49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
I have read Kharms both in English and Russian quite a few times since my dad (a journalist and "ghost" writer in the USSR) introduced me to Kharms in mid 80s (after he had reportedly "snagged" the last copy of the "Incidences" from some street bookseller in Perestroika-era Moscow).
Each time I read Kharms I'd browse through any given compilation of "selected writings" and read at random. In later years I'd either re-read the stories I had liked or, on the contrary, choose only to read the ones I had skipped on previously. But today I read everything - the entire "Today I Wrote Nothing" from cover to cover.
Two reasons: this particular collection of Kharms' writings is skillfully organized: the incidences/old woman/blue notebook/other writings sequence is an excellent warm-up. Each pattern-interrupting-absurdly shocking-non sequitur-laden "incidence" - like a notorious Moscow pothole - violently shakes up the mind and loosens the inflexibly default of expectations of sense and logic. These "incidences" quickly warm up the reading mind for the absurdly cold scenery of the "Old Woman" novella. Just as you begin to tire of the "Old Woman" you are thrown into the paradoxical vortex of the 29 vignettes from the "Blue Notebook." And after that - with the mind cracked open for possibilities - you sail off into the greater philosophical, esoteric, metaphysical depths of "other writings" where you after such a deep dive as "On Phenomena and Existences," with compiler's astute guidance, you are helped to resurface to the by-now-familiar "shallows" of the absurd.
The sequence of this presentation is no small achievement. Consider that the people behind this collection have been charged with a mandate of dosing micro-shocks, with a task of figuring out how to tactfully deliver Kharms' literary micro-concussions. Reading Kharms - any Kharms' collection - is on par to spending an evening in a batting cage where each and every ball is a curveball of the oddest spin.
Confusion - as I have learned from Kharms - is a prerequisite for enlightenment. Kharms models that we have to lose our mind (our "equalibrium" - a genius rendition of intentional misspelling by the translator Yankelevich) to find our consciousness, our sense of self. Kharms - as I am more and more convinced - wasn't an absurdist or a literary shock-jockey, he was a mystic with a Zen bent who, I believe, wrote to stay awake during one of the darkest dreams in modern history (Stalin years).
For an English-speaking Russian, Kharms seems deceptively easy to translate. But he is anything but easy. Kharms' subtle connotation-level puns coexist next to the grotesque and the idiosyncratic. Translating Kharms' koans is like translating a haiku: with often so few lines of text to work with, one linguistic misstep, one connotational bias and you end up reading an entirely different story. Matvei Yankelevich has skillfully navigated the fiords of Kharmsian translational incidentals.
Kharms is a "monk that walked into a mausoleum" and never walked out; an inquisitive and quizzical mind born at the wrong time and in the wrong place who seems to have managed to complete the long existential arc from neurosis to acceptance just in time to die hungry in a Leningrad jail, utterly unrecognized and unknown. In this literary mausoleum, I see Kharms next to Kafka and Hamsun. I wonder where you'll place him...
Pavel Somov, Ph.D.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2011
Daniil Kharms is probably one of the best Absurdist Russian writers I've read from the OBERIU class.
And this book is the best selection from Kharms that I've read.
If you read this and can't help but laugh. You either take him too seriously or don't understand the genre.
Every piece is thoroughly laced with the absurdist style. Some are more funny than others. I especially like this book because it has a diverse selection: Short stories (sometimes only a paragraph or two, but also sometimes a couple pages), Poems, miniature plays.
From stories about people that are essentially nothing--a name for a nonexistent thing -- to people falling out of windows and shattering.
If you've read the Diapsalmata from Kierkegaard's Either/Or I, and enjoyed that, this is for you.
If you are interested in the Russian Absurdist group. I highly recommend OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism (European Classics).
