This fascinating Russian writer’s birth name was Daniil Ivanovich Iuvachev, after exploring the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to use the nom de plume – Daniil Kharms. He had used other pen names but finally settled on Kharms. It was done as a play on the word charm and harm, given his upbringings and lack of love for children, old folks, and others it gave him the freedom to do either probably depending on his mood at the moment. He had been quoted saying:
“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.”
Much has been written about Kharms to which can be found here. What I would like to focus on is who was he really. Which of his works embody who this man really was? Kharms made his own life a piece of art. In his early poems he experimented with structure and technique, trying to create new meanings through sounds alone. Later his writing in general moved toward stylistic simplicity. In his mini stories he challenged the ordinary logic and rationality of the world. Anna Akhmatova once said that Kharms “managed to do what almost no one else could – write the so-called prose of the twentieth century.”
What I’d like to do is present one of his short stories that I believe reflects who he really was, what he believed, in this work one can find subtle hints into his true philosophy about life. I present to you his short story – A Knight
Aleksey Alekseyevich Alekseyev was a real knight. So, for example, on one occasion, catching sight from a tram of a lady stumbling against a kerbstone and dropping from her bag a glass lampshade for a table-lamp, which promptly smashed, Aleksey Alekseyevich, desiring to help the lady, decided to sacrifice himself and, leaping from the tram at full speed, fell and split open the whole of his phizog on a stone. Another time, seeing a lady who was climbing over a fence catch her skirt on a nail and get stuck there, so that she could move neither backward nor forward, Aleksey Alekseyevich began to get so agitated that, in his agitation, he broke two front teeth with his tongue. In a word, Aleksey Alekseyevich was really the most chivalrous knight, and not only in relation to ladies. With unprecedented ease, Aleksey Alekseyevich could sacrifice his life for his Faith, Tsar and Motherland, as he proved in the year ’14, at the start of the German war, by throwing himself, with the cry ‘For the Motherland!’, on to the street from a second-floor window. By some miracle, Aleksey Alekseyevich remained alive, getting off with only light injuries, and was quickly, as such an uncommonly zealous patriot, dispatched to the front.
At the front, Aleksey Alekseyevich distinguished himself with his unprecedentedly elevated feelings and every time he pronounced the words ‘banner’, ‘fanfare’, or even just ‘epaulettes’, down his face there would trickle a tear of emotion.
In the year ’16, Aleksey Alekseyevich was wounded in the loins and withdrew from the front.
As a first-category invalid, Aleksey Alekseyevich had no longer to serve and, profiting from the time on his hands, committed his patriotic feelings to paper.
Once, chatting with Konstantin Lebedev, Aleksey Alekseyevich came out with his favourite utterance – I have suffered for the motherland and wrecked my loins, but I exist by the strength of conviction in my posterior subconscious.
– And you’re a fool! – said Konstantin Lebedev. – The highest service to the motherland is rendered only by a Liberal.
For some reason, these words became deeply imprinted on the mind of Aleksey Alekseyevich and so, in the year ’17, he was already calling himself a liberal whose loins had suffered for his native land.
Aleksey Alekseyevich greeted the Revolution with delight, notwithstanding even the fact that he was deprived of his pension. For a certain time Konstantin Lebedev supplied him with cane-sugar, chocolate, preserved suet and millet groats. But when Konstantin Lebedev suddenly went missing no one knew where, Aleksey Alekseyevich had to take to the streets and ask for charity. At first, Aleksey Alekseyevich would extend his hand and say: – Give charity, for Christ’s sake, to him whose loins have suffered for the motherland. – But this brought no success. Then Aleksey Alekseyevich changed the word ‘motherland’ to the word ‘revolution’. But this too brought no success. Then Aleksey Alekseyevich composed a revolutionary song, and, if he saw on the street a person capable, in Aleksey Alekseyevich’s opinion, of giving alms, he would take a step forward and proudly, with dignity, threw back his head and start singing:
To the barricades
We will all zoom!
We will ourselves all maim and doom!
And, jauntily tapping his heels in the Polish manner, Aleksey Alekseyevich would extend his hat and say – Alms, please, for Christ’s sake. – This did help and Aleksey Alekseyevich rarely remained without food.
Everything was going well, but then, in the year ’22, Aleksey Alekseyevich got to know a certain Ivan Ivanovich Puzyryov, who dealt in Sunflower oil in the Haymarket. Puzyryov invited Aleksey Alekseyevich to a cafe, treated him to real coffee and, himself chomping fancy cakes, expounded to him some sort of complicated enterprise of which Aleksey Alekseyevich understood only that he had to do something, in return for which he would receive from Puzyryov the most costly items of nutrition. Aleksey Alekseyevich agreed and Puzyryov, on the spot, as an incentive, passed him under the table two caddies of tea and a packet of Rajah cigarettes.
After this, Aleksey Alekseyevich came to see Puzyryov every morning at the market, and picking up from him some sort of papers with crooked signatures and numerous seals, took a sleigh, if it were winter and if it were summer a cart, and set off as instructed by Puzyryov, to do the rounds of various establishments where, producing the papers, he would receive some sort of boxes, which he would load on to his sleigh or cart, and in the evening take them to Puzyryov at his flat. But once, when Aleksey Alekseyevich had just rolled up in his sleigh at Puzyryov’s flat, two men came up to him, one of whom was in a military great-coat, and asked him: – Is your name Alekseyev? – Then Aleksey Alekseyevich was put into an automobile and taken away to prison.
At the interrogation, Aleksey Alekseyevich understood nothing and just kept saying that he had suffered for his revolutionary motherland. But, despite this, he was sentenced to ten years of exile in his motherland’s northern parts. Having got back in the year ’28 to Leningrad, Aleksey Alekseyevich began to ply his previous trade and, standing up on the corner of Volodarskiy, tossed back his head with dignity, tapped his heel and sang out:
To the barricades
We will all zoom!
We will ourselves all maim and doom!
But he did not even manage to sing it through twice before he was taken away in a covered vehicle to somewhere in the direction of the Admiralty. His feet never touched the ground.
And there we have a short narrative of the life of the valiant knight and patriot, Aleksey Alekseyevich Alekseyev.
Decide for yourself who he really was, I suspect like Sherlock Holmes he was a very enigmatic character looking for clues that would help him unravel the mysteries that plague us all. What is the meaning of “Life”.