Neil Carrick
DANIIL KHARMS:
THEOLOGIAN OF THE ABSURD

BIRMINGHAM SLAVONIC MONOGRAPHS NO. 28
BIRMINGHAM SLAVONIC MONOGRAPHS
Editorial Board
A.D.RBriggs
M.Dewhirst
DJ.LJohnson
M.VJones
A.B.McMillin
J.Mullen (General Editor)
W.Ryan
A.M.Shukman
R.E.F.Smith
University of Birmingham
University of Glasgow
University of Birmingham
University of Nottingham
University of London
University of Birmingham
Warburg Institute

University of Birmingham
Neil Carrick
Daniil Kharms: Theologian of the Absurd

Former Members
A.G.Cross 1977-85
J.S.G.Simmons 1977-82
G.S.Smith 1977-83
G.C.Stone 1977-85
CONTENTS
Preface
Biographical Incidents and Accidents
Introduction
°-"
Chap,e, 2 An Ove«ching Smicnne: The Rditfo* Dimension
to Kharms's Prose

Chapter 3 Enforced Belief: Religious QuesUons in The Old
Woman'

Chapter 4 Conclusion: A Theology of the Absurd
Notes
Select Bibliography
Index
vn
1

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Published by the
Department of Russian Language and Literature
The University of Birmingham
Edgbaston
Birmingham 15 2TT
UK
Printed in Great Britain by University of Birmingham Central Printing
Services

© Series: The University of Birmingham
© Contents No.28: Neil Carrick, 1998
The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been
asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act 1988.
ISBN 07044 1865 7
ISSN 0141-3805

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PREFACE
The current work began as a Ph.D. thesis. In producing the monograph the
focus has changed from a broader examination of Kharms's prose to an
intensive reading of selected pieces from the 1930s. Through an
interrogation of specific texts, many of them no more than a page in
length, I have elaborated an interpretative framework by which to view
these works and which I have called a Theology of the Absurd. The result
is the first study of Kharms in English to formulate a literary-critical
context for Kharms's work other than that of the OBERIU or of twentieth-
century Russian literature in general.

My first debt of gratitude is to Martin Dewhirst at Glasgow University for his considerable editorial assistance and his willingness to share his extensive knowledge and expertise. The initial research and many of the ideas for this project were fostered under the excellent supervision of Carol Avins and Gary Saul Morson of Northwestern University. Without their help and advice the work would never have come this far.
An independent study award from the American Council for Teachers of Russian enabled me to pursue research in Russia. A grant from the British Council covered travel expenses to the country. The Institute of World Literature was my host in Moscow and arranged for travel to St. Petersburg and access to libraries and archives. I received additional funding from the Northwestern University Grants Commission and from
Trinity College, Dublin.
My work in Russia was made easier and more pleasurable by Anna Gerasimova, whose friendship and unstinting help were freely given and are acknowledged with gratitude. I learned much from conversations with Vladimir Glotser, the late Anatolii Aleksandrov, Mikhail Meilakh and Lidiya Druskina. Valerii Sazhin, the archivist at the Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library in Petersburg, allowed me to view Kharms's original
To my mother and to the memory of my father
manuscripts. I am also grateful for the time and privileges accorded me by the staff of the Ermitazh Theatre in Moscow.
The precarious nature of academic life has left me at times doubting that I would complete this work. Its appearance in print is a recognition of the encouragement and support of my wife, Helena Jeffrey.
Finally, I must acknowledge the huge debt I owe my parents, Molly and Peter Carrick, for their sustained and generous support. This book is dedicated to them with love.
BIOGRAPHICAL INCIDENTS AND ACCIDENTS
Much of the personal and literary history of Daniil Ivanovich Kharms
(real name Yuvachev, 1905-1942) has only recently come to light.1 Like
so many other writers of his generation, Kharms disappeared into
obscurity. In the nineteen-twenties, however, Kharms had quickly gained
recognition and even notoriety through his involvement with OBERIU, an
acronym derived from the first letters of Ob"edinenie real'nogo iskmstva
(The Association for Real Art). OBERIU was a curious mixture of arts
and artists that recalled earlier Futurist public displays and that today we
might call performance art.2 The association effectively ceased to exist in
1930 in the face of an increasingly hostile reception in the Soviet press.
During the thirties, after the collapse of OBERIU3, Kharms was known
to readers primarily for his stories published in the children's magazines
Ezh and Chizh, which provided his principal source of income. Although
he continued in private to write prose and verse for adults, Kharms could
not fail to be aware that these pieces would have little or no chance of
appearing in print in the foreseeable future. Like his fellow Oberiut,
Aleksandr Vvedenskii (1904-1941), Kharms had only two of his adult
works (both poems) published in his lifetime, both in the mid-twenties.
During the thirties, his only audience for such work was his fellow

Chinari.
The term chinar \ which cannot be readily translated into English, was
coined by Vvedenskii. According to Yakov Druskin (1902-1980), a
musicologist and philosopher and friend of Kharms from the early
twenties, it is derived from the word chin, meaning 'rank'. However the
rank implied here is not an official, but rather a spiritual rank. From 1925
to 1926/1927, Vvedenskii signed his poems chinar' avtoritet bessmyslitsy
(an authority on nonsense, if you like), and Kharms referred to himself as
chinar'-vziral'nik (a kind of gazer). Later, in the thirties, the term chinar'
came to designate the participants in an informal discussion group and
literary circle which included Kharms, Vvedenskii, the philosophers

Neil Carrick
Dublin
September 1997
Druskin and Leonid Lipavskii and the poet and parodist, Nikolai Oleinikov. The Chinari published no manifesto and gave no public readings of their work.
Details about their meetings are therefore hazy. It is not certain how often they met, or for how long the group can be said to have existed. From 1936 until his final arrest and disappearance in the summer of 1941, Vvedenskii spent the majority of his time away from Leningrad, in Kharkov. Oleinikov, a member of the Bolshevik Party, was arrested during the purges in 1937 and presumed executed. An idea of the kind of discussions that took place at these meetings can be gleaned from Lipavskii's essentially literary and philosophical Conversations (Razgovory), which constitute the unofficial minutes of certain Chinari gatherings for the years 1933 and 1934. The entire manuscript remains in the possession of Druskin's surviving sister, Lidiya Druskina, but excerpts from the Conversations have been published in articles and books connected with the Oberiuty.4
Even such informal gatherings held danger for the participants, particularly in the light of the arrests of Kharms and Vvedenskii in 1931. Kharms had had early personal experience of Stalinist repression when he, Aleksandr Vvedenskii, Aleksandr Tufanov (the Futurist theoretician and poet) and others were arrested in the so-called 'Gosizdat Children's Section Affair'. Kharms was first imprisoned and then sent into internal exile, with Vvedenskii, to Kursk. He returned to Leningrad in late 1932. In August of 1941, just before the advance of Hitler's armies on Leningrad, Kharms was arrested for the final time and died in a prison hospital in February 1942.5
By dint of the swift action of his friends and by remarkable good fortune, Kharms's writings escaped confiscation and destruction.6 Yakov Druskin preserved most of Kharms's manuscripts. After Kharms's disappearance, Druskin (although incommoded by illness) and Kharms's second wife, Marina Vladimirovna Malich, quickly gathered Kharms's papers from his apartment. Fortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, there had been no search of the place by the arresting authorities. Druskin placed Kharms's papers in a suitcase which he kept with him throughout his wartime evacuation from Leningrad. When Druskin returned to Leningrad in 1944, he received other Kharms papers that had been discovered in the meantime by Kharms's sister, Elizaveta Ivanovna
r .
INTRODUCTION: A NE\y INTERPRETATION OF
KHARMS'S LEGACY