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2009
I learned of daniil Kharms from the Dutch Band, De Kift, who recorded an opera based on Kharms' play, Elizabeth Bam. I was kinda down when this book came in the mail. Almost immediately my spirits were lifted. The violence, the "non-sensical" banter, the poetry of the absurd captivated me. I continuie to search for more Daniil Kharms.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2013
My Iranian friend recommended this book, and holy cow, I'm so glad he did. Today I Wrote Nothing is a fascinating experience full of humor, quirks, and just plain absurdity. Kharms successfully captures both the mundane and the surreal in an incredibly profound and often amusing way. It's the sort of book that you can pick up, read for 10 minutes, and then put down, invariably with a smile on your face.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2013
Picture a tall, thin man with blazing light blue eyes parading down the main pedestrian boulevard in a city wearing a tweed suit, Sherlock Holmes double-brimmed hat and smoking a curved ivory Sherlock Holmes pipe, putting himself on display as if he were a perfectly balanced combination of Oscar Wilde and that famous London detective. And, as the crowning moment of his performance, the tall, thin man halts in the middle of a gaping crowd of onlookers and theatrically lies down in the middle of the sidewalk, and then, after several minutes, nonchalantly rises to his feet and continues his stroll. Quite a sight; quite a man. Are we among artists in gay-Paris in 1868 or among Greenwich Village hippies in 1968? No, indeed, we are not -- we are in a totalitarian state, more specifically, we are in 1931 Stalinist Russia. Meet our one-of-a-kind author, Daniil Kharms. Considering the communist ideal of every healthy man and women seeing themselves as a productive, hard-working citizen of the state, taking their place elbow to elbow with their comrades in the field or the factory, it is something of a miracle Daniil Kharms's short life (the state locked him in a mental institution at age 38 where he died of starvation) wasn't even shorter.
So, how, you may ask, does this one-of-a-kind writer tell a story? Before making more general comments on several stories and plays, here is a story entitled `Events' in its entirety:
------ One day Orlov stuffed himself with mashed peas and died. Krylov, having heard the news, also died. And Spiridonov died regardless. And Spiridonov's wife fell from the cupboard and also died. And the Spiridonov children drowned in a pond. Spiridonov's grandmother took to the bottle and wandered the highways. And Mikhailov stopped combing his hair and came down with mange. And Kruglov sketched a lady holding a whip and went mad. And Perekhryostov received four hundred rubles wired over the telegraph and was so uppity about it that he was forced to leave his job.
All good people but they don't know how to hold their ground.
Quite a story in the tradition of great Russian literature: multiple deaths, a case of alcoholism, disease, madness, forced unemployment. And, of course, some moral philosophy thrown in at the end. Of course, I'm being ironic, but only partially. This is vintage Kharms, a literary vision and expression that is nothing less than piercing. After all, how should an artist and poet create when living in a society that is cruel, oppressive and repressive? Write conventional, familiar narrative? It is as if those penetrating light blue eyes of Kharms could see through all the pretense, sham, invention, deceit, and façade in both life and art and he would have none of it.
This collection contains well over one hundred pieces, mostly one-page stories, but also some poems and micro-plays along with several longer works, including a twenty-two page tale involving an old woman mysteriously sitting in the narrator's favorite armchair. There is a one-page story of a fight where a man mutilates his opponent's face and nose with his dentures, another one-pager about a man who not only loses his handkerchief, hat, jacket and boots but also himself, another one-pager where an artist goes to a canal to buy rubber so he can make a rubber band to stretch but meanwhile an old woman gets burned up in a stove, and still another one pager where an engineer builds a wall across all of Petersburg but never knows what the wall is good for. There is a one page play where Pushkin and Gogol do nothing but repeatedly trip and fall over one another and another play where a single actor takes the stage only to vomit and is followed by three more solo appearances of vomiting actors followed by a little girl who tells the audience to go home since all the actors are sick. Weird? Absolutely. Bizarre, strange, outlandish, crazy, nutty, kooky, wild? Again, yes, absolutely.
There is an excellent twenty-five page introduction by Matvei Yankelevich giving the reader new to Daniil Kharms the cultural and literary context as well as biographical information of the author. Anything more than this introduction might be too much since the uniqueness of Kharms demands (and I don't think demands is too strong a word here) freshness. Rather than reading Kharms and being reminded of Kafka, Sartre, Camus, Beckett or Dada, keep it fresh - read Kharms and read Kharms slowly and carefully, as if you were reading literature for the first time. Be open for miracles. And you will witness miracles, lots of them.
Please order this book right now. Express delivery. And start reading Daniil Kharms tomorrow.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2013
i really like the cover of the first paperback printing.
it's way better than the one you are seeing here, the hardcover.
but now they've gone and messed it up with a new cover for the 2nd printing of the paperback.
it's now in the Ardis series, which has a series design, but there's too much red for my taste.
apart from the cover, though, it's still a good book.