow News (back in 1988, in its Russian and English issues
alike) was proclaiming Kharms 'an international figure'. In the present age
of post-modernist fragmentation, Kharms's time has surely come.


On the assumption that Kharms's published oeuvre may now be more or
less complete (and this may still be a big assumption to make: only in 1992
his puppet play, The Shardam Circus, was published for the first time),
overall assessments of his achievement begin to assume some validity.
Definitive texts from archival sources have, in some instances, replaced
dubious sources. We now know the intended order and content of the
'Incidents' cycle, here presented as a complete entity for the first time in
English. Many of the later examples of Kharms's prose have only come to
light recently, as have notebooks and letters. The prose miniature has long
been a genre more commonly found in Russian literature than elsewhere. Among
the disparate examples that come to mind (many of them by authors very
different from Kharms) we may mention, from the nineteenth century: the
feuilletons of writers such as Dostoevsky, the prose poems of Turgenev and
the shortest works by Garshin and Chekhov; and, from the twentieth, short
pieces by Zamyatin, Olesha and Zoshchenko and, more recently, the aphoristic
writings of Abram Tertz and the prose poems of Solzhenitsyn. In spirit,
Kharms clearly belongs to a tradition of double-edged humour extending from
the word-play and irrelevancy of Gogol and the jaundiced mentality of
Dostoevsky's 'underground' anti-heroes to the intertextual parody of Tertz
and the satirical absurd of Voinovich. Kharms has clear affinities with
certain of the experimental Soviet writings that sprang from a Futurist
Formalist base in the 1920s. In a verse and prose sequence entitled 'The
Sabre' (Sablya of 1929), Kharms singles out for special admiration Goethe,
Blake, Lomonosov, Gogol, Kozma Prutkov and Khlebnikov. In a diary entry of
1937, he lists as his 'favourite writers': Gogol, Prutkov, Meyrink, Hamsun,
Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Such listings are revealing in determining
Kharms's pedigree. On a general European level, Kharms had obvious
affinities with the various modernist, Dadaist, surrealist, absurdist and
other avant-garde movements. Borges wrote brief masterpieces in a rather
different vein. Arguably, Kafka and Beckett provide closer parallels, while
Hamsun and Meyrink furnished Kharms with certain motifs. Some of the
post-modernist and minimalist writings of very recent decades are perhaps
closer than anything else.
'The Old Woman', a story reaching almost epic proportions by Kharms's
standards, has strong claims to be regarded as his masterpiece. A
deceptively multilayered story, this work looks simultaneously back to the
Petersburg tradition of Russian story-telling and forward to the
meta-fictional devices of our post-war era. 'Incidents' signals a
neo-romantic concern with the relationship between the fragment and the
whole (observable too in the theoretical pieces) and, now in its 'complete'
form, it has begun to attract critical interpretation as an entity in
itself. The 'assorted stories', arranged chronologically, indicate the
development of Kharms's idiosyncratic preoccupations over the decade from
the early 1930s. 'Yelizaveta Bam' represents Kharms's contribution to the
theatre of the absurd. The remaining 'non-fictional and assorted writings'
give an idea of Kharms's excursions into other forms of writing.
If Kharms still seems somehow different from all previous models or
comparisons, or more startling, this is perhaps most readily explained by
his constant adoption, at various levels, of what might be termed a poetics
of extremism. Take, for example, his brevity: not for nothing did he note in
his diary that 'garrulity is the mother of mediocrity'. If certain stories
included here (especially some from 'Incidents') seem texts of concise
inconsequentiality, there remain others which incommode the printer even
less: consider, for instance, the following:

"An old man was scratching his head with both hands. In places where he
couldn't reach with both hands, he scratched himself with one, but very,
very fast. And while he was doing it he blinked rapidly."

Another feature of Kharmsian extremism resides in his uncompromising
quest for the means to undermine his own stories, or to facilitate their
self-destruction: there are numerous examples of this in the texts which
Kharms, then, turns his surgical glance on both the extraordinary world
of Stalin's Russia and on representation, past and present, in story-telling
and other artistic forms. He thus operates, typically, against a precise
Leningrad background. He reflects aspects of Soviet life and its literary
forms, passing sardonic and despairing comment on the period in which he
lived. He also ventures, ludicrously, into historical areas, parodying the
ways in which respected worthies, such as Pushkin, Gogol and Ivan Susanin (a
patriotic hero of 1612) were currently being glorified in print. Certain of
Kharms's miniatures seem strangely anticipatory of modern trends: 'The
' could almost have been set in politically correct America,
'Myshin's Triumph' smacks of London's cardboard city, and 'On an Approach to
' would fascinate Kundera.