The legacy of Daniil Kharms, so long lost to the world, has been established not simply through the uncovering of historical data, but also, more vitally, through critical interpretation and reception. This study adds to the elaboration of that legacy. Kharms himself never spoke of a Theology of the Absurd' as such (or indeed of himself as a 'theologian' of the absurd), but nevertheless careful analysis of his curious prose of the nineteen-thirties, principally the so-called Incidents (Sluchai, 1933-1939) and his short story The Old Woman (Starukha, 1939), repeatedly uncovers philosophical and theological preoccupations that merit such a description.8 This construct allows one to view Kharms's apparently isolated and obscure prose works as a thematic whole. Furthermore, this theological reading of Kharms's prose contributes to the general understanding of his absurdist poetics.9 What emerges is a comprehensive interpretation of Kharms's work, although Kharms's absurdist theology, by its very nature, can be glimpsed only in tantalisingly discrete instances which are depicted in a series of fragmentary and seemingly evasive literary texts.10
Kharms's prose is endlessly parodic and betrays an epistemological scepticism that undermines facile attempts at interpretation and classification.11 In efforts to establish him as a leading twentieth-century writer, Kharms has been identified with the culmination of the Russian avant-garde movement and has been called a precursor to the post-war Theatre of the Absurd. Critics have variously linked him with broad twentieth-century artistic movements and, at the same time, seen evidence of connections with aspects of traditional Russian literature, particularly the absurdist comic strain that runs from the folkloric balagan through Gogol' and Kozma Prutkov.12
Yet the disavowal of the neat ordering of phenomena is a principal theme of the prose itself. As a result, the comparisons that have been made between Kharms's work and that of other avant-garde and absurdist writers
epistemological consequences of a narrow Formalist method. The stories
refute the comfortable and accepted notions of what a story should entail
and how it should be recounted. These minuscule works have the formal
appearance of a text, but on closer inspection they appear to lack the
intellectual coherence and thematic development indispensable to a
'finished' work. The sheer brevity of Kharms's prose pieces makes them
seem superficial. The curious events recorded lack any obvious or
authorial explanation. Furthermore the subject matter of Kharms's tales is
either so extraordinary or so ordinary that one initially doubts it can have

any greater purpose.
This anarchic world allows for no obvious or sustained exposition. The
stories resemble a jumble of fragments, haphazardly thrown together and
linked only by their proximity to one another and under the rubric
provided by the title. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that but for their
appearance on the printed page and within the confines of a book, one
would not immediately assume these fragments to be intended as a work of
literature. The short stories reflect a world pared down by rigorous
epistemological scepticism to constituent parts which, however, no longer

fit any pattern.
The appearance of the original 'manuscripts' seems to confirm one's
initial aesthetic impression of the works: that they are inconsequential,
even trivial, and unintended for serious consideration. As if to underscore
the impression of Kharms's prose as 'artless' or 'formless', the manu-
scripts are themselves literally fragments. Kharms wrote on all manner of
scraps of paper, some no bigger than a post-card. Such is the confusion
about what actually constitutes a text among Kharms's manuscripts that
when one views Kharms's 'literary' works against entries in his notebooks
and diaries, it often proves no easy task to determine quite what he
intended for public consumption and what represents a personal note or a
draft. With the prospect of publication at the time of writing so unlikely,
the question of what was or was not intended or ready for publication
becomes understandably fraught with difficulty. The need for some kind of
literary critical criteria by which to interpret Kharms's work thus becomes

even more pressing.
By focusing on Kharms's prose of the 1930s one comes to realise that at the heart of his work is a concern with philosophy and theology. No doubt he was indebted to a host of other writers, thinkers and literary movements and, equally, he was aware of the social and political horrors being committed in the name of ideas. These concerns have been by now well-
never seem entirely to do justice to the range and complexity of his remarkably eclectic, but repeatedly baffling, literary works. His writing defies ready categorisation; it is remarkably heterogeneous. Kharms wrote in many different genres and styles: poems, plays, pseudo-philosophical tracts, miniature prose pieces, aphorisms, mock letters and one povest'. These pieces seem to eschew traditional precepts of genre and form. They are porous, making them unstable and rendering formal identification problematic. As Anna Gerasimova notes of the OBERIU movement in general, 'it was a phenomenon seemingly on the margin [na grant] of literature'.13 One might say of Kharms's prose that it lies 'on the margin' of traditional literature. One critic has gone so far as to suggest that in his Incidents, Kharms creates a new literary genre.14
The problem of generic definition corresponds to the philosophical preoccupations of the works themselves. Kharms's prose reveals an atomized world prone to constant disorder.15 Characters are continually exposed to the vagaries of chance (hazard) and possess only a limited ability to counteract or understand the arbitrary nature of their environment. In the absence of a framework by which to make sense of events, all existence seems lawless, chaotic and violent. These odd, 'subhuman' figures (nedochelovek, as Yakov Druskin labelled Kharms's characters16) can have no sense of morality or propriety in a world entirely unresponsive to their actions and requests. Kharms's characters regularly confront what Camus has called 'the unreasonable silence of the world'.17
It may also be said that a certain 'unreasonable silence' confronts the reader of Kharms's seemingly unresponsive texts. One cannot readily ascribe prime motive or causation to the 'Incidents' Kharms depicts. In the absence of a perceptible, fixed order, one faces with a mixture of bewilderment and horror a world thrown open to the most bizarre and threatening, chance occurrences. As Anatolii Aleksandrov notes of the Incidents collection, 'the world has been losing its agreeable orderit is in discord, even nightmarish'.18 Without order, there can be no hierarchy, and without hierarchy, there can be no sense of value. For the reader, the consequences of such dissonance are both ethical and epistemological. Lacking a clear understanding of even the basic plot, Kharms's reader casts around for an interpretative framework within which to place and hence understand the text. The stories pose the reader a puzzle, but apparently provide insufficient clues for its solution.
Kharms's texts presume a familiarity with the formal aspects of storytelling. They parody Formalist criticism and investigate the
documented by critics. This work, however, treats Kharms as a writer sui generis. In drawing comparisons between Kharms and others, the crucial identification one needs to make is not with the content of ideas or works of art, but with their form.
For all its linguistic simplicity, Kharms's prose exhibits a semantic complexity. Its evident disregard of form is disingenuous. His work parodies artistic forms and indeed the critical school that drew attention to form, the Formalists. Kharms is a Formalist manque. That parody of Formalism, however, extends to an inquiry into the epistemological validity of our assumptions about the world. Kharms, as author, forsakes both his characters and his readers. He removes all trace of true authorial direction, leaving only the insufficient and hopelessly partial insights of his narrators. The narrators he employs are supremely unreliable. Readers can draw conclusions only by assumption and analogy; they rarely share the perspective of the author. Thus they, like Kharms's characters, go in search of him. The search for the author, as the only conceivable fount of knowledge, replaces the search for knowledge itself. The reader's search thus becomes quintessentially theological.
Taken in toto, Kharms's stories represent miniature critiques of pure reason. By reducing the world to fundamentals and seeking to undermine even them, Kharms precipitates the collapse of the edifice of human reason with its mechanistic view of the universe. His scepticism, however, does not leave man entirely abandoned, but rather points to the existence of a far greater knowledge, impossible for man, but residing in God. From the chaos of Kharms's world, the reader is directed to the ineffable harmony of God's realm. Thus, in spite of its exceptional brevity, the appearance of superficiality, its authorial reticence and its years unread, Kharms's prose alludes to what even volumes cannot speak.
CHAPTER ONE
Errant and Unreliable Narrative:
'The Plummeting Old Women' and the Hermeneutics of
Kharms's Prose
Daniil Kharms's prose works have been referred to as 4anti-stories'19,
works that appear to say nothing, but which in fact provide a commentary
on literary technique and motifs and on a range of philosophical
questions. These semantically complex and superficially inconsequential
pieces constitute 'meta-stories'. They provide a commentary on the
techniques of story-telling, as well as suggesting more than they actually
say. Although absurdist in spirit, Kharms's works are, however, still
intelligible to reason. His Incidents, a collection of irrational miniature
prose pieces, suggest that the world is absurd to its core. Only after one
has come to understand the way in which conventional wisdom seeks,
and ultimately fails, to explain the world, can one begin to perceive it. To
read Kharms's prose adequately, one must first investigate the process by
which interpretations are formulated.

Kharms's miniature stories can be seen as essays on the use of
narrative as a means to describe the world. Narrative provides a means to
understanding. By placing events together into a narrative structure, a
writer (or speaker) implies a coherent and comprehensive interpretation
of otherwise disparate and incomprehensible incidents. Kharms's
narratives, however, tend to be as chaotic and disordered as the action
they describe and purport to explain. Thus when the reader attempts to
interpret a Kharms text, he or she is required not only to interpret the way
in which the events are recounted, but actually to provide an explanation

for events themselves.
Thus interpretation involves a re-ordering of the stories' defective narrative structure. Consequently, the reader's own analysis comes to approximate the act of narration itself. What one ultimately derives from a Kharms story is not so much an understanding of that particular story's
10
information. The profound and pervasive ignorance of the world that
afflicts Kharms's characters extends in part to his readers.

