Friday, February 29, 2008

Quotations, or Unmistakable Aggressive Force

"The difference between what I write and poetry and literature is that, in principle, what I write is not fiction. But I do wonder more and more: Is there a real difference between and a theory and a fiction?"

-- Jean-Francois Lyotard



""The quotations in my works are like robbers lying in ambush on the highway to attack the passerby with weapons drawn and rob him of conviction." Walter Benjamin, the author of this statement, was perhaps the first European intellectual to recognize the fundamental change that had taken place in the transmissibility of culture and in the new relation to the past that constituted the inevitable consequence of this change."

--Giorgio Agamben



"The particular power of quotations arises, according to Benjamin, not from their ability to transmit that past and allow the reader to relive it but, on the contrary, from their capacity to "make a clean sweep, to expel from the context, to destroy.""

--ibid



"Alienating by force a fragment of the past from its historical context, the quotation at once makes it lose its character of authentic testimony and invests it with an alienating power that constitutes its unmistakable aggressive force."

--ibid



"Benjamin, who for his entire life pursued the idea of writing a work made up exclusively of quotations, had understood that the authority invoked by the quotation is founded precisely on the destruction of the authority that is attributed to a certain text by its situation in the history of culture."

--ibid



""To quote a text means to interrupt its context." Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, vol 2.2 (Frankfurt a.M: Suhrkamp, 1972), p. 536."

-- Giorgio Agamben, "The Melancholy Angel", The Man Without Content, trans. Georgia Albert, (California: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 128, Note 3.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Baltimore is Reads

The new issue of Baltimore is Reads has been born. BiR is a cool concept, where the pieces of writing are printed on pieces of paper and left in different places around Baltimore. That's an excellent idea. This new issue features work by Blake Butler, whose work was stuck in a fence for passers-by to find. Also you can read excerpts from Michael Kimball's (excellent) new novel Dear Everybody. Apparently these excerpts, these potent little suicide notes, were left in series along some parking meters. I feel giddy and excited when I imagine suddenly realizing that the words of Blake Butler or Michael Kimball are stuck in a fence or to a parking meter right before my eyes. The issue has been fully delivered and is now emerged from the incubator and screaming loudly throughout Baltimore, Maryland. And right here, online.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Slavoj Zizek in the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies

Slavoj Zizek has an article entitled "The Prospects of Radical Politics Today" in the January 2008 issue of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies. This particular selection is merely a step along the way in Zizek's essay, but I picked it out because it felt supportive of my stengthening belief that philosophy is really a strange and powerful genre of fiction -- one of my favorite genres, actually.

"The very question "Is it true?" apropos of some statement is supplanted by another question: "Under what power con­ditions can this statement be uttered?" What we get instead of the universal truth is a multitude of perspectives, or, as it is fashionable to put it today, of "narratives" – not only of literature, but also of politics, religion, science, they are all different narratives, stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and the ultimate goal of ethics is to guarantee the neutral space in which this multitude of narratives can peacefully coexist . . ."


The essay itself is interesting as well, talking about power structures in the DNA of language, or at least our understanding of it, and how even those who are swinging their pick-axes feverishly to demolish the well-cured foundations must stand on those very foundations in order to begin.

Here is another passage I thought worth quoting out of context:

"Habermas designated the present era as that of the neue Unϋbersichtlichkeit – ­the new opacity.1 More than ever, our daily experience is mystifying: moderniza­tion generates new obscurantisms, the reduction of freedom is presented to us as the arrival of new freedoms."


The New Opacity. Obscurantisms. Those words stick in my mind.

". . . one should be especially careful not to confuse the ruling ideology with ideology which seems to dominate. More than ever, one should bear in mind Walter Benjamin's reminder that it is not enough to ask how a certain theory (or art) declares itself with regard to social struggles – one should also ask how it effectively functions in these very struggles."