The most striking feature, for many readers, will be the recurrence of
Kharms's strange and disturbing obsessions: with falling, accidents, chance,
sudden death, victimisation and all forms of apparently mindless violence.
These again are often carried to extremes, or toyed with in a bizarre manner
which could scarcely be unintentional. Frequently there appears little or no
difference between Kharms's avowedly fictional works and his other writings.
In his notebooks can be found such passages as:

"I don't like children, old men, old women and the reasonable
middle-aged. To poison children -- that would be harsh. But, hell, something
needs to be done with them! . . . I respect only young, robust and
splendiferous women. The remaining representatives of the human race I
regard suspiciously. Old women who are repositories of reasonable ideas
ought to be lassoed . . . Which is the more agreeable sight: an old woman
clad in just a shift, or a young man completely naked? And which, in that
state, is the less permissible in public? . . . What's so great about
flowers? You get a significantly better smell from between women's legs.
Both are pure nature, so no one dare be outraged at my words."

How far into the cheek the tongue may go is often far from clear: the
degree of identification with narrator position in Kharms is always
problematic. The Kharmsian obsessions, too, carry over into his notebooks
and diaries:

"On falling into filth, there is only one thing for a man to do: just
fall, without looking round. The important thing is just to do this with
style and energy."

At times the implications might seem sinister, as in the following note
from 1940, which could equally be a sketch for a story, or even, as we have
seen, be a mini-story in itself:

"One man was pursuing another when the latter, who was running away, in
his turn, pursued a third man who, not sensing the chase behind him, was
simply walking at a brisk pace along the pavement."

Sometimes, a diary entry is indeed indistinguishable from a Kharms

"I used to know a certain watchman who was interested only in vices.
Then his interests narrowed, and he began to be interested only in one vice.
And so, when he discovered a specialisation of his own within this vice and
began to interest himself only in this one specialisation, he felt himself a
man again. Confidence built up, erudition was required, neighbouring fields
had to be looked into and the man started to develop. This watchman became a

Other entries rather more predictably affirm what might be supposed to
be his philosophy:

"I am interested only in 'nonsense'; only in that which makes no
practical sense. I am interested in life only in its absurd manifestation."

This last remark was written in 1937, at the height of the purges.
Some or all of this may be approachable, or even explainable, in terms
of psychology, of communication theory, of theory of humour, or indeed with
reference to the nature of surrounding reality: in times of extremity, it is
the times themselves which seem more absurd than any absurd artistic
invention. For that matter, these Kharmsian 'incidents' (on which term, more
below) have their ancestry in a multitude of genres and models: the fable,
the parable, the fairy tale, the children's story, the philosophical or
dramatic dialogue, the comic monologue, carnival, the cartoon and the silent
movie. All of these seem to be present somewhere in Kharms, in compressed
form and devoid of explanation, context and other standard trappings.
Kharms, indeed, seems to serve up, transform or abort the bare bones of the
sub-plots, plot segments and timeless authorial devices of world literature,
from the narratives of antiquity, to classic European fiction, to the
wordplay, plot-play and metafictions characteristic of the postmodern era:
from Satyricon to Cervantes to Calvino. In the modern idiom, theatre of the
absurd and theatre of cruelty apart, Kharms's fictions anticipate in some
primeval way almost everything from the animated screenplay and the strip
cartoon to the video-nasty. Kharms offers a skeletal terseness, as opposed
to the comprehensive vacuousness on offer from many a more conventional
literary form. Once again, it is the environment in which he wrote that is
the most striking thing of all. Kharms, the black miniaturist, is an
exponent not so much of the modernist 'end of the Word' (in a Joycean sense)
as of a post-modernist, minimalist and infantilist 'end of the Story' (in a
sense perhaps most analogous to Beckett). Such a trend is usually taken to
be a post war, nuclear-age cultural phenomenon, exemplified by
fragmentation, breakdown and the impulse to self-destruct. However, the
Holocaust and Hiroshima may well have felt imminent in the Leningrad of the
bleak 1930s.


