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George Saunders on Daniil Kharms

It’s a few days old now, but the New York Times review of Daniil Kharms’s Today I Wrote Nothing is worth checking out.

Saunders does a good job of explaining how Kharms isn’t simply an “absurdist,” but an author who basically objected to the essential artifice of fiction:

All of us who write fiction have, I suspect, felt some resistance to this moment of necessary artifice. But for Kharms this moment hardened into a kind of virtuous paralysis. I imagine him looking out his little window there in St. Petersburg, seeing people walking around out there in those Russian hats, and just as he’s about to invent some “meaningful,” theme-causing things for them to do, he freezes up, because per his observations, such meaningful, drama-exuding things do not happen so tidily in reality. [. . .]

Art requires artifice, but certain souls balk at artifice the way a horse balks at a snake-smelling stall. Stories make emotion and moral truth, or the illusion of these, but reading Kharms we sense his fear that the smallest false step at the beginning, magnified over the course of the tale, might produce monstrous results: falsity clothed as truth, whistling in the dark, propaganda or (worst of all) banality.

It’s a beautiful game Kharms plays with language and creating and dismantling possible stories, such as is “The Meeting,” which Saunders also quoted in full:

“Now, one day a man went to work and on the way he met another man, who, having bought a loaf of Polish bread, was heading back home where he came from.

“And that’s it, more or less.”



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