I think Slavoj Zizek is one of the most honest thinkers in a long time. Maybe I say that because I agree with a lot of what he says. Probably so.

"My personal experience is that practically all of the "radical" academics silently count on the long-term stability of the American capitalist model, with the secure tenured position as their ultimate professional goal (a surprising number of them even play on the stock market). If there is a thing they are gen­uinely horrified of, it is a radical shattering of the (relatively) safe life environ­ment of the "symbolic classes" in the developed Western societies. Their exces­sive Politically Correct zeal when dealing with sexism, racism, Third World sweatshops, etc., is thus ultimately a defense against their own innermost identi­fication, a kind of compulsive ritual whose hidden logic is: "Let's talk as much as possible about the necessity of a radical change to make sure that nothing will really change!""


This makes me think of my friend Jeff Vande Zande's novel entitled Landscape with Hothouse Flowers. I am also reminded, by the last lines especially, of an essay I wrote a few years ago about the possibly paradoxical catharsis viewers experienced through the movie V for Vendetta.


" . . . radical chic . . . "


Zizek talks about Peter Singer, Richard Rorty, Theodor Adorno, Maxim Gorky, Karl Marx (of course), Lenin (of course), Jean-Francois Lyotard, Etienne Balibar, Jacques Ranciere, Alain Badiou, Bill Clinton, Deleuze and Guattari, Christopher Hitchens, Franz Kafka, etc, but, interestingly, not Jean Baudrillard. Huh.

Here's maybe a line that could super-distill and oversimplify the article:

American academia is to radical politics as Starbucks is to specialty coffee.

Monday, February 25, 2008

New Reviews at NewPages

Yes, a fresh set. Swell magazines like:

Brick :: Creative Nonfiction :: Drash :: Field :: Freefall :: Green Mountains Review :: Knockout :: The Laurel Review :: Other Voices :: Pembroke :: Pindeldyboz :: Rattle :: Thereby Hangs a Tale :: Tuesday; An Art Project

I will have some three reviews in the next installment, I believe. But I once believed in Santa Claus, too, so . . .

Go, let the words caress your eyes.

More Book Blurbs for Sale

"Seriously, I am not kidding, these sentences are so literally sharp that they have literally cut my eyes into tiny little pieces and I am writing this by memory. The blood has run down my face. I can feel the warmth and taste the iron. So, if you would like this to experience such literally sharp sentences and never read again, then this is the book for you. Just try to get everything else in before you look at the first page. Even seeing the cover will give you a black eye."

--Josh Maday



"Barthelme, Barth, Coover, Pynchon, Saunders, Delillo, Calvino, Markson, Vollmann, Ballard, Foster Wallace, Murakami, Joyce, Proust, Evenson, Jarry, Celine, Chekhov, Conrad, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Johnson, Palahniuk, Roth, James, Amis, Updike, Houellebecq, McCarthy, Borges, Hawkes, Robbe-Grillet, Camoin, Martone, Bellow, Marx, Thompson, Selby Jr., Freud, Nabokov, Heidegger, Davis, Olsen, Gass, Hemingway, Lethem, Kerouac, Bernhard, Carver, Wittgenstein, Lish, Lowry, Deleuze, Steinbeck, Camus, Marquez, Bataille, Burroughs, Link, Self, D'Agata, D'Ambrosio, Balzac, Hegel, Kharms, Babel, Ashbery, Melville, Saramago, Gardner, Okri, Blanchot, Vonnegut, Thomas, Rimbaud, Cheever, Olen Butler, Heller, Baldacci, Dreiser, Morrison, Auster, Danielewski, Sartre, Tolstoy, Sontag, Lem, Miller, Maslow, Dworkin, Capote, Hardy, Hesse, Beckett, Pirandello, Solzhenitsyn, Chomsky, Dawkins, Machiavelli, Sade, Mallarme, Valery, Einstein, Waugh, Wodehouse, Zola, Dickens, Emerson, Kierkegaard, Thoreau, King, Grisham, Hawking, Steele, Higgins Clark, Spinoza, Oates, Kafka, Eliot, Poe, Orwell, Lahiri, Franzen, Smith, Patterson, Clancy, McEnroe, Adorno, Jameson, Calvino, Carver, Gass, Joyce, Barth, Barthelme, Saunders, Borges, and so so many more . . ."