Literary interpretation of Kharms's prose is specifically a means to embark on an epistemological investigation. Kharms comments on the nature of knowledge and whether or not it can be attained. In Kharms's stories, interpretation of the text corresponds to the discovery or recovery of an errant narrative. His prose would seem to give a new meaning to Stanley Fish's contention that: 'Interpretation is not the art of construing but the art of constructing. Interpreters do not decode poems: they make them.'24 Interpretation in Kharms is not a matter of choice; it is a necessity, and one required of every reader.
Kharms's unravelling of the narrative process therefore has decided philosophical import. It leads to questions of how we come to interpret our own existence and how we see the world. Yet these brief texts, with their base actions and superficial concerns, would seem to be incapable of supporting these conclusions. Thought itself seems an unlikely occupation for Kharms's characters. Nevertheless, one should not mistake the characters' ignorance and the comical and nonsensical incidents that preoccupy them for authorial frivolity. Seemingly incoherent and inconsequential details in fact act as signposts indicating
what is truly significant.
The thematic and formal disorder that marks Kharms's miniature
prose work has distinct moral and epistemological ramifications. In the
following analysis of Kharms's short prose works, particularly the story
'The Plummeting Old Women', a number of interpretations of texts are
suggested. Ultimately, however, it proves impossible to determine which
one is 'correct'. They are all partially true, but no one interpretation can
be taken as authoritative. If Kharms's stories imply that knowledge is at
most arbitrary, then the reading and analysing of them seems to confirm
that contention. The texts engender numerous hypotheses, but they

remain only hypotheses.
Kharms's story 'The Plummeting Old Women'25 ('Vyvalivayushchie-sya starukhi', 1937), from the Incidents cycle, demonstrates the dissonance between form and content so typical of Kharms's work. Moreover, 'Plummeting Old Women' illustrates the crucial role of the narrator in disclosing narrative stratagems. Like most of Kharms's 'Incidents', the story is extraordinarily brief, scarcely occupying half a page. It is cited here in full:
meaning, but a more general appreciation of the art of story-telling. Kharms's critique of narrative applies equally to the way one perceives causality and the relationship of events in general. Kharms's art offers the reader a perspective on the way we understand events in life.
This involvement of the reader in the act of constructing a text is deliberately parodic. A Formalist reading of his work would focus on Kharms's deliberate 'baring of the device' of narration. According to Viktor Shklovskii, for example, one becomes aware of a formal rule by recognising its explicit violation. Shklovskii remarks of Laurence Sterne's intentions in his novel Tristram Shandy that 'by violating the form, he [Sterne] forces us to attend to it'.20 The disordered content in Sterne's work is thus intentional, argues Shklovskii. Sterne's ultimate purpose is to emphasise the formal aspects of his novel; the content merely provides a means to that end. As Shklovskii contends, 'awareness of form constitutes the subject matter of the novel'.21 Similarly, meaning in Kharms could be construed as the deliberate exposing of the formal devices employed in the narration of a tale.22
However, although one might conclude from his deliberate play with syuzhet andfabula that Kharms's principal concern is with the formal or formalist aspects of writing, it would be inaccurate to see his prose as exclusively, or even primarily, parodic or as simply a Formalist commentary on the construction of stories. Kharms's parody of narrative technique involves more than the 'baring' of that particular device. Indeed, Kharms's prose works reveal the inherent dangers involved in undermining the efficacy of narrative. Kharms's prose is not only absurdist in content, it is also absurdist in design. Thus while parodying literary devices he also parodies the function of those devices. His prose undermines both the techniques of writing a work and the techniques for reading it.
Kharms's work approaches Susan Stewart's categorisation of Nonsense as a corrosive and subversive force: 'hence the danger of nonsense not only as a valueless activity, but as an activity "without values".'23 The nonsensical world of Kharms's prose cannot be explained away simply as an experiment in literary deconstruction, for that would make his work more readily comprehensible. By taking the work apart, one could potentially learn how to reconstruct it. In Kharms, one is swiftly disabused of the notion that one can discover or recover missing pieces of
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12
Whatever the effect of the first old woman's demise upon the reader or the narrator, her accident provides insufficient warning to the second old woman, who meets the same end. The second old woman sees that the first has crashed to the ground, leans out of the window and, because she is also excessively curious, falls and herself crashes. Could the object of the second woman's curiosity have been the same as the first's? They certainly suffer the same fate.
The narrator subsequently observes a third, fourth and fifth woman fall out of a window. No mention is made of the cause of their falling. The narrator does not refer to their curiosity or to their crashing after their fall. If one concludes that they met the same fate as the first two women, one does so only by one's own sense (apparently shared by the narrator) that the incidents must be associated, based largely on their contiguity.26 What links these old women to the first two are their status as old women, the number sequence, their similar actions and the continued presence of the narrator. Already some form of convention has been established. If these conditions obtain, one may predict a common outcome. That post hoc rationalisation, however, is reached by a dubious process of induction.
When a sixth woman falls, the narrator, on his own admission, tires of the spectacle and leaves for another 'event' at 'Mal'tsevskii' market where, he hears, someone has given 'a blind man' a knitted shawl. Perhaps the narrator too has reached a limit. It is not clear whether, after number six, any further women fall or whether the narrator merely ceases to watch them fall. The narrator turns his and our attention away from the women and the tale ends without relieving the reader's curiosity.
The Formalist critic Boris Tomashevskii stresses that to be successful a literary work must elicit and sustain the reader's interest.27 What one must avoid above all is indifference on the part of the reader. The narrator, as the author's surrogate, plays a crucial role in engaging the reader. Here the narrator's actions puzzle the reader, for he seems to disavow many of the conventional, even essential characteristics of a narrator. His supreme indifference to the incidents he records reveals him to be not only a disinterested, but also an uninterested observer. He merely recounts the action; at no point does he seek to enter it. His own words reveal that he has seen at first hand the terrible demise of an old woman and witnessed at least one other, but possibly five, meeting the same fate. Why on earth does he not seek to assist these women, why

, .
, , .
, , .
, , , , , .
[The Plummeting Old Women
One [or an] old woman tumbled out of a window from immoderate curiosity, fell and crashed.
Another old woman leant out of a window and began to look down at the broken old woman, but from extreme curiosity she tumbled out of the window, fell and crashed.
Then a third old woman, then a fourth, then a fifth tumbled out of a window.
When a sixth old woman tumbled out, I got fed up looking at them and I went to Mal'tsevskii market, where, they say, one blind man had been given a knitted shawl.]
The narrator's opening remark that one old woman has fallen out of a window from 'immoderate curiosity' (ot chrezmernogo lyubopytstvd) represents an ostensible attempt to provide an interpretation of the event, yet the phrase fails to offer the reader a complete explanation for what has occurred. What, after all, constitutes being overly curious and why should that 'cause' at least two old women to fall? The narrator does not mention the object of the first old woman's curiosity; he gives no explanation for the woman's motivation. Her curiosity exacts a high price, for the fate of the woman is terrible and swift: 'she crashed'. Thus the woman's demise matches her curiosity in its extremity. The opening sentence seems to indicate probable causation: 'immoderate curiosity', but on reflection, attributing causality to curiosity only gives rise to further questions, rather than a solution. Curiosity is an effect masquerading as a prime cause.
15
14
with the opportunity to provide his or her own conclusion. As becomes clear during the reading of the text, the reader's role is not confined to the passive exercise of reading, but rather involves actively 'finishing' the story by elaborating upon the text.
However, the radical epistemological import of Kharms's rnarginalisa-tion of the narrator is not immediately apparent. The beginning of the story seems actually to confirm one's knowledge of literary convention and gives no indication of the revised position the reader will be forced to adopt. The opening sentence involves a familiar and comforting convention of story-telling: the device of omniscient narration. Evidence of an omniscient narrator helps to mitigate the initial perplexity at the old woman's fate, for it suggests a probable, if delayed, resolution of the
mystery.
Implicit in this style of narration is the idea that the answer is known and will be made manifest when this is appropriate. It anticipates what Tomashevskii called a 'regressive ending'.31 In such cases, the solution is suspended in the interests of a 'good' story, but it is not suspended indefinitely, and at some stage, most likely the end, the reader's confusion will be relieved and an, or rather the, answer provided. In the meantime, there is suspense, which engages our attention and engenders a modicum of alarm, but within the accepted, conventional limits of a story. We, if not the old women, are in safe hands, for someone already knows the outcome and thus we may enjoy the mystery in the anticipation of a satisfactory and reassuring resolution. In traditional mystery tales the reader may empathise with the characters' fear of the unknown, but ultimately never share their dread.
In Kharms's quixotic 'mystery', however, one ultimately receives no explanation from the narrator or any other character to account for even the first woman's fate. The reader's perplexity is compounded by the similarly unexplained catastrophes that befall five more old women. The narrator's terse recounting of these events conflicts sharply with the reader's concern to know the reason behind the bizarre occurrences that affect these unnamed old women. The narrator leaves to investigate the incident involving the blind man without concluding, or allowing the reader to conclude, the 'mystery' of the old women. The mystery is now no longer a literary convention, but has become a real mystery. Even an understanding of literary form and Formalist theory will not help the reader to determine the sense of the old women's fate. If in conventional
does he not intercede and warn them of what awaits the excessively curious? His casual and detached manner is, to say the least, unsettling. It is a common literary convention to introduce a disinterested narrator to provide at least the semblance of an objective accounting of events. To have a virtually uninterested narrator, however, would appear to defy the principal convention of telling a story.
Narrators ordinarily provide the text with a certain narratorial coherence. The narrator, especially in a first-person narrative, is frequently taken to be the author's surrogate, his representative within the text itself. The narrator may not be privy to all or any of the author's intentions, but for the reader he functions as a guide and provides a means to speculate upon authorial design. Even a chronically uninformed narrator (such as one meets constantly in the works of Gogol', a writer much admired by Kharms) can ultimately satisfy the reader's demand to know more about the text.
Wayne Booth has coined the term 'unreliable narrator' to describe a narrator whose actions and/or speech are at odds with the implicit 'norms' of a work.28 For Booth, the employment of an unreliable narrator materially alters the effect of a work. Nevertheless, even an 'unreliable narrator' gives necessary information to his audience. He is deemed 'unreliable' only in relation to the implicitly reliable context in which he operates. In Kharms's prose, however, the narrator is rendered wholly unreliable because the reader has no obvious way of determining authorial norms. Kharms's narrator is unreliable in all respects and so renders Booth's denomination untenable.
Kharms's narrators seem unable or unwilling to exert even the most minimal control over the events they recount.29 It is not that they assume an authorial prerogative and retire from the action. Rather they continually operate in the midst of events that they cannot begin to comprehend. In Kharms, the first-person narrator resembles not so much the author as the uninitiated and unprepared reader.30 The narrator's profound ignorance not only of the events themselves, but of the narrative which could give them sense and purpose, allows the reader's interpretation to take the place of the errant narrative.
Kharms's use of the narrator in this story seems to be a parodic device, borrowed from Formalist mentors. The narrator's express indifference curiously excites the reader's interest. Kharms's deliberate undercutting of the narrator's traditional prerogative of story-telling presents the reader
16
Plummeting Old Women' represents a perceived need to comprehend the purpose behind the telling of the story. The reader can perhaps accept that in fact the old women's demise has no readily explicable cause, but still assume the story itself to have some purpose.
If the fate of the old women frustrates the reader for its insufficient
motivation, the story of the blind man appears distressingly over-
motivated.
It fails to excite the reader's interest in the way, say, the falling
old women do. The blind man's story has any number of reasonable, sub-
stantiated explanations. In contrast to what precedes it, the tale of the
blind man is complete and coherent. An act of (apparent) generosity
requires no evidence of extraneous motivation to make it acceptable. It
represents an act of altruism, dependent entirely upon the will of the indi-
vidual benefactor. Unlike the initial story of the old women, the story of
the blind man might be regarded as self-explanatory.