Finally, a word on terminology and arrangement. Many of Kharms's
stories, even beyond the cycle of that name, have been dubbed 'incidents'.
The slightly wider term 'incidences' could equally be used. Kharms, between
1933 and 1937, engaged on a cycle of short prose pieces which he called
Sluchai. The common Russian noun sluchay (masculine, singular) may be
translated, according to context, by a variety of English words: case (cf.
the Italian translation of Kharms, entitled Casi), event, incident,
occurrence, opportunity, occasion or chance. Commentators have at times
labelled the Kharmsian generic innovation: Mini-stories, Happenings or
Cases. 'Mini-stories' is of course descriptive, rather than a translation of
sluchai, just as, say, 'Black Miniatures' would be interpretative;
'Happenings' and 'Cases', I feel, are open to other possible objections.
Hence the term 'Incidents', as used here. Pieces which had not been given a
title by Kharms have generally been called by their first words.
That, as Kharms would say, is all (vsyo!). Now read on!



Kalindov was standing on tiptoe and peering at me straight in the face.
I found this unpleasant. I turned aside but Kalindov ran round me and was
again peering at me straight in the face. I tried shielding myself from
Kalindov with a newspaper. But Kalindov outwitted me: he set my newspaper
alight and, when it flared up, I dropped it on the floor and Kalindov again
began peering at me straight in she face. Slowly retreating, I repaired
behind the cupboard and there, for a few moments, I enjoyed a break from the
importunate stares of Kalindov. But my break was not prolonged: Kalindov
crawled up to the cupboard on all fours and peered up at me from below. My
patience ran out; I screwed up my eyes and booted Kalindov in the face.
When I opened my eyes, Kalindov was standing in front of me, his mug
bloodied and mouth lacerated, peering at me straight in the face as before.



    Five Unfinished Narratives

Dear Yakov Semyonovich,
1. A certain man, having taken a run, struck his head against a smithy
with such force that the blacksmith put aside the sledge-hammer which he was
holding, took off his leather apron and, having smoothed his hair with his
palm, went out on to the street to see what had happened. 2. Then the smith
spotted the man sitting on the ground. The man was sitting on the ground and
holding his head. 3. -- What happened? -- asked the smith. -- Ooh! -- said
the man. 4. The smith went a bit closer to the man. 5. We discontinue the
narrative about the smith and the unknown man and begin a new narrative
about four friends and a harem. 6. Once upon a time there were four harem
fanatics. They considered it rather pleasant to have eight women at a time
each. They would gather of an evening and debate harem life. They drank
wine; they drank themselves blind drunk; they collapsed under the table;
they puked up. It was disgusting to look at them. They bit each other on the
leg. They bandied obscenities at each other. They crawled about on their
bellies. 7. We discontinue the story about them and begin a new story about
beer. 8. There was a barrel of beer and next to it sat a philosopher who
contended: -- This barrel is full of beer; the beer is fermenting and
strengthening. And I in my mind ferment along the starry summits and
strengthen my spirit. Beer is a drink flowing in space; I also am a drink,
flowing in time. 9. When beer is enclosed in a barrel, it has nowhere to
flow. Time will stop and I will stand up. 10. But if time does not stop,
then my flow is immutable. 11. No, it's better to let the beer flow freely,
for it's contrary to the laws of nature for it to stand still. -- And with
these words the philosopher turned on the tap in the barrel and the beer
poured out over the floor. 12. We have related enough about beer; now we
shall relate about a drum. 13. A philosopher beat a drum and shouted: -- I
am making a philosophical noise! This noise is of no use to anyone, it even
annoys everyone. But if it annoys everyone, that means it is not of this
world. And if it's not of this world, then it's from another world. And if
it is from another world, then I shall keep making it. 14. The philosopher
made his noise for a long time. But we shall leave this noisy story and turn
to the following quiet story about trees. 15. A philosopher went for a walk
under some trees and remained silent, because inspiration had deserted him.



