The Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Trans by Joanne Turnbull – Why This Book Should Win
Blogging for judge Jenn Witte is Clark Allen, an artist living in New Orleans. His work is easiest found on his site, rentcontrolkhole.com.
In essence, perhaps, the fantastic is a hermaphroditic entity. It breeds in solitude, in moments of quiet reflection where the mind is free to rave alone and meditate on the banal to the point of absurdity. It is the psychedelic experience of deprivation, unsocialized, removed from societal conveniences that would temper it. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, whose name alone takes on an unreal quality to his new American readers, wrote extensively under conditions such as these; conditions unique to the staunch, over policed twentieth century Soviet Russia. A state whose lack of outlet would inadvertently and somewhat ironically promote the fantastic. Krzhizhanovsky was solitary, censored, and barring friends and contemporaries, largely unread. Residing in a small, cell of a room, he middled over stories for an audience that would never appear in his lifetime.
Only now with its aptly titular story, Autobiography of a Corpse, are American readers beginning to see the scope of Krzhizhanovsky’s solitary endeavors. These are tales of between-spaces and non-spaces. They are both literally and philosophically detailed in stories such as “The Collector of Cracks”, in which an author communes with one of his own characters, a hermit who begs of the Lord, “Give me power over all the cracks, great and small, that are crannied into things.” Through such interactions he examines the gorges in both the physical earth and time itself. In “The Pupil” he similarly dissects human perception. This time his vehicle is a lover, who in an evening has a discourse with the reflection of himself in his beloved’s eye. From this he learns the pattern in which his partner’s heart has moved and will move. He learns that he will soon be abandoned to live out his days with only his reflection deep inside of her, forgotten, like all the lovers before him. In Krzhizhanovsky’s stories pianists lose their fingers, and most men lose their way.
It is through the acknowledgement of these losses and non-spaces however, through the discussion of the empty and forgotten, that Krzhizhanovsky gives them life and purpose. In a near stoic, matter-of-fact tone he meditates on the bizarre relationship we have with what has gone missing. Funny that this writing was doomed to be left behind by the man who wrote it, yet posthumously discovered, translated, repackaged and distributed.
An old Indian folktale tells of a man forced to shoulder a corpse night after night- till the corpse, its dead but moving lips pressed to his year, has finished telling the story of its long finished life. Don’t try to throw me to the ground. Like the man in the folktale, you will have to shoulder the burden of my three insomnias and listen patiently, till the corpse has finished its autobiography.
By reading this now we rouse Krzhizhanovsky’s resting bones, and for a collection of his work to win the Best Translated Book Award this year, well, that would be nothing short of poetic.