Kharms, Daniil Ivanovich [ХАРМС, ДАНИИЛ ИВАНОВИЧ] (1905–1942) By Scotto, Peter
Co-founder (with Aleksandr Vvedensky) of the short-lived Obedinenie real’nogo iskussta, or OBERIU (The Association for Real Art), Kharms was one of the leading figures of the Leningrad poetic avant-garde in the late 1920s and 1930s. Best known as the author of darkly comic, absurd, and often violent prose miniatures, Kharms was unable to publish either his poetry or prose “for adults” during his lifetime, and survived by writing brilliantly inventive children’s verse beloved by several generations of Russian speakers. Both his poetry of the 1920s and his prose of the 1930s eschew logic and revel in nonsense on the premise that language is otherwise unable to convey the nature of the real. The unmotivated and existential violence that shadows the comic surfaces of his prose has been read as a reflection of the pervasive violence of Stalinist Russia. Arrested in 1931 and again in 1941, he died in an NKVD psychiatric prison hospital in 1942, likely from starvation. Following his arrest, his manuscripts were, miraculously, recovered and kept safe by friends to await the 1970s, when the process of returning his work to Russian literature began.