    <Koka Briansky>

Act I
KOKA BRIANSKY I'm getting married today.
KOKA BRIANSKY I'm getting married today!
KOKA BRIANSKY I said I'm getting married today.
MOTHER What did you say?
KOKA BRIANSKY To-day -- ma-rried!
MOTHER Ma? What's ma?
MOTHER Idge? What's this idge?
KOKA BRIANSKY Not idge, but ma-rri-age!
MOTHER What do you mean, not idge?
KOKA BRIANSKY Yes, not idge, that's all!
KOKA BRIANSKY Yes, not idge. Do you understand! Not idge!
MOTHER You're on about that idge again. I don't know what idge's got to
do with.
KOKA BRIANSKY Oh blow you! Ma and idge! What's up with you? Don't you
realise yourself that saying just ma is senseless.
MOTHER What did you say?
KOKA BRIANSKY Ma, I said, is senseless!
KOKA BRIANSKY What on earth is all this! How can you possibly manage to
catch only bits of words, and only the most absurd bits at that: sle! Why
sle in particular?
MOTHER There you go again -- sle.
KOKA BRIANSKY throttles his MOTHER. Enter his fiancee MARUSIA.



    <Aleksey Tolstoy>

Ol'ga Forsh went up to Aleksey Tolstoy and did something. Aleksey
Tolstoy also did something.
At this point Konstantin Fedin and Valentin Stenich leapt outside and
got down to looking for a suitable stone. They didn't find a stone but they
found a spade. Konstantin Fedin cracked Ol'ga Forsh one across the chops
with this spade.
Then Aleksey Tolstoy stripped naked and, going out on to the Fontanka,
began to neigh like a horse. Everyone said: -- There goes a major
contemporary writer, neighing. -- And nobody touched Aleksey Tolstoy.


* The story was written on the occasion of the first Congress of the
Union of Soviet Writers and perhaps symbolically depicts the events. The
mentioned persons are all known Soviet literary figures of the 1930x.


    On Phenomena and Existences. No. 1

The artist Michelangelo sits down on a heap of bricks and, propping his
head in his hands, begins to think. Suddenly a cockerel walks past and looks
at the artist Michelangelo with his round, golden eyes. Looks, but doesn't
blink. At this point, the artist Michelangelo raises his head and sees the
cockerel. The cockerel does not lower his gaze, doesn't blink and doesn't
move his tail. The artist Michelangelo looks down and is aware of something
in his eye. The artist Michelangelo rubs his eyes with his hands. And the
cockerel isn't standing there any more, isn't standing there, but is walking
away, walking away behind the shed, behind the shed to the poultry-run, to
the poultry-run towards his hens.
And the artist Michelangelo gets up from the heap of bricks, shakes the
red brick dust from his trousers, throws aside his belt and goes off to his
The artist Michelangelo's wife, by the way, is extremely long, all of
two rooms in length.
On the way, the artist Michelangelo meets Komarov, grasps him by the
hand and shouts: -- Look!...
Komarov looks and sees a sphere
-- What's that? -- whispers Komarov.
And from the sky comes a roar: -- It's a sphere.
-- What sort of a sphere is it? -- whispers Komarov.
And from the sky, the roar: -- A smooth-surfaced sphere!
Komarov and the artist Michelangelo sit down on the grass and they are
seated on the grass like mushrooms. They hold each other's hands and look up
at the sky. And in the sky appears the outline of a huge spoon. What on
earth is that? No one knows. People run about and lock themselves into their
houses. They lock their doors and their windows. But will that really help?
Much good it does them! It will not help.
I remember in 1884 an ordinary comet the size of a steamer appearing in
the sky. It was very frightening. But now -- a spoon! Some phenomenon for a
Lock your windows and doors!
Can that really help? You can't barricade yourself with planks against
a celestial phenomenon.
Nikolay Ivanovich Stupin lives in our house. He has a theory that
everything is smoke. But in my view not everything is smoke. Maybe even
there's no smoke at all. Maybe there's really nothing. There's one category
only. Or maybe there's no category at all. It's hard to say.
It is said that a certain celebrated artist scrutinised a cockerel. He
scrutinised it and scrutinised it and came to the conclusion that the
cockerel did not exist.
The artist told his friend this, and his friend just laughed. How, he
said, doesn't it exist, he said, when it's standing right here and I, he
said, am clearly observing it.
And the great artist thereupon hung his head and, retaining the same
posture in which he stood, sat down on a pile of bricks.
That's all.

