Daniil Kharms



I used to tell myself that I could see the world. But the whole world was inaccessible to my gaze and I could see only bits of the world. And everything that I saw I called bits of the world. And I observed the qualities of these bits and in observing the qualities of the bits I was making science. I understood that there were intelligent qualities and unintelligent qualities in those same bits. I divided them up and gave them names. And, depending on their qualities, the bits of the world were intelligent and unintelligent.

And there were certain bits of the world that could think. And these bits looked at other bits and at me. And all bits looked like each other and I looked like them. And I used to speak with these bits of the world.

I would say: - there are bits that are thunder.

The bits would say: - a wisp of time.

I would say: - I am also a bit of a triple turn.

The bits would reply: - We are but tiny dots.

And suddenly I stopped seeing them, and then the other bits as well. And I got scared that the world would collapse.

But at this point I realised that I didn't see separate bits, but I saw the whole caboodle. At first I thought that this was NOTHING. But then I realised that this was the world, and that what I used to see before was NOT the world.

And I had always known what the world is, but what I had seen before I do not know even now.

And when the bits had vanished, then their intelligent qualities ceased being intelligent and their unintelligent qualities ceased being unintelligent. And the whole world ceased being intelligent and unintelligent.

But once I had realised that I was seeing the world, then I ceased seeing it. I got scared, thinking that the world had collapsed. But while I was thinking this way, I realised that, if the world had collapsed, then I would not by now be thinking this way. And I kept looking, searching for the world, but didn't find it.

And after that there was nowhere left to look.

Then I realised that while there had been somewhere to look - then the world was around me. But now it wasn't. There was only me.

And then I realised that I actually am the world.

But the world, it is not me.

Although, at the same time, I am the world.

But the world isn't me.

But I'm the world.

But the world isn't me.

But I'm the world.

But the world isn't me.

But I'm the world.

And beyond that I didn't think anything.

First published 1930.

Contributed by Neil Cornwell.

The title of this brief work by Daniil Kharms in Russian (Myr / M61P) is a corrupt spelling of 'world', or, one might well say, a conflation of my and mir. It is therefore something like 'werld', and indeed it has in fact been translated as 'The Werld' - by Matvei Yankelevich, in New American Writing, 20 (2002), amid a clutch of texts from OBERIU writers, as 'Russian Absurdism of the 1930s'. See also that translator’s Kharms collection (below). 'Wee-orld' might have been another, if infelicitous sounding, possibility. An alternative notion is that of the work (or the world) backwards - and another translation of this piece has duly appeared on the internet under the title 'DLROW'. However, perhaps 'whirled' somehow suits better here as a title in English: and, of course, orally 'whirled' would not be distinguishable from 'world' in any case. The present translation was undertaken some time ago, at the request of the Icelandic composer Haflidi Hallgrimsson, for use in a Kharmsian opera he was preparing; eventually, however, his commission required a German text, and the opera duly opened in Lübeck and then Vienna in the spring of 2005 (under the title Die Wält der Zwischenfälle, or 'Werld of Incidents').

The Russian text is here taken from Logos (1993, no. 4, p. 115), with slight alterations in punctuation. It was first published, decades after its author's death, in Daniil Kharms, Polet v nebesa (Leningrad, 1988, pp. 313-14) and again in the Kharms Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 2 (St Petersburg, 1997, pp. 307-9), edited by V.N. Sazhin.

The tense structure/sequence in Russian is less clear than in English: much of it could be rendered in either the present or past tense. One or two phrases are a little obscure (in the conversation with the 'bits'), but mostly it is written in straightforward, fairly simple Russian.

Myr is part of a cycle of semi- (or pseudo) theoretical works written by Kharms in the late 1920s and early 1930s, concerned with the 'illusion' of the three-dimensional world, and apparently under the influence of such thinkers as P.D. Uspensky (Tertium Organum) and G. Minkovsky (Prostranstvo i vremia) - a fusion of the human being and the universe under the impact of the occult, the new science and a touch of Gnosticism. This particular work seems too a bizarre (but, for Kharms, fairly typical) amalgam of parodied creation myth, pedantic logic, and Kharmsian nonsense. Bessmyslitsa (or the OBERIU absurd), was understood by Kharms as 'a rich characteristic of the world of eternity - the only real and authentic one, as opposed to the earthly world' (according to his philosopher friend Iakov Druskin: see Sazhin's notes to Kharms, Pol. sob. soch., 2, p. 472).

[this translation and commentary was first published in Rusistika, No. 30, Autumn 2005]

Further Reading

On Myr (and its 'cycle'), see:

Kharms, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 2 (St Petersburg, 1997), pp. 295-315 (and the notes by V.N. Sazhin, pp. 470-3)
Jean-Philippe Jaccard, Daniil Harms et la fin de l'avant-garde russe (Bern: Peter Lang, 1991), pp. 127-9; 193-4 (Russian edition: St Petersburg, 1995)

Kharms in English:

Daniil Kharms, Incidences, translated by Neil Cornwell (London: Serpent's Tail, 2006; first edition 1993). This selection includes 'On the Circle', another piece from the 'theoretical' cycle mentioned above.
OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism, translated by Eugene Ostashevsky, Matvei Yankelevich et al. (Northwestern University Press, 2006)
Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms, edited and translated by Matvei Yankelevich (Overlook Duckworth, 2007)

On Kharms:

Neil Cornwell (editor), Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd (Macmillan and St. Martin's Press, 1991)
Graham Roberts, The Last Soviet Avant-Garde: OBERIU - Fact, Fiction, Metafiction (Cambridge University Press, 1997)
Neil Carrick, Daniil Kharms: Theologian of the Absurd (Birmingham Slavonic Monographs, No. 28, 1998)
Adrian Wanner, Russian Minimalism: From the Prose Poem to the Anti-Story (Northwestern University Press, 2003)
Neil Cornwell, The Absurd in Literature (Manchester University Press, 2006)

See also: the Kharms entries in Reference Guide to Russian Literature, edited by Neil Cornwell (Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998), pp. 432-7; and the Kharms entry in Literary Encyclopedia: http://www.litencyc.com

Neil Cornwell