Kharms's narrator may not conform to many of the accepted notions
of a narrator's role in a literary work, but his importance to an
understanding of the text is scarcely diminished by Kharms's unconven-
tional deployment of him. The reader's only link to a world in which old
women tumble from windows for no apparent reason, is the narrator.
Paradoxically, for all the 'detachment' of the narration in 'The
Plummeting Old Women', it is the narrator's involvement that makes an
event into an incident. The narrator's presence gives the occurrences their
significance. Indeed, the question arises whether the narrator's mere
presence provides the sufficient condition to cause the incidents he
records. Could it be, for example, that the object of the old woman's
curiosity was the narrator? One can never know, because the external
perspective needed to verify that claim is continually denied the reader.32
One cannot be sure on which side of the window the narrator stands.

The narration of an event alone cannot determine whether that event actually occurs or what actually motivates it. Nevertheless the exigency of narration requires events of some sort. Would the old women (rather like the philosopher's trees in the woods that can only be said to fall if they are witnessed falling) have fallen if the narrator had not seen them? If that is the case, does it follow that by observing the old women the narrator in some way precipitated their fall? These questions suggest the narrator's complicity in the events he relays. Indeed perhaps it is the narrator alone who determines what constitutes 'extreme curiosity' and institutes the required redressrthM %the old women crashing to the
'mysteries' the narrator ultimately aids and abets the reader, Kharms's narrator only estranges the reader. The narrator's indifference borders on contempt for his audience, and the reader begins to realise that the comfort given by the familiarity with literary form and devices is unjustified.
That growing uncertainty reaches its apogee in the final paragraph, when, for the first time, the narrator admits to his physical presence at the scene: 7 got fed up looking at them...' (mne nadoelo smotret' na nikh\ emphasis added). When the narrator leaves for the market, the possibility of an omniscient narrator is removed and the accompanying comforting notions of a definitive solution are nullified. Kharms's play with received knowledge of literary form now acquires a moral aspect. The narrator's detachment, which one might find laudable in an omniscient chronicler or explicable in terms of literary theory, is chilling in an eye-witness.
While observing the old women, the narrator displays both moral and critical indifference. He remains unconcerned about the implications of what he has witnessed. For the reader it is virtually inconceivable that the narrator can find a blind man receiving a shawl to be of greater interest than the injury to old women. The reader's bewilderment implies a moral standard, but it is the reader's standard and not the narrator's. The fundamental difference between the reader's approach to the text and that of the narrator is that the narrator attaches no other value to these proceedings than that they have occurred and as such need to be observed in person, recorded and, apparently, relayed. The narrator fails to consider the moral implications of the comparison between events. The reader may draw the (essentially moral) distinction between omniscient narrator and eye-witness, but Kharms's narrator inhabits a world that observes no obvious, prior system of value and where, consequently, the distinction can have no currency. If the narrator does indeed distinguish between the two 'stories' that comprise the one text, he does so by entirely different criteria. As we shall see, Kharms's narrator, rather like a literary critic, ultimately determines what constitutes a story or an event by literary conventions which owe little to any received ideas of morality. Like a Formalist, Kharms is more concerned with syuzhet rather than fabula.
The absence of a readily intelligible set of values in the narrator's world only frustrates the reader's attempts to give the story meaning. The reader's desire to distinguish between the two sets of events in The
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discouraged. As Jean-Philippe Jaccard observes about the reading of Kharms's stories: 'Often when he reaches the last line, the reader is forced to admit that the text has done nothing more than self-destruct.'34 The text proves highly resistant to a comprehensive interpretation, for it seems to be as limited in scope as the characters it describes. Far from providing an objective standard against which to measure the events that occur, the story's narrative strucUtffe is only a relative notion. It implies only itself; it answers its own questions and nothing more.
The total identification of a question with its answer is a common feature of Nonsense literature and renders any interpretation of it problematic. Consider, for example, the last line of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark: 'For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.' The quest for the Snark is nullified by its identification with a Boojum, which 'unlike' the Snark has revealed its presence and yet at the same time declared its inaccessibility. Once the two are conflated the quest for the Snark becomes meaningless, and so does the poem. It ends, but without the anticipated resolution. The poem instead collapses, because the premise upon which it rested no longer obtains.35
Thus in Kharms's story, the narrative which binds the bizarre events of the story together proves to be nothing more than a relative account, one constructed on the basis of a presumed association. The story provides no template against which to evaluate incidentsno external verification. It continues to imply itself, and when it finally implodes it takes everything with it. Even the idea of the boundary which the old women appear to transgress may not survive the story's collapse.
The mere existence bf a boundary does not necessarily imply an inviolable limit. Boundaries may be changed and may even have been changed while the old women exercised their curiosity. Perhaps it was only apparent to the narrator after the fact that the old woman had been excessively curious. In other words, he concludes that her curiosity was excessive because she fell. Thus 'extreme curiosity' may have no force or relevance in the story other than that of any other interpretation of the events. It may simply be the narrator's own attempt to make sense of
what he has witnessed.
The appeal of this post hoc rationalisation is that it gives at least temporary meaning to an otherwise inexplicable event. Any attempt to bring order and sense to an incident is preferable to admitting that there is none. Consistency, even if available only with hindsight, lends an inevit-
ground? In a world without obvious motivation and causation and one that lacks a recognised source from which events flow, one can and indeed must consider even seemingly improbable causes. Indeed, categories such as 'probable' and 'improbable' are in themselves problematic, for in a world where anything is likely one cannot readily decide if one thing is more or less likely than another.
One can even maintain radically differing explanations simultaneously. Thus one can entertain both the narrator's complicity and lack of complicity, though it follows that one can never be entirely certain of either eventuality. Narration remains, after all, a means of providing a context for events; essentially it functions as an explanatory device. If narration, as appears to be the case here, is only the result of an individual acting alone and guided simply by whim or prejudice, there can exist no conclusive accounting of events, no meta-narrative. It also follows that there can be no meta-narrator, no omniscient voice.
The method of narration in this story is essentially solipsistic. As Alice Stone Nakhimovsky notes of Kharms's narrators in general: 'Despite his position as commentator, the narrator is as limited as his characters.'33 For whatever reason, by choice or necessity, the narrator's perspective is curtailed. This becomes clear when he leaves the scene of the old women to visit the market. Considering the entire text, one becomes aware that the narrator, while having some influence, cannot ultimately determine the fate of the events that he may, wittingly or not, have set in motion.
It is conceivable that the narrator has learnt the lesson of what he has observed and has realised that curiosity, which is a prerequisite for storytelling, has its limits. He has drawn a lesson from watching the old women fall and he applies it in the way he recounts the story. The narrator does not wish to appear too curious, given the apparent consequences of excessive curiosity. Perhaps he feels he has given his audience all the necessary information and he, at least, has drawn the safest conclusion. If the other old women have not come to that conclusion, it is not the narrator's business to issue warnings or become involved. That would betoken undue curiosity. Thus the narrator need not necessarily be regarded as an external, entirely disinterested voice. His, however, is only a voice among many other possible voices, including the reader's.
The narrator's lesson extends to the reader, for reading also implies curiosity. Interpretation, or at least the desire to interpret, is thus to be
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Given the time of writingthe beginning of the Great Terrorand the story's subject matter: unexplained and apparently arbitrary punishmentone may regard it as a parable on the consequences of displaying curiosity in the Stalinist era, or indeed under any totalitarian regime. In such systems knowledge effectively becomes the property of the state, and any attempt to appropriate it meets with terrible and swift punishment.
Nevertheless, while Kharms's text suggests a possible political reading, an exclusively political interpretation of 'The Plummeting Old Women' proves inadequate and misleading. The text in fact defies comfortable, allegorical answers to the questions it raises. If it could be shown, if only by analogy, that someone or something were directly and obviously responsible for the demise of the old women or that the events served an ulterior purpose, then the events would have a probable cause and thus the possibility of an overarching explanation (which is different in order from a concealed explanation, waiting to be uncovered) involving some kind of meta-narrative structure. But Kharms's story entails
epistemological dread.