Daniil Dandan, 18 September 1931


    On Phenomena and Existences. No. 2

Here's a bottle of vodka, of the lethal spirit variety. And beside it
you see Nikolay Ivanovich Serpukhov.
From the bottle rise spirituous fumes. Look at the way Nikolay
Ivanovich Serpukhov is breathing them in through his nose. Mark how he licks
his lips and how he screws up his eyes. Evidently he is particularly partial
to it and, in the main, that's because it's that lethal spirit variety.
But take note of the fact that behind Nikolay Ivanovich's back there is
nothing. It's not that there isn't a cupboard there, or a chest of drawers,
or at any rate some such object: but there is absolutely nothing there, not
even air. Believe it or not, as you please, but behind Nikolay Ivanovich's
back there is not even an airless expanse or, as they say, universal ether.
To put it bluntly, there's nothing.
This is, of course, utterly inconceivable.
But we don't give a damn about that, as we are only interested in the
vodka and Nikolay Ivanovich Serpukhov.
And so Nikolay Ivanovich takes the bottle of vodka in his hand and puts
it to his nose. Nikolay Ivanovich sniffs it and moves his mouth like a
Now the time has come to say that, not only behind Nikolay Ivanovich's
back, but before him too -- as it were, in front of his chest -- and all the
way round him, there is noticing. A complete absence of any kind of
existence, or, as the old witticism goes, an absence of any kind of
However, let us interest ourselves only in the vodka and Nikolay
Ivanovich. Just imagine, Nikolay Ivanovich peers into the bottle of vodka,
then he puts it to his lips, tips back the bottle bottom end up, and knocks
it back -just imagine it, the whole bottle.
Nifty! Nikolay Ivanovich knocked back his vodka and looked blank.
Nifty, all right! How could he!
And now this is what we have to say: as a matter of fact, not only
behind Nikolay Ivanovich's back, nor merely in front and all around him, but
also even inside Nikolay Ivanovich here was nothing, nothing existed.
Of course, it could all be as we have just said, and yet Nikolay
Ivanovich himself could in these circumstances still be in a delightful
state of existence. This is, of course, true. But, as a matter of fact, the
whole thing is that Nikolay Ivanovich didn't exist and doesn't exist. That's
exactly the whole thing.
You may ask: and what about the bottle of vodka? In particular, where
did the vodka go, if a non-existent Nikolay Ivanovich drank it? Let's say
that the bottle remained. Where, then, is the vodka? There it was and,
suddenly, there it isn't. We know Nikolay Ivanovich doesn't exist, you say.
So, what's the explanations
At this stage, we ourselves become lost in conjecture.
But, anyway, what are we talking about? Surely we said that inside, as
well as outside, Nikolay Ivanovich nothing exists. So if, both inside and
outside, nothing exists, then that means that the bottle as well doesn't
exist. Isn't that it?
But, on the other hand, take note of the following: if we are saying
that nothing exists either inside or outside, then the question arises:
inside and outside of what? Something evidently, all the same, does exist?
Or perhaps doesn't exist. In which case, why do we keep saying 'inside' and
No, here we have patently reached an impasse. And we ourselves don't
know what to say.
Goodbye for now.

Daniil Dandan, 18 September 1934


    On Equilibrium

Everyone now knows how dangerous swallowing stones is. A friend of mine
even coined the expression 'Dan-in-ston', which means: 'It's dangerous to
ingest stones.' And a good thing too. 'Dan-in-ston' can be easily remembered
and, as required, instantly recalled.
He worked, this friend of mine, as a stoker on a steam engine. He
travelled either the northern line or to Moscow. He was called Nikolay
Ivanovich Serpukhov and he smoked Rocket cigarettes at thirty-five kopecks a
packet, and always said that they made him cough less, while those costing
five roubles, he says, 'always make me choke'.
And so Nikolay Ivanovich once chanced to get in to the restaurant in
the Yevropeyskaya Hotel. Nikolay Ivanovich sat at a table and at the next
table some foreigners were sitting munching apples.
At this point Nikolay Ivanovich said to himself: -- This is interesting
-- said Nikolay Ivanovich -- A man's life this!
Barely had he said this to himself when from out of the blue a Fairy
appeared in front of him, saying: -- My good man, what do you need?
Well, of course, in a restaurant you do get a commotion from which, it
may be said, this unknown diminutive lady may have sprung. The foreigners
even ceased munching their apples.
Nikolay Ivanovich himself rather had the wind up and spoke rather
offhandedly, so as to give her the brush-off. -- I'm sorry -- he said -- but
I don't really require anything in particular.
-- You don't understand -- said the unknown lady -- I -- she said -- am
what is called a Fairy. In the merest jiffy I'll lay on whatever you fancy.
Nikolay Ivanovich happened to notice that a citizen in a grey two-piece
was listening intently to their conversation. The maitre d'hotel was rushing
through the open doors and behind him some other specimen with a cigarette
in his mouth.
-- Bloody hell! -- thought Nikolay Ivanovich -- there's no telling
what's going on.
And there was indeed no telling what was going on. The maitre d'hotel
was leaping around the tables, the foreigners were rolling up the carpets
and generally the devil only knew what! They were all doing whatever they
felt like!
Nikolay Ivanovich ran out to the street and didn't even pick up his hat
from the custody of the cloakroom; he ran out on to Lassalle Street and said
to himself: -- Dan-in-ston! It's dangerous to ingest stones -- Nothing like
this ever really happens, surely!
And arriving home, Nikolay Ivanovich told his wife: -- Don't be
alarmed, Yekaterina Petrovna, and don't get worried. Only there's no
equilibrium in the world. It's just an error of some kilogram and a half
over the universe as a whole, but it's really a surprising thing, Yekaterina
Petrovna, totally surprising!
And that's all.