--Josh Maday

Revolution Defused: Another Look at V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta exploded onto the big screen. It made some people angry. It made some people think. And then it went quietly the way of all film and conceded to the hyper-speed cycle of movie releases, where movies pass through theaters like images pass through the projector. V for Vendetta came and it went, and that’s about the size of the story. By now, V has been laid to rest in its thin, black butterfly-case coffin and filed away in millions of mausoleums posing as personal DVD collections. Just to be clear: this is not exactly a review of the movie, but some thoughts about V for Vendetta’s paradoxical power to inspire and then defuse that inspiration.

Of course, Vendetta is set in the Orwellian nightmare, where the romantic notion of revolution is embodied in a Phantom of the Opera-esque figure. Natalie Portman (Evey), Hugo Weaving (V, Agent Smith in The Matrix), and John Hurt (Adam Sutler, the Chancellor) each deliver powerful, believable performances. Natalie Portman demonstrates her impressive emotional range. Hugo Weaving’s voice and ability to deliver hypnotizing monologues are already famous from The Matrix. With his body language as well as his linguistic prowess he gives life and complexity to the masked revolutionary spirit that is V. The movie was well done and very moving, in my opinion, with the totalitarian world in Orwell’s 1984 brought to life (which was obviously intended, but for which some reviewers have called the film unoriginal), the story has interesting and universal characters, and it deals with big ideas like freedom, tyranny, and revolution, which are unlikely to pass from the collective consciousness as long as humanity attempts self-government, especially in America. If only for the presence of big ideas, V for Vendetta was an anomaly among most fare flowing down from Mount Hollywood.

The movie abounds with great one-liners like: “Beneath this mask is more than flesh, Mr. Creedy, there is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.” Not without holes, I might add, but still bulletproof. It’s tough not to feel vicariously like a bad ass when Hugo Weaving delivers lines like: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people,” and, “I killed you ten minutes ago while you were sleeping.” Another one to whip out at parties: “Artists use lies to tell the truth. Politicians use them to cover it up.” In addition to the gold mine of aphoristic one-liners, there is enough action to temper that talking.

In an immediate sense, V for Vendetta was a very cathartic film. I was pumped as I walked out of the theater, as were many others I’m sure, feeling like we had just taken part in a two hour revolution and that Big Brother was destroyed. Even if it was just a movie—a play set where many of our current fears, anxieties, and deep concern for our future were reproduced as images—I still felt as though these things were taken seriously by someone with a voice that might actually be heard. I left the Cineplex feeling as though I had gotten something off my chest. My voice had been heard. The same thing happens when we read a novel or hear a song that articulates these things for us better than we could have for ourselves, and we feel a sort of cathartic comfort knowing that someone else out there thinks and feels the same way.

This cathartic release is precisely why V for Vendetta did not and will not incite any revolutionary action, or inspire any real and lasting change.

Well, who said it was going to start a revolution, man? That’s absurd. It’s just a movie. Entertainment and nothing more. That’s not what the film was trying to do.

Really? But if the world depicted in the movie (or at least something very similar) is where so many people firmly believe our society is headed and is frighteningly close already, why won’t a film like V for Vendetta inspire us to action, maybe even extreme action? Or even slightly more involved pre-emptive political action to try and prevent that future before we find ourselves scurrying home to beat the curfew? The reality is that a film like this will move us emotionally and intellectually but not practically. It is pseudo-activity, an exercise akin to masturbation.

