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Daniil Kharms

Daniil Kharms

Daniil Kharms (1905-1942) was a Russian writer, poet, and playwright who composed short stories, poems, epigrams, plays, and children’s books. Kharms’ biography may actually seem like one of his stories; rather absurd and filled with terror. In the brief thirty-six years of his life, he was persecuted by the Soviet government and his adult works barely saw publication. His greatness and significance were only discovered in the 1960s, two decades after his death. Kharms was born under the name Daniil Yuvatchov. He invented the assumed name Kharms while still at school after he toyed with various options: Charms (“charm”); Harm (“harm”); Chardam, etc. Kharms’ father was a revolutionary who was imprisoned by the authorities. Upon his release, he became a devout Christian who dedicated his life to writing his literary memoirs. He didn’t understand his son’s work or consider it to be literature. Kharms developed as a writer and poet through the second decade of the 20th century. He was influenced by Khlebnikov and Truphanov and was among the founders of a group of avant-garde subversive poets called OBERIU (Union of Real Art). In 1930, an article was published in the youth magazine “Smena” naming the group members literary hooligans and accusing them of being enemies of the working class. In 1931, some members of the group were imprisoned, among them Kharms, who was sent to spend a year in Kursk. After his imprisonment, Kharms was no longer able to get his adult works published and was, therefore, forced to focus on children’s magazines only. Nevertheless, he continued writing seven hours a day, although he knew he would never manage to get the works published in his lifetime. With the discovery of his works, in the 60s and 70s, the voice of the Russian absurd had emerged (Kharms was active at the same time as Beckett and Ionesco) and since then was considered one of the genre’s founders. It seems that this literary genre was perfect for describing the hardships and senseless day-to-day life in Communist Russia; few writers equal Kharms’ ability to describe the chasm in Russian society and its disintegration or possess his talent for depicting the relationships between people as a sequence of follies lacking meaning and context. Toward the end of the 1930s, Kharms stopped publishing children’s literature almost entirely and he and his wife were on the brink of starvation. In 1941, he was arrested again after supposedly speaking out against the conscription to WWII. To avoid death sentence, Kharms feigned madness and, as a result, died of starvation in a psychiatric asylum in 1942.

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