Daniil Dandan, 18 September 1934


    <Andrey Semyonovich>

Andrey Semyonovich spat into a cup of water. The water immediately
turned black. Andrey Semyonovich screwed up his eyes and looked attentively
into the cup. The water was very black. Andrey Semyonovich's heart began to
At that moment Andrey Semyonovich's dog woke up. Andrey Semyonovich
went over to the window and began ruminating.
Suddenly something big and dark shot past Andrey Semyonovich's face and
flew out of the window. This was Andrey Semyonovich's dog flying out and it
zoomed like a crow on to the roof of the building opposite. Andrey
Semyonovich sat down on his haunches and began to howl.
Into the room ran Comrade Popugayev.
-- What's up with you? Are you ill? -- asked Comrade Popugayev.
Andrey Semyonovich quietened down and rubbed his eyes with his hands.
Comrade Popugayev look a look into the cup which was standing on the
table. -- What's this you've poured into here? -- he asked Andrey
-- I don't know -- said Andrey Semyonovich.
Popugayev instantly disappeared. The dog flew in through the window
again, lay down in its former place and went to sleep.
Andrey Semyonovich went over to the table and took a drink from the cup
of blackened water. And Andrey Semyonovich's soul turned lucent.




-- Drink vinegar, gentlemen -- said Shuyev.
No one gave him any reply.
-- Gentlemen! -- shouted Shuyev -- I propose to you the drinking of
Makaronov got up from his armchair and said: -- I welcome Shuyev's
idea. Let's drink vinegar.
Rastopyakin said: -- I shall not be drinking vinegar.
At this point a silence set in and everyone began to look at Shuyev.
Shuyev sat stony-faced. It was not clear what he was thinking.
Three minutes went by. Suchkov smothered a cough. Ryvin scratched his
mouth. Kaltayev adjusted his tie. Makaronov jiggled his ears and his nose.
And Rastopyakin, slumped against the back of his armchair, was looking as if
indifferently into the fireplace.
Seven or eight more minutes went by.
Ryvin stood up and went out of the room on tiptoe.
Kaltayev followed him with his eyes.
When the door had closed behind Ryvin, Shuyev said: -- So. The rebel
has departed. To the devil with the rebel!
Everyone looked at each other in surprise, and Rastopyakin raised his
head and fixed his gaze on Shuyev.
Shuyev said sternly: -- He who rebels is a scoundrel!
Suchkov cautiously, under the table, shrugged his shoulders.
-- I am in favour of the drinking of vinegar -- Makaronov said quietly
and looked expectantly at Shuyev.
Rastopyakin hiccupped and, with embarrassment, blushed like a maiden.
-- Death to the rebels! -- shouted Suchkov, baring his blackish teeth.