As I said above, those in the audience for whom the idea of revolution in itself was enticing and came to ‘take part in a revolution’ most likely left the theater satisfied as well. They had reached catharsis by the end, climaxing with Evey (innuendo intended, as an almost sexual ecstasy was certainly part of this catharsis), but also defusing the likelihood of any revolutionary action in the real world. V’s revolution does its job in that world and in this one as well, only inversely. Of course, Aristotle developed the idea of catharsis in relation to Greek theatre to describe a successful dramatic work, dealing specifically with the tragic hero. Catharsis means purification, cleansing, purgation. It is the release of pent up emotion or energy. Before Aristotle used it metaphorically, catharsis was a medical term referring to the evacuation of reproductive material. Also, the Roman gladiators in the Coliseum come to mind, quenching the public’s bloodlust as an effective means to keep the masses at peace in the city. And today, our sports fetish from Little League to the Big Leagues, celebrity worship, reality TV, fashion cycles, election season, holiday shopping season, etcetera, etcetera, all serve as the blow-up dolls of our vicarious, cathartic lives. No action required, only consumption. Binge and purge. Fuck it out and go back to sleep.

Throughout the film we’re provoked by the huge, yelling, condescending face of the Chancellor/Big Brother/G.W.B, by the Bill O’Reilly/Rush Limbaugh/Jerry Falwell show host, as well as by the constrained and repressed atmosphere where someone is always watching and waiting for us to betray ourselves, just like Winston, Orwell’s main character. Then we’re rescued by V, a strong, mysterious, and intelligent figure. We’re awakened (reminded in the real world) to the corrupt and unjust world around us. Then we’re taught to shed our fear and we’re inspired, we find the courage we knew had always been inside us, and we join the fight. In the end we get to push the button and make everything go BOOM, and we win our liberty back. Immediately the lights come on, the credits roll, and we shuffle out of the theater and into the world again, the world we just conquered and saved. We get into our car, still thinking about all we’ve done and what it means. Then we go about our lives, changing nothing, because this is 2006, 2007, two thousand-whatever, and this is not a good time in our life for a revolution to come along and screw up all we’ve been working for. Besides, things could be worse.

Many reviewers were upset that Vendetta seemed to endorse terrorism. Certainly, anyone who enjoyed the film is obliged to denounce any glorification of terrorism, especially the 9/11 and London subway/airport brand of terrorism, as we conceive of it today. But on the other hand, if this is an absolute judgment, we’re condemned to live under the oppression of a world like that in which Evey and V exist, if in fact we believe even V’s version (blowing up empty buildings and landmarks, rather than people) is taboo under such circumstances. What with the close parallel to our own world, our own fears, it seems like some are taking V’s terrorism out of the context of his world and applying it to our world at present. In this case, aside from what appears to be poorly defined terms, the mixed and unsure reception of V for Vendetta supports claims concerning the increasing breakdown of our ability to separate fiction from reality, something writers and thinkers have been telling us from the virtual mountaintops for decades.

Some may have thought V was dangerous, subversive. But it seems that there isn’t much to the word “subversive” anymore except the fleeting, irrational excitement that is the power of buzzwords. Consider for a moment the hypothetical possibility of taking part in an actual revolution, one where success hinges on our personal involvement (a line any good revolutionary group will sell you). Hell, we’ll say that all we have to do is send a monthly check and the Great Liberating Revolution will happen while we’re at work every day in V and Evey’s world.

So we have a decision to make. Before we send that check, we must be willing to give up everything, even our life, as Evey had to find out in one of the most powerful scenes in the film. This is where most of us would end our silly revolutionary aspirations. Certainly, we would remain disgusted and angry about the corruption and our apparent powerlessness to change it. Our conscience grimaces at the thought of injustice, war, and the suffering in the world around us. We want to see the world get better for everyone, for corruption to be brought to light and evil to be exposed where it hides. But the cost is just too great, so we decide to keep playing by the rules, telling ourselves that we’ll just pretend to play along. While we’re getting situated, we imagine how we’ll subvert the system, eat it from the inside. But this has supposedly been going on for many decades now, and it’s clear that essentially nothing has changed. In fact, we see a Supreme Court Justice expressing concern that our socio-political climate is ripe for the rise of a dictatorship.