Comparisons with other works of literature help elaborate the radical philosophical implications of 'The Plummeting Old Women'. The idea of summary punishment for an unspecified 'crime' is a motif Kharms's story shares with Franz Kafka's The Trial. Kafka's protagonist, Joseph K., is arrested without warning and unaware that he has committed any offence. He is never told the nature of his crime, nor does anyone inform him of the specific charge that necessitates his arrest. Not only does the arrest seem arbitrary, it also seems unreal, for it is not accompanied by any obvious external form of restraint. Indeed Joseph K. is encouraged to go about his normal business and await further instructions. Nevertheless, from that moment on, he acts like an arrested man, restricting his movements and identifying himself as someone who needs to mount a legal
defence of himself.
A sense of compulsion also attends the actions of the characters in 'The Plummeting Old Women', and in other Kharms works (The Old Woman, 'Incidents', 'Pushkin and Gogol", 'An Unsuccessful Show' ['Neudachnyi spektakl"], for example), even in the absence of discernible external pressure. Kharms's characters, like Kafka's Josef K., operate in a climate of profound uncertainty. They seem unable or unwilling to determine why they commit or suffer the atrocities they do.
ability to an event; it creates the idea of necessity. The narrator's observation, literal and metaphorical, establishes a hypothetical, but necessary, causal connection. It is imperative to reason that 'one thing follows the other as if it had to [because] to admit to a nature of the world that would be otherwise would be to admit to a leak in the nonarbitrary connectability of events'.36 There exists an inherent danger in doubting the causal connections between incidents. The benefit of attributing a connection, however implausible, when none is obvious is that it reasserts controlif not the reader's then at least someone's or something'sover the world. A world without such connections would be unintelligible to reason, for not even the most basic assumption could be made about anything that occurred other than that it had occurred.
The narrator of The Plummeting Old Women' further emphasises that necessary connection by implicitly suggesting that the event (the old women falling out) resulted from some initial transgression. He effectively characterises the falling as an unavoidable consequence of an unwarranted actthe old women were too curious. Are we to view the old women's demise as some form of punishment? If so, we must presume that they have committed a crime. The notion of a crime, however, requires the existence of a consistent and non-arbitrary (even if unknown) moral and legal code which determines whether an action is acceptable or not. Here the narrator finds an offence to match the punishment, and by virtue of this inductive reasoning he establishes a semblance of order and value in a world that seems bereft of either. As Shklovskii notes of Tristram Shandy, 4he causes follow the consequences'.37 In Kharms, however, there are only consequences, which in the absence of a recognisable cause might not even, properly speaking, be 'consequences'. After all, of what are they a consequence? As one critic puts it, 'the world [in Kharms] seems to be a sum of effects without cause which enter into collision with one another'.38 That is, in the absence of conclusive knowledge about the nature and cause of events, the narrative he constructs allows the narrator to avoid the terror of the unknown or unknowable by inventing a reasonable causal chain. Also by casting the narrative in the mode of a detective story, the narrator implies that the 'real' mystery (how the story begins and why it ends) also has a solution. The narrator thus becomes analogous to the reader, who seeks to explain the text by comparing it to other more familiar stories or types of stories of which he or she knows the outcome.
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Kharms's characters are mere ciphers (or numbers) like K. and they share his impotence.
Nevertheless, although K. languishes in ignorance of his crime and his eventual fate, there exist in Kafka's novel the tangible trappings of a system which allows K. to believe that his case will undergo a due legal process. The legal apparatus continues to function in an orderly, if secretive, fashion. The system has hearings conducted by judges in front of an (admittedly unruly) jury. Defence lawyers continue to act on behalf of their 'clients'. The well-ordered bureaucratic and legal machine is, however, concerned only with procedure and no longer has any moral sense or discretion. It is immaterial whether those 'charged' are in fact innocent or guilty, for once they enter the process there can be only one conclusion. In The Trial, the accusation determines the process. After one has been found guilty, one has one's trial. In Kafka's world, in the absence of justice, they still observe the legal niceties.
Kharms's world also relies on convention in the absence of readily discernible or objective fact. However, Kharms's world is far more unstable than Kafka's. Kafka's legal process is systematic, self-perpetuating and predictable. It may remain mysterious to those caught in it, but ultimately it can be known, if not avoided. Convention has become law and, although the system is iniquitous, it is nevertheless stable. In Kharms, while conventions have the appearance of fact, they do not become law.
Conventions in Kharms remain arbitrary and break down. What obtains in Kafka's novel obtains throughout; it is final and conclusive. In Kharms, even in the briefest story, no such assurance is established. K.'s 4trial', if not his arrest, has a discernible causethe arbitrary, but autonomous, legal system. Furthermore, K. does not kill himself; he is 'murdered' or 'executed' for his 'crime'. Kharms's old women are injured for no apparent reason. In Kafka one might dispute the justness of the act, but one can never doubt its instigator, even if one cannot know his or her identity. Kharms's victims suffer without reason and without cause.
Causation in Kharms's world is at best entirely mysterious and innominate. The most shocking prospect, however, is that it is entirely without known origin. Even after the event and after much investigation, one may never be able to retrace or discern the pattern or source of its causation. Perhaps there is simply no reason for the old women to fall out
of the window, either before or afterwards, but nevertheless they do. In this respect, Kharms's 'Incident' recalls an unconventional detective novel by Stanislaw Lem.
Lem's The Investigation, despite its thematic similarities with the genre, is no ordinary detective story. The investigators are confronted by a series of bizarre events (the disappearance of corpses) which, it transpires, have no cause. It follows that if they are caused by no one, they cannot be considered a crime. With random occurrences, there can be no question of either moral or legal responsibility. The incidents are treated as criminal acts not in order to catch a villainthere can be nonebut to provide some means of accounting for the unaccountable. The fabrication, like Kafka's legal system, quickly assumes a logical momentum of its own. As one of the detectives, Gregory, remarks at the 'conclusion' of the investigation:
Did you really suspect him? [. . .] or did you only want something to match the facts that we were stuck with, the facts that forced us to take action in the first place, so you could give a semblance of order to this disorder and mark an open case closed with a nice sense of orderliness?39
The detectives' investigation provides a plausible narrative that will give a specific meaning to random occurrences and place them within a general, logically consistent scheme. A detective fiction, a mystery, proves an ideal form in the circumstances. It adequately describes the irregularity of the incidents and provides a formal category by which they may be better understood. Once set in motion, however, the narrative actually justifies all actions that sustain it; it proceeds regardless of the moral consequences or the actual truth. The search for any solution replaces the quest for a single solution that is not just momentarily inaccessible, but permanently unfathomable.
Like Lem's novel, 'The Plummeting Old Women' involves not only events that seem beyond reason, but calls into question the prerogative of reason itself. Kharms's text may be read both as a parody of logical reasoning and as an epistemological investigation. The narrator makes a rational conclusion about the causation of events, because the admission that in truth they had, for all reasonable purposes, no cause would imply that all explanations are essentially inconsequential and arbitrary. That conclusion not only points to a universe totally bereft of intelligible order or sense, but, more directly, it renders the narrator's raison d'etre (qua
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logician, on the certain premise that the old women are curious, but he cannot determine veracity for fear of revealing his own intemperate curiosity. The narrator cannot find a conclusion that holds true for all eventualities, so he attempts to discover rules that apply for certain contingencies. The knowledge the narrator seeks is one set in convention, rather than in absolute truth. The narrator cannot recognise the true explanation, but he can recognise* a reasonable explanation that obtains when certain preconditions are met. Thus Kharms's narrator's principal interest, like that of the logician or the formalist literary critic, is primarily the/orm of an explanation, rather than its veracity.
This argument provides a further reason for why the narrator is apparently so unforthcoming; he simply has no choice. The narrator enters in medias res. He apparently cannot recount, or indeed account for, the beginning of the processwhat causes the old women to express curiosityand he fails to complete the story of the first woman's fall, preferring to turn his attention to the second woman. The narrator either will not or cannot abide by the Aristotelian condition that a story must have a beginning, a middle and an end. He can have no conception of this rule of story-telling, because it constitutes primary knowledge to which he can have no access.42
In 'The Plummeting Old Women' the narrator starts and stops, but he
does not begin or end. He can note the beginning of a sequence, he can
designate the first old woman (odna starukhd), but he cannot describe the
initial animating event: that which precedes the first old woman's curi-
osity. He categorises and distinguishes the old women not by name, but
by epithet ('extreme curiosity') and by number (one to six). The narrator
does not resolve the story of the six old women: he simply stops
observing and narrating, thereby leaving the reader perennially uncertain
as to whether more old women fall and whether any of them who have
fallen later stand up. One will never know whether falling old women are
a regular occurrence in the world of Kharms's story. The narrator's
departure also leaves the reader suspended in the midst of the action,
unable to draw any conclusion for himself. What the narrator does not
conclude, the reader cannot. The primary, true knowledge of events is
entirely absent from this story, not only at the time the action occurs, but