    <Ivan Yakovlevich Bobov>

Ivan Yakovlevich Bobov woke up in the best possible of moods. He looked
out from under his blanket and immediately spotted the ceiling. The ceiling
was decorated with a large grey stain with greenish edges. If one looked
closely at the stain, with one eye, then the stain took on a resemblance to
a rhinoceros harnessed to a wheelbarrow, although others held that it looked
more like a tram with a giant sitting on top -- however, it was possible to
detect in this stain even the outlines of some city or other. Ivan
Yakovlevich looked at the ceiling, though not at where the stain was, but
just like that, at no particular place; while doing so, he smiled and
screwed up his eyes. Then he goggled his eyes and raised his eyebrows so
high that his forehead folded up like a concertina and would very nearly
have disappeared altogether if Ivan Yakovlevich had not screwed up his eyes
again and suddenly, as though ashamed of something, pulled the blanket back
up over his head. He did this so quickly that from under the other end of
the blanket Ivan Yakovlevich's bare feet were exposed and right then a fly
settled on the big toe of his left foot. Ivan Yakovlevich moved this toe and
the fly flew over and settled on his heel. Then Ivan Yakovlevich grabbed the
blanket with both feet; with one foot he hooked the blanket downwards, while
he wiggled his other foot and clasped the blanket upwards with it and by
this means pulled the blanket down from over his head. 'Up yours', said Ivan
Yakovlevich and blew out his cheeks. Usually, whenever Ivan Yakovlevich
managed to do something or, on the contrary, utterly failed, Ivan
Yakovlevich always said 'up yours' -- of course, not loudly and not at all
so that anyone should hear it, but just like that, quietly to himself. And
so, having said 'up yours', Ivan Yakovlevich sat on the bed and extended an
arm to the chair, on which his trousers, shirt and underwear lay. As for
trousers, Ivan Yakovlevich loved to wear striped ones. But, at one time,
there was really a situation when it was impossible to get striped trousers
anywhere. Ivan Yakovlevich tried 'Leningrad Clothes', and the department
store, and the Passage, and Gostiny Dvor and he had been round all the shops
on the Petrograd side. He had even gone over to somewhere on Okhta but
didn't find any striped trousers anywhere. And Ivan Yakovlevich's old
trousers had worn so threadbare that it was gelling impossible to wear'
them. Ivan Yakovlevich sewed them up several times but in the end even this
didn't help any more. Ivan Yakovlevich again went round all the shops and,
again not finding striped trousers anywhere, finally decided to buy checked
ones. But checked trousers weren't available anywhere either. Then Ivan
Yakovlevich decided to buy himself grey trousers, but he couldn't find grey
ones anywhere either. Neither were black trousers in Ivan Yakovlevich's size
anywhere to be found. Then Ivan Yakovlevich went off to buy blue trousers
but, while he had been looking for black ones, both blue and brown ones also
ran out. And so, finally, Ivan Yakovlevich just had to buy some green
trousers with yellow spots. In the shop it had seemed to Ivan Yakovlevich
that the trousers were not of a very bright colour and that the yellow fleck
did not offend the eye at all. But, arriving home, Ivan Yakovlevich
discovered that one leg was indeed of a decent shade but that the other was
nothing short of turquoise and the yellow fleck positively flamed on it.
Ivan Yakovlevich tried turning the trousers inside out, but that way round
both legs had a propensity to assume a yellow hue embroidered with green
peas and were so garish that, well, just to step out on stage in such
trousers after a cinematic show would be quite sufficient: the audience
would guffaw for half an hour. For two days Ivan Yakovlevich couldn't bring
himself to put on his new trousers, but when his old ones got so torn that
even from a distance it could be seen that Ivan Yakovlevich's underpants
were in dire need of mending, there was nothing for it but to sport the new
trousers. In his new trousers for the first time, Ivan Yakovlevich went out
extremely cautiously. Leaving the doorway, he glanced both ways first and,
having convinced himself that there was no one nearby, stepped out on to the
street and swiftly strode off in the direction of his office. The first
person he met was an apple seller with a big basket on his head. He said
nothing on catching sight of Ivan Yakovlevich and only when Ivan Yakovlevich
had walked past did he stop and, since his basket would not allow him to
turn his head, the apple seller turned his whole person and followed Ivan
Yakovlevich with his eyes -- and perhaps would have shaken his head if, once
again, it had not been for that same basket. Ivan Yakovlevich stepped it out
jauntily, considering his encounter with the fruit seller to have been a
good omen. He had not seen the tradesman's manoeuvre and he reassured
himself that his trousers were not as startling as all that. There now
walked towards Ivan Yakovlevich an office worker of just the same type as he
himself, with a briefcase under his arm. The office worker was walking
briskly, not bothering to look around him, but rather keeping a close watch