It seems the system has grown immune to subversive pretensions. We are a people driven by the contradiction between our stinging conscience and our creature comforts. We reside in a state of comfortable dissatisfaction. This is largely what drives our society (besides caffeine and keeping up with the Jones’s, of course). In a post-9/11 world, anything close to revolutionary action is not permitted unless it is conducted with picket signs in the designated protest areas where it can be effectively neutralized and ignored.

Subversive behavior has been neutralized in the same way original bands, artists, or performers are mimicked and reproduced out of existence. The subversive is commodified, nullified, and absorbed into the system, becoming no different than a popular sneaker or a new plasma TV. For instance, being a Goth used to be subversive behavior. Now we see a Hot Topic in every mall in America. For a long time now, it seems as though most protests and marches have been reenactments, reproduced relics of the 1960’s, more religious ritual than revolutionary movement. Passion plays with crucifixes exchanged for picket signs. We march and shout and shake our fists defiantly as we’re herded into the chain-link protest pens, which become little more than living museums and silencers, no matter how perforated that fence is. Are we actually practicing freedom of expression, or are we mostly reveling in a euphoric nostalgia, fantasizing about how frightening and sublime it must have felt to be part of something meaningful, actually making a difference, and being heard instead of humored?

On the other hand, we wouldn’t for a moment agree that terrorism as we know it now could be an admirable catalyst to make our world better. So we’re stuck. What are we to do? Certainly there must be hope that we can avoid the world Orwell foresaw and the one V and Evey live in, right?

I think V for Vendetta was entertaining, moving, and stimulating. It’s a good movie. However, I believe it has succeeded in dismantling what may have been its own call for revolutionary action, not only by catharsis but also by associating uprising and revolutionary action too closely with our jihad conception of terrorism. Or maybe the fact that it could be played in theaters across the nation without police presence at each screening confirms that it was never a threat to begin with, that the potency of its subject matter had been neutralized long ago.

Finally, a few words from Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), out of his book The Present Age: “In contrast to the age of revolution, which took action, the present age is an age of publicity, the age of miscellaneous announcements: nothing happens but still there is instant publicity… The age of great and good actions is past; the present age is the age of anticipation.”

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I WILL SMASH YOU

I am disseminating information here. The following is a MySpace bulletin sent out by Michael Kimball (whose excellent new novel Dear Everybody will be released in the US in September). This sounds like a really cool project. I wish I could make it out to Baltimore. I have lots of things to smash. Maybe I'd even close my session in a manner similar to Kafka's "In the Penal Colony" and put myself under the hammer. But I can't make the trip, so that's irrelevant.

Anyway, here's the thing:

Dear Everybody,

I am working on a project called I WILL SMASH YOU with filmmakers, Luca Dipierro and Rachel Bradley, and we would like to film you smashing (or destroying in some other way) an object that has some kind of personal meaning for you.

The object can be anything.

The reason you want to smash the object can be anything (positive, negative ambivalent, etc.).

If you would like us to film you doing this, then please write back to me and tell me your name, your age, the object you would like to smash, and why (in 100 words or fewer) you would like to smash that particular object.

You must live in the Baltimore area or be willing to travel to Baltimore. We are planning on filming March 29 and 30.

Finally, please understand that you are being offered an opportunity that you may never again be offered. If you don't do this, you may regret it for the rest of your life.

Best, Michael

P.S. Your partners, spouses, children, and bffs are included in this invitation.

P.P.S. Please feel free to forward this to anybody who you think might be particularly interested.

P.P.P.S. You will have to sign a release form.


Go. Feel better. Smash something.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dark Sky Magazine

Okay, so maybe "The Dissemination of Michael Martone" is not your style. A little too weird, maybe? Too cerebral? Opaque? Well, I have just the story for you. The excellent Dark Sky Magazine has republished my short story entitled "Secondary Search" in this week's Issue 6.0, which marks the 20th week of publishing prose, poetry, photography, reviews, and art. The story was originally published in one of the very early issues of DSM, and I am honored that editor Kevin Murphy has decided to republish SS and keep it alive in the archives. While you're there, check out the rest of Issue 6.0, too. Of course.

If I were to stuff this situation into the ill-tailored suit of a metaphor, I would liken it to my being one of those parents who sees some great potential in one child, the wild and eccentric one, and sort of ignores the more self-sufficient and functional child. Secondary Search was the latter child for me. I refused to feel the excitement about it that I felt for another story -- SS's alter ego, evil twin, what have you -- that has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment so far. The wild child is a prodigal story that has said, Piss off, Dad, and give me everything I've got coming to me. Meanwhile, Secondary Search has, despite my neglect and relative lack of concern, made its way in the world. Only lately have I come to appreciate this story's ability to survive without much attention or encouragment from me. So, good work, Secondary Search. I'm happy and sort of impressed that you turned out nothing like me.

Okay, I think I've beaten that metaphor to its literal death.

Forward. Onward. ward.

Monday, February 11, 2008

New Work by Me about Michael Martone Published in Lamination Colony

The new issue of Lamination Colony is now live. Blake Butler does a consistently excellent job of putting together issues with work that would otherwise probably never see the outside world. The latest LC features, well, a lot of cool stuff. First, texts/stories/fictions/words by Sam Pink, Louis E. Bourgeois, Sean Kilpatrick, Colin Bassett, Edith Dunham (who is a spambot), Sam Osborne, Justin Dobbs, Catherine Lacey, John Dermot Woods, Mark Cunningham, Ryan Downey, Brian Foley, and Peter Berghoef.

Next, the parodies and weird criticism of writers. These include William Walsh handling David Markson, though not in the way you are thinking right now. Jimmy Chen examines David Foster Wallace. Chelsea Martin speaks Mike Topp. Michael Hemmingson rewrites Gordon Lish. Bradley Sands cuts up William Burroughs. Matthew Simmons spins Russell Edson into prose poetry. Claire Donato poeticizes Dean Young. Justin Taylor deadpans Tao Lin. Tao Lin & Brandon Gorrell get to the essence of Lydia Davis.

And me, I say Michael Martone's name approximately 124 times within the span of 2,100 words in "Distractus Refractus Ontologicus: The Dissemination of Michael Martone" and I have fun doing it. It is part fiction, criticism, parody, homage, collage, appropriation, philosophy, psychology, and wholly strange.

But that's not all. Blake asked contributors to make videos and take photos of themselves drawing and/or writing on their sking or brushing teeth or removing or putting articles of clothing. I tried the tooth brushing but I wasn't happy with what happened. All that mint and cleanness made me ill and the skin on my face turned into scales.

So I fretted and looked around and made a video that has nothing to do with any of those requests. It is a short-short-short film -- just over two and a half minutes -- entitled "Dostoevsky is My Tennis Partner" and Blake was kind enough to include it. Now I see that I wasn't the only one who was a pain in the ass and did something different. It is eleventh down the page. You'll see a hand writing on a yellow note card. That is my hand. And my notecard. Any my hairy fingers. And my copy of Dostoevsky's head. Lots of weird stuff there. Very nice. Go watch and look and watch.

Here is my short-short-short film entitled "Dostoevsky is My Tennis Partner":



And that's still not all. Be sure to check out Lamination Colony's first ebook entitled ALIENATED AFRAID OF FURNITURE IN BEDROOM by Brandon Scott Gorrell.

Great job everyone. Really great. I'm proud to be part of this issue.