also in retrospect.
No 'regressive ending' takes the place of the missing beginning.
Instead, in 'The Plummeting Old Women' one encounters the familiar

narrator) null and void. What purpose can a narrator serve if the events cannot be contained in a narrative?
Kharms's story illustrates the Nationalist's' paradox, which holds that: '[WJhile we may assert the necessity of the truth of the proposition, say, "P is P", regardless of what "P" represents, it cannot, by virtue of its independence of the real world, tell us anything about it. Yet, paradoxically, it was that very independence which was sought in order to make the world intelligible.'40 In other words, the establishment of a consistent and stable formulation by which to explain phenomena is at the expense of determining their inherent nature. This paradoxical position is frequently adopted by writers of the absurd whose intent it is to demonstrate the limitations of logical postulates. Logic has a purity and coherence that distinguishes it from the confused actuality of the world. In logic, form determines content regardless of that content's character. In its propensity to rely upon a conclusion or interpretation derived from an unsubstantiated and unverifiable initial premise, pure logic resembles Kharms's narrative skein or Kafka's legal process.
Human experience proves too complex to be reduced to a set of rules. Lewis Carroll, a writer of nonsense literature and a logician by training, emphasises the essential discrepancy between a logical appreciation of events and a philosophical or creative understanding of their meaning: 'It isn't of the slightest consequence to us, as Logicians, whether our premises are true or false; all we have to make out is whether they lead logically to the conclusion so that, if they were true, it would be true also.'41 In Kharms's world (and our own), one is constantly striving to find the premise, or even a premise, upon which to build. Where there are no obvious premises, what one concludes depends on what premise one chooses to adopt.
One reasonable reading of The Plummeting Old Women', based on the narrator's observation, would conclude that the old women merited their demise. If the old women were indeed excessively curious and their (self-)defenestration were punishment, it would also be logical to conclude that they had committed a crime deserving of such punishment. However, for that conclusion to be true as well as simply reasonable, it requires to be substantiated by evidence. The required objectivity presumes an authoritative narrator whose word is final and beyond doubt. In Kharms's story there is no such word.
Kharms's narrator, possessing only a limited vision, works, like the
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abrupt and inconclusive ending with which Kharms ends most of his prose pieces. A Kharms story frequently ends simply and suddenly with That's all' or 'That, strictly speaking, is all', or some other variant. The stories 'Incident with Petrakov' ('Sluchai s Petrakovym', 1936), 'A Meeting' ('Vstrecha', no date) and 'On Equilibrium' ('O ravnovesii', 1934) all end in such a fashion. In Kharms's 'mini-dramas', which have the form of plays but were not staged, the stage direction 'curtain' (zanaves) has a similar function (see, for example, 'An Unsuccessful Show' and 'Clunk!' ['Tyuk!', no date], both from the Incidents cycle). Yet even when no such deliberate demarcation exists, most of Kharms's miniature texts finish without the anticipated, or even a, resolution of the action they depict. The end, like the incidents themselves, appears to come at random. Like the sixth old woman falling, the final sentence of a Kharms story is nothing more than the last one written, but its position as the last is not consequent on what has preceded it and with what, logically, should follow it. Kharms's 'The End' is formally accurate, but semantically untenable. Such endings disturb the fragile 'interpretations' that one constructs to account for the actions in the main body of the story.
The abrupt end to a work deprives it of closure which, according to Barbara Herrnstein Smith, ensures that it is 'experienced as integral: coherent, complete and stable'.43 Nevertheless, Kharms's love of 'unclosed' endings has parallels in other works of Russian and European literature. The works of Dostoevski! frequently end with the avowed prospect of more to come.44 Thus, in the case of Dostoevski! the open ending does not necessarily deprive the work of the integrity which Smith believes indispensable to a satisfactory closure. Indeed, one can view this apparent 'anti-closure' as merely another form of closure. That is, the conclusion to the novel is required or motivated by what precedes it. The effect of this 'anti-closural' device is to give the impression of a literary fragment. In Notes from Underground, the fragmentary form of the text does not diminish its structural or intellectual coherence. In other literary works, however, the device of an unanticipated ending more closely matches the apparent incoherence of the preceding text. In such works the use of a formal ending without a semantic conclusion may be viewed as an integral part of a general authorial scheme to reveal the devices by which a literary work is constructed and to expose them in the most blatant manner. This view of closure as a formal device is common to
Formalist critics.45
A simple ending has none of the restitutive powers of a 'regressive ending'. The presence in Kharms's prose of unmotivated endings without closure further underscores the narrator's limitations. If, in 'The Plummeting Old Women', the narrator's need or desire to narrate is sufficient to motivate the events involving the old women, the unmotivated ending to the entire story delineates the limit of his narratorial prerogative. When the narrator leaves the scene of the plummeting old women, the story 'The Plummeting Old Women' does not end. The story, as opposed to the narrator's narrative, ends only after the further incident involving a blind man who receives a scarf from some unseen benefactor. This equally mysterious, new narrative terminates Kharms's story.
Yet the apparently discrete event concerning the blind man can be connected to the narrative of the old women in both thematic and structural terms. Consider how the tale of the blind man differs from that of the six plummeting old women. First and foremost, it is a single event that occurs to a single individual.46 Apparent generosity or apparently altruistic behaviour is a rare occurrence in Kharms's prose, but perhaps the narrator prizes the act of giving less for its ethical merits (the narrator's lack of moral sensibilities has already been demonstrated) than for its uniqueness as an unmotivated, self-sufficient event. If it is an act of generosity it requires no special motivation, and although the benefactor or benefactors remain unknown, the act is undeniably caused by someone. It is precisely the degree of predictability and stability in the story of the blind man that makes it uninteresting for the reader. For the narrator it is perhaps remarkable, because it is a complete, coherent and entirely consistent narrative. The implication of the blind man's story is that an event can result from a simple, obvious causal chain, captured in a conclusive narrative. In the disorder that infests the narrator's world, such integrity (potentially moral as well as structural) is unique and wholly unforeseeable. Moreover, the event apparently neither demands, nor implies, the need for curiosity; it is already utterly mysterious. The narrator leaves the old women in search of one truly consequential act in the place of several indeterminate and sequential actions.
For all its extraordinary brevity and the uncertainty of its origins, the tale of the blind man has a distinctly linear development. It has a beginning and an end. Moreover, that end is conclusive. The story is
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The problem lies not so much with the intentions of the narrators as with the conventions of narrative, which requires epistemological and causal neatness. Narrative smoothes over the particularities of the event and its multifarious, undetected causes to produce a seamless re-creation that may approximate to the objective truth, but can never wholly capture it. Indeed, historical narrative has become such a stale convention that the characters who will later figure* in it (such as Alexander I and Napoleon) actually style their actions and words in a way to make them more acceptable and appealing to the conventions of historical writing, or indeed historical romantic fiction. Thus even historical narrative, which concerns itself with what 'actually' happened, proves to be no more than an expedient way of interpreting events and one which, moreover, masks the actual confusion and mess of those events.47
This confusion of conventional knowledge with empirical knowledge is a frequent motif in Kharms's prose.48 Kharms's narrators understand the world around them in terms of convention. Even the understanding of certain principles of narrative structure, however, does not mean that one can comprehend the narrative of which one is a part. Despite efforts by Kharms's narrator to conclude the stories he recounts, the determination that the story is complete remains manifestly that of the author. It cannot come from the narrator, for he belongs with the other characters in the midst of a continuum whose beginning and end he may attempt to apprehend (in this case, despite the implicit danger in the exercise of any form of curiosity or critical judgement) and even imitate, but which he can ultimately never know. Even if the narrator appears to be the author of the old women narrative, evidently does not author the story of the blind man. That requires an ex machina authorial intervention, which the narrator does not witness.
In Kharms, the provision of a structure ultimately rests with the author (hence Tolstoi's use of authorial intrusion to undermine other narrators, even celebrated historians, in War and Peace) and not the narrator. Narrative provides for a recounting of events and, to a certain extent, it can give them order. It has, however, an extremely limited utility. It cannot animate events, nor can it explain why they occurred. That information is unknowable. It is conceivable that events have an author, but his identity is forever shrouded in mystery. Kharms abandons his characters, including his first-person narrators, leaving them no prospect of comprehending the idea of authorial intent. They seem unable to
remarkable for its completeness, which offers an unaccustomed assurance after the manifold uncertainty of the story of the old women. The story of the blind man ends 'The Plummeting Old Women'; without it the plummeting old women might never cease to fall.
The story of the blind man has an apparent formal integrity that allows for the possibility of knowing something for a fact. However, it will retain its apocryphal status so long as it is unsubstantiated (by the narrator) and so long as the benefactor (the source of the story) and his motives remain mysterious. That is to say, we have no way of knowing whether he is genuinely generous or altruistic or whether in fact he has ulterior motives. An act of generosity may require no special motivation, but it does not necessarily exclude the possibility of an ulterior motive. In fact, the formal significance of the tale is more evident than the meaning of its content. The significance of the act itself is hard to determine and rests entirely on speculation, which the text actively discourages.
As with the story of the old women, the tale of the blind man raises more questions than it answers. The narrator may be attracted by the functional import of the new narrative, but he lacks the means to discover the significance of what it relates. He confuses the form of an explanation with an actual explanation. One can see the story of the blind man as a logically consistent and stable narrative, but just as such acts of generosity are unlikely in the morally deficient world of Kharms's prose, such taut structures seem equally improbable. This narrative has the semantic integrity of a logician's postulation, but one cannot determine whether it truly occurred and one has to consider it within the larger framework of the entire text.
One is reminded here of Tolstoi's treatment of battles in War and Peace. Experienced generals, like Kutuzov, understand that no amount of prior planning can adequately prepare for the actual course of the engagement. Troop movements neatly drawn up on maps will, with hindsight, prove at best naive, if not utterly wrong-headed. Just as he exposes the fallacy of believing that one can account for any contingency by resorting to vast and complex plans, so Tolstoi also ridicules the notion that narrativeeven, or especially, historical narrativecan actually provide an objective or sufficient explanation for what has occurred. Soldiers in War and Peace recalling the battle in which they have participated exaggerate, abridge, obfuscate, elaborate and generally embellish their post hoc accounts, even when they have no intention of dissembling.
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entertain the possibility of a true author of events, whose design they could never know, but whose existence might comfort them in their uncertainty. That divorce between the author and his creations is emphasised structurally in Kharms's prose by its formal instability and thematic incoherence.
Kharms's exposure of the hermeneutic limitations of narrative undermines one of our basic devices for explaining the world. To pursue the analogy with narrative, man finds himself in a narrative, of which he cannot know the origin or outcome. He never even knows or guesses the title. Yet in the face of such ignorance, he is forced to conceive of some kind of truth that justifies the chaos. By realising the limits of human reason, however, one does paradoxically arrive at a better understanding of the human condition.
According to Camus, the 'divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity'.49 In Kharms's prose equally, there exists a complete separation of author and characters, even narrators. Absurdity ensues from that divorce, but that condition need not always obtain. If human reason proves futile when confronted by the realisation that the world is absurd, one must engage an absurdist solution, which involves a recognition of the absurd and leads to a curious absurdist faith. In exposing the inherent failings of human narrative as a hermeneutic device, Kharms proceeds to allude to the meta-narrative in which that narrative figures, but whose author, God, lies beyond human comprehension.
CHAPTER TWO
An Overarching Structure:
The Religious Dimension to Kharms's Prose

