Kharms, Daniil Ivanovich..
Real name, Daniil Ivanovich Iuvachev. Born 17 (30) December 1905
in Petersburg. His mother ran a refuge for women who were released
from prison. His father was a former member of the People's Will
(Narodnaya Volya) revolutionary organization. He was
arrested in 1883 and spent time in Schiesselburg Fortress and in
Sakhalin in far eastern Siberia. In prison, he became religious
and a pacifist. After his release, he returned to Petersburg and
took up writing. His works include "Eight Years in Sakhalin"
(under the pseudonym of I.P. Miroliubov) in 1901 and "Schiesselburg
Fortress" in 1907.|
In 1915, the young Daniil was sent to a very disciplined German school on the Nevsky Prospect. There he learned German and English. His notebooks contain hand-written copies of the poems of Lewis Carroll in English. In 1919, he went to live with his aunt in Detskoe Selo. Begins to write verse in approximately 1922.
In 1924 he moves back to Leningrad and enters the Leningrad ElektroTeknicum. In 1925, he began to perform in public as a poetry reader of his own works as well as the works of other Soviet poets, including Mayakovsky, Severyanin, and Aseeva. He attended literary evenings and became friends with V. Vvedensky. He also started an acquaintance with the poets N. Kliuev and A. Tyfanov. It is in this year that he first used his most popular pseudonym-- Daniil Kharms. He had over 30 pseudonyms in total.
In early twenties, he was associated with the poetry movement known as "Zaum" ("Trans-sense", "Trans-rational", or "Unintelligible"). On 17 October 1925, just eight days after being officially accepted into the Leningrad department of the All-Russian Union of Poets, Kharms performed at a Zaum literary evening, along with Vvedensky and Tufanov. In January 1926, Kharms and Vvedensky formed a branch of Zaum, calling themselves the Chinari. While very similar to the Russian word for "Plane Trees", it has been suggested that Chinari was derived from the word Chin, meaning rank--but understood in the sense of spiritual rank, not official office or title.
Kharms's first published work "Incident on the Railroad" appears in 1926 in the almanac "Poetry Collection", prepared by the Leningrad department of the Union of Poets.
In 1927, Kharms proposed the creation of an Academy of Left Classics, whose purpose would be a "struggle against hacks". On 28 March, the Chinari hold a literary evening which erupts in catcalls, whistles, and fights in the audience.
At the end of 1927 the Chinari announced the formation of a new group: OBERIU (an abbreviation for the "Union of Real Art-oo"). In its manifesto, the OBERIU said its main task was to portray the world in a clearly objectified manner.
In a letter to a friend, Kharms wrote, "When I write poetry, the most important thing for me is not the idea, not the contents and not the form and not the obscure notion of "quality", but something even more obscure and unintelligible to the rational mind, but understandable to me...This is--purity of order. This purity is the same in the sun, in the grass, in man, and in poetry. Real art stands side by side with the first reality. It creates the world and is its first reflection."
On 28 January 1928, OBERIU hosts a theatrical evening called "Three Left Hours". The first hour was for poetry readings. During this, Kharms rode out onto stage on a black lacquered wardrobe, which was animated by two men hiding inside. Kharms, on the top, was covered in white powder and wearing a long jacket decorated with red triangles. On his head was a golden cap with pendants. In a loud, somewhat raspy voice, he declaimed some "phonetic poems".
The second hour of the meeting was given over to a performance of Kharms' play "Elizaveta Bam". The heroine of the play is an adolescent. "From the beginning to the end of the play, the girl is chased by two dark persons. They accuse Bam of a murder she did not commit. The girl tries to joke her way out of it, run away, to plead with and to amuse her pursuers. For a while, this works. And then the tense expectation of something horrible is shattered by a clownish joke. The persecutors accept Elizaveta's invitation to a game. The accused victim and the accusers play a kind of broken telephone and cat-and-mouse game. But despite the fun and games, the persecutors' purpose does not change. The play ends with them taking away Bam. The series of playful episodes in the play are perceived as independent episodes. Bam's persecutors, Ivan Ivanovich and Pyotr Nikolaiovich, forgetting about their evil mission, play the fool. Mama and Papa Bam play up to them. Besides isolated staged episodes, the play unrolls an interlude in verse "Battle of Two Bogatyrs"; the connection of this to the main action is hard to fathom. Thus the play reveals two forces. One is trying to construct a subject and lead it to a conclusion. The other force tries to break the dramatic line of the subject, to shatter it. It bursts out into circus, farce, buffoonery, self- sufficient theatrical scenes. The first force brings out a disturbing theme; the second one, a festive, disruptive one. Both forces fight with shifting success. But in the end, despite the dark beginning and conclusion, what remains in the memory is the eccentric game, the unfettered romp." (Aleksandrov, Anatoly. "Chudodei: Lichnost' i Tvorchestvo Daniila Kharmsa". Sovetskii Pisatel'. 1991)
In 1928, Kharms also began working for the children's magazine "Yozh" ("Hedgehog"), edited by Marshak. By the end of the year, "Yozh" had printed ten of Kharms's works, including the poem "Ivan Ivanych Samovar".
In 1930 he also began writing for the children's magazine "Chizh" ("Siskin"). Konstantin Chukovsky recalled, "Now it's almost unbelievable that the witty verses of Kharms, to which children (especially young children) were so attracted, in the 1930s drew furious rage from the majority of pedagogues."
The occasional OBERIU theatrical "concerts" continued into 1930. Then on 9 April 1930 an article characterizing one of their performances appeared in the journal "Smena". The article, by L. Nilvich, was entitled "Reactionary Juggling: Concerning an Attack by Literary Hooligans". Following this, OBERIU performances ceased.
In December of 1931, based on a false denunciation, the editorial staff at "Yozh", including Kharms, were temporarily arrested. He was released on 18 June 1932. Kharms resumed his work for "Chizh", producing, among other things, a cycle of stories about Professor Trubochkin. He also created the character "Smart Masha", who was a continuing feature in the magazine.
In 1934 he also began work on a philosophical-literary piece entitled "Existence". Although never finished, he signed the manuscript "Daniil Dandan". This year also saw him accepted into the newly formed Union of Soviet Writers. And he married Marina Vladimirovna Malich.
As numerous of Kharms's friends and colleagues fell into official disfavor (Zabolotsky) or were arrested (Oleinikov), Kharms's own literary reputation was cast into doubt. In 1937, he was temporarily banned from the pages of "Chizh", reappearing only a year later. In 1937 and 1938, he hosted musical-literary evenings in his apartment. One participant remembers a noticed posted on the walls which read: "List of Persons Particularly Respected in This House". The list included the names Bach, Gogol, Glinka, and Knut Hamsun. In 1939, Kharms finished his "Incidents" cycle, which includes "Pushkin and Gogol". An article that year in the magazine "Children's Literature" entitled "Comic Poetry" gives a favorable review of Kharms's work.
On 23 August 1941, he was arrested. The doorman asked him to come down into the courtyard for something. He was taken away half-dressed, wearing slippers on his bare feet. He died on 2 February 1942 in a prison hospital in Novosibirsk. He was rehabilitated in 1956.