Today I Wrote Nothing by Daniil Kharms

I'm over halfway through reading Today I Wrote Nothing by Daniil Kharms, a book of selected writings edited and translated by Matvei Yankelevich, and I'm loving it. I picked it up, planning to read just a few of the shorter pieces, but they're all short, and compulsively readable and addictively funny. I first read about Kharms's work at Kenyon Review's blog, which mentioned George Saunders's New York Times essay on Kharms's work, and also Matt Bell posted about the essay as well. Big thanks to these people for spreading the word about Kharms's work.

Daniil Kharms grew up during the Bolshevik revolution. He founded the avant-garde collective OBERIU and was eventually arrested and charged with anti-Soviet activities because his writing for children employed an absurd logic and did not uphold the state's materialist dogma. Eventually Kharms starved to death in prison. It's really a shame that his work is only being discovered or at least more widely recognized some seventy plus years later.

Kharms wrote with such sweet sarcasm, intentionally imploding his own absurd and surreal stories set in real life. Most of the stories begin as ordinary stories, as in "A Dream," which begins, "Kalugin fell asleep and had a dream: He's sitting in some bushes and a policeman is walking by." Simple enough. But the very next line of this single-page story goes, "Kalugin woke up, scratched around his mouth and fell asleep again, and again he had a dream: He's walking by the bushes, and in the bushes sits a policeman, hiding." But Kalugin wakes yet again and falls asleep again, the details of his dream shuffling again until "Kalugin screamed and thrashed in his bed, but now he couldn't wake up." So Kalugin sleeps for four days, and when he finally emerges he is pale and thin and is mistaken by the sanitary commission for a piece of trash and he is "folded in half" and thrown away. In "Sonnet" people "forget what comes first--7 or 8" and set out to find someone who can straighten this out for them. But before they get an answer: "luckily, just then somebody's child toppled off a park bench and broke both of its jaws. This distracted us from the argument. After that, everyone went home." And that's the end.

I read the first half of the book this weekend and could not stop myself from laughing out loud at the images conjured by Kharms (and Yankelevich, consequently, as the translator). Most of the pieces are a page or less of violence, humor, and a perfectly absurd logic. Kharms's use of repetition also supplies these pieces with their energy and humor, as already seen in "A Dream," and a micro-play "Pushkin and Gogol," whom Kharms seemed to enjoy transforming into characters dressed like the real thing in his fictions, brilliantly parodying and paying homage to the two seminal Russian absurdists and humorists. In this play, scarcely 200 words long, Pushkin and Gogol trip and fall over one another from one end of the stage to the other, from beginning to end.

PUSHKIN (getting up): Foolery! Foolery all over the place! (Walks, trips over Gogol and falls) What the devil! Gogol again!

GOGOL (getting up): This is mockery, through and through! (Walks, trips on Pushkin and falls) Pushkin again!


And in "The Carpenter Kushakov," said carpenter slips and falls over and over again on the slippery street outside the pharmacy, eventually rendering himself unrecognizable and has to stand outside his own apartment when his family won't let him in. In "The Trunk" a man crawls into a trunk and waits for the air to run out so he can witness the epic struggle between life and death, and when that moment arrives he finds himself lying on the floor of his apartment, the trunk having disappeared. "An Incident Involving Petrakov" begins, "So, once Petrakov wanted to go to sleep but, lying down, missed his bed." Here's the rest (though not from the Yankelevich translation, but close enough for now). I laughed for a long time as I read and re-read this one.

I highly recommend this book. These absurd, hilarious, and often violent little stories and plays are only beginning to get the recognition they have long deserved. Most of the translations available elsewhere on the net are passable contributions, but Matvei Yankelevich really nails what feels like Kharms's sarcastic tone vibrating with frustration and hilarity. Yankelevich has given English readers a great gift in this selection and translation of Daniil Kharms's writings. Sure, I've written this review on having only read half of the book so far, but I think maybe Kharms would dig that. I'll finish it in the next few days, though, certainly.