The idea of God in Kharms is linked to the provision of an overarching structure, a meta-narrative, which offers the prospect of a spiritual order. The structure not only implies the possibility of a religious dimension to Kharms's prose but also provides a framework by which one may understand his work. By positing a realm outside man's rational perception, but within which he exists, Kharms intimates a truly spiritual dimension that is otherwise notably absent from the brutal and absurd world of his prose.
Although his diaries and notebooks provide considerable evidence of Kharms's private interest in religion and of his own form of eclectic religious belief, the religious dimension to his prose has been largely neglected.50 Nevertheless, Kharms's friend Yakov Druskin explicitly labels the Incidents cycle of stories 'religious'.51 Druskin is referring here not to the stories' content, but to their mtent.
Ostensibly the very idea of spirituality in Kharms's prose seems to be groundless. The Incidents stories contain vivid depictions of amorality, consigning the protagonists to a brief, trivial and often violent existence and frequently leading to an early, unnatural and insignificant death. There appears to be no place for any belief in transcendent values. Kharms portrays humanity in its basest actions. The banal and prosaic language of these texts could scarcely express any ethereal or immaterial values or, indeed, testify to their possibility. One might justifiably argue that Kharms's characters can exist and function only in an environment so resolutely material and excessively mundane as to preclude all hope of escape or spiritual relief. Kharms's prose would seem to epitomise Thomas Hobbes's contention that life is 'poor, nasty, brutish, and short', a characterisation that already suggests the potential absurdity of human existence.
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Kharms's stories maintain a constrictive formal structure that implies confinement. They appear to preclude interpretation and transcendence. In Kharms, re-reading a text brings the reader no nearer to a resolution, leaving him or her in a state of uncertainty and incomprehension. Although the appeal of certain works of literature may be derived from incomprehension or unfamiliarity, usually carefully supervised and encouraged by the author, they are, however, only temporary. Incomprehension lasts as long as it takes to reach the denouement. For the impatient reader, skipping to the end of a story to discover 'the' or, simply, 'an' answer is always an option. Such an approach, however, rarely works in Kharms, for if the resolution to the plot is not self-evident in the beginning (for instance, 'Mashkin Killed Koshkin' [no date]a title that in effect contains the whole text), it is unlikely to be found at the end.
Often in Incidents, the title alone gives the reader a sense that this is a work of literature. It provides a formal designation for what ensues. The title tells the reader how to read what follows by revealing that the author's intention is literary, even in a prosaic, seemingly unliterary text. The most extreme example is 'A Meeting' ('Vstrecha', no date). What follows comprises the entire text:

,
, , ,
-.
, , .

[A Meeting
One day a man set off for work and on the way met another man, who
had bought a Polish loaf and was on his way home.
That, in fact, is all.]

The starkness and extreme brevity of this piece make it remarkable. Nevertheless, one may regard 'A Meeting' as a logical culmination of what Kharms attempts in his other (marginally) longer prose works. It is self-contained and self-sustaining. It implies itself, and nothing more. The title determines all there is to know, and all one can ever know, about the action.
The Surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp regularly used titles in this manner. Titles in modernist works of art frequently determine not simply
the main focus of a piece of art but also indicate that they are actually to be considered pieces of art. Perhaps the most famous example of a title determining the artistic status of something otherwise entirely functional is Duchamp's celebrated piece Fountain. Duchamp's work consists of an ordinary urinal, unadapted and unaltered in any way, save for the addition of a title and its removal to an art gallery. Yet, one might argue, the change of place and nomenclature redefines the essence of the object.
For the philosopher Arthur Dan to, Duchamp's classification of a urinal as a fountain essentially represents an act of interpretation.52 The act of interpretation itself makes art; interpretation is 'transfigurative'.53 The entitling of a work is a means of interpretation that both constitutes the work and becomes part of it.54 Thus, paradoxically, even though Duchamp chooses an object that would seem to be exclusively functional, the addition of a title, even one as inherently ironic as 'Fountain' describing a urinal, results in the object's reconfiguration as a work of art.
In Duchamp's work, then, a title can transform a functional object into a work of art, providing an artistic essence to a piece of otherwise limited aesthetic value. One might argue that Kharms's choice of the title 'A Meeting' has a similar effect. It provides an aesthetic definition of functional prose. Indeed, titles to other Kharms works suggest his love of artistic denomination: 'Symphony No. 2' ('Simfoniya No. 2', 1941), 'A Sonnet' ('Sonet', 1935) and even 'An Historical Episode' ('Istoricheskii epizod', 1939). These titles signify the orderliness of artistic form; they prescribe a specific and fixed rhythm and progression. Yet in reading the texts, one immediately becomes aware of the discrepancy between the aesthetic order implied by the title and the unruly text that follows. No aesthetic transfiguration takes placeindeed there is very little that is aesthetically pleasing in Kharms's prose. Thus one can only presume that Kharms, in giving these works such titles, is being ironic.55
The artistic harmony that Danto sees deriving from the artist's reclassification of an object is absent in Kharms. The characters in Kharms's texts do not share the aesthetic tastes or intentions of the author, nor do the texts themselves adhere to any one conventional artistic pattern. Moreover, the author refuses to use his titles in any transfigurative sense. Rather, Kharms seems to parody Duchamp's (already ironic) employment of a title to redefine a work. In Kharms, titles are either self-evident (that is, suggested from below by the text) or utterly divorced
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is not beyond that of the reader. The addition of a title (even one that seems at odds with the text: 'Sonnet', for example) suggests the possibility of a frame that gives definition to a disordered text. That frame provides the basis for the spiritual dimension in Kharms's writing. It betokens the existence of a realm beyond that of the stories.
Naturally, the reader sees the cordon around the story enabling him or her to perceive it as a text. In certain Kharms texts, however, that perimeter functions as a touchstone not only for the reader, but also for the characters. In the prevailing climate of uncertainty and extreme subjectivity in Kharms's world, the existence of a fixed, objective point has profound consequences. It implies a pre-existing structure to that world, by which one might measure and comprehend what occurs within it. Could it be that this structure offers the prospect of true meaning and of an unchallenged authority in a world seemingly bereft of either?
In 'A Young Man who Surprised a Watchman' ('Molodoi chelovek, udivivshii storozha', 1936)57, one encounters a character who passes beyond the mundane setting of the text. A different perspective, a new vantage point of sorts, helps to furnish this text with a sense of conclusion and meaning (potentially a spiritual meaning) that other texts patently lack. The story evokes a realm beyond the familiar microcosm in which most of Kharms's 'Incidents' take place. It is a transcendent realm, but one which, although it evokes notions of faith and belief, curiously does not involve a traditional idea of an after-life. Rather, the realm is perceptible, if not accessible, in the midst of life. This seems all the more remarkable when one notes how many of Kharms's texts end in or feature
death.58
What is truly disturbing about death in Kharms is that it comes suddenly, unnaturally, and extinguishes a life with no obvious significance. The lives of Kharms's characters are so utterly unremarkable that their extinction signifies nothing beyond the impermanence of existence. A death might, in other works of literature, betoken a culmination or fruition of events; it might give a sense both of finality and meaning. Or death might signal passage to eternal life or immortality of another kind, say, in the posthumous recognition of one's achievements. In Kharms, however, death is simply another banal occurrence; it is as meaningless as the life that precedes it.
That banality, however, is interrupted in the stories 'A Young Man who Surprised a Watchman', 'Makarov and Petersen No. 3' and
from what they purport to classify and hence simply ironic. That divorce is another measure of the ignorance and disorder that pervade Kharms's world.
Danto's transfigurative titles turn non-aesthetic material into art. In Kharms's prose if a similar attempt is made, it ultimately fails. The material rebels and undermines the aesthetic order the title strives to impose. Nevertheless, paradoxically, the mere presence of the title still ensures that the work is regarded as some form of art. Indeed the appending of a title frequently enables the reader to distinguish Kharms's completed prose from notes or diary entries. Kharms's prose can thus be said to be art about the failure of transfiguration. Kharms goes further than Duchamp and develops a negative art-work.
The failure of titles to transfigure objects parallels the failure of narrative adequately to impose a direction on phenomena. Kharms's narrators are aware to a limited extent of the lack of order in their world and they seek the 'correct' labels by which to order and explain events. They believe, wrongly as it transpires, in the transfigurative power of nomenclature. Hence in The Plummeting Old Women' the narrator uses numbering and other, ultimately arbitrary, means of classification. Kharms's characters, in the absence of any fixed prior order of value, frequently mistake nominal categories for objective truth. In Kharms's unstable world, however, these conventions are continually disturbed, and consequently the characters find themselves left in total ignorance. Unlike an author, artist or even a logician, they are unable to invent new definitions to provide even a semblance of coherence.
Kharms's titles impose order and definition on his chaotic narratives. Without the employment of titles and ex machina endings (That's all!'), Kharms's miniature pieces would seem to able to continue for ever. The potential for enumerating 'Incidents' is apparently inexhaustible. Many of Kharms's 'Incidents' contain the potential to grow into a picaresque novel. The authorial restriction on their development contrasts markedly with their innate propensity to digress, expand and endlessly recur.56
The title and the ending thus provide for a formal definition of these narratives. These devices transform the 'incidents' and make them a work of literature, Incidents. The fact that Kharms has framed a piece by means of a title and an ending allows for the possibility of positing an interpretation that explicates all elements of these otherwise obscure miniature texts. It suggests an order that, while beyond the character's appreciation,
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Young Man who Surprised a Watchman'.61 'A young man wearing yellow gloves' addresses a watchman, who at the time is planning to kill a fly. The young man asks the watchman how to pass on to 'heaven' (or 4he sky') [kak tutproiti na nebo?}. The watchman seems at first to understand the young man to mean he wants to pass by and willingly accedes to the young man's request. The young man, however, requires more of the watchman: a room has been prepared for him, the young man adds. The watchman, apparently taking the man to mean a room on his site62, asks him to show his ticket. The young man says he has no ticket and adds that 'they said' he would be allowed to pass just as he is [oni govo-rili, chto menya i tak propustyat]. With growing impatience, the watchman tells the young man that he will let him through, but the young man still desires an answer to his initial question: how to reach heaven. He does not know the way, he complains.
Only at this point does the watchman try to clarify exactly where the young man wants to go. 'To heaven [na nebo}\ the young man replies. The watchman takes umbrage at the young man's answer: 'What's the matter with you? Are you playing the fool [ chego? Van'ku valyaesh^}T Then, c[t]he young man smiled, raised his hand in its yellow glove, waved it over his head and suddenly disappeared.' The watchman utters a mild exclamation and, having spat on the spot where the young man stood before, returns to his lodge [storozhka]. Thus the story ends.
The text entails two different orders: the mundane and the extra-mundane. Confusion and misunderstanding arise from their convergence. The young man is never obscure or obtuse about his destination or his request, yet nevertheless the watchman understands him, and can understand him, only in terms of his own physical environment. Indeed, the young man speaks in a way that can be understood either literally or metaphorically. The word nebo could mean heaven or the sky. Even if one takes it to mean sky, however, the young man's request still sounds unusual and one may certainly sympathise with the watchman's conclusion that a young man asking the way to heaven simply intends to play the fool. Moreover, the young man has already addressed the watchman ironically and condescendingly as 'granddad [dedushkaY.
The young man represents an immaterial realm that can be recognised only if it adopts material form. Nevertheless, the material can never adequately 'house' the immaterial. The young man's vanishing into the
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'Connection'. These works culminate not in death, but rather in disappearance or reappearance. They thereby confirm the existence of a realm outside the confines of the familiar microcosm of Kharms's prose and indicate a threshold beyond which some may pass. The very elements of these textselements of magic, fantasy, whimsy and the transport of the mindevoke a dimension not readily apparent in those 'Incidents' that revolve around the distressing monotony of everyday existence. Mystical happenings disturb the predictable and mundane routine of the characters' existence. The absurdity of these fantastic texts arises not so much from the 'collision' of inexplicable effects without obvious cause, as from the interaction of two different and largely separate worlds. The incidence of mysterious happenings is acceptable to the reader, because, by definition, their cause is beyond comprehension.
As Rosalie Colie has noted, 'wonder' and 'miracle' dispense with the need for cause and effect.59 Without cause and effect, the mysterious remains mysterious. The procession of grim and ghastly occurrences, in certain Kharms texts, is relieved or interrupted by incidents of magic, fantasy and absurd humour. The manifestation of apparently whimsical happenings in an environment which seems to breed only destruction and amoral behaviour may appear incongruous, but it cannot be idly ignored. These fantastic elements suggest a greater depth to Kharms's prose than it is often accorded. If nothing else, these elements provide for the possibility of spirituality and meaning in an otherwise moribund and, for the characters, impotent world.
Anatolii Aleksandrov has noted that amidst the pervading bleakness of Kharms's prose there appear figures who possess a supernatural authority: 'One should say that sometimes in the 'Incidents' there appear heroes who do not resemble the numbed [odereveneloe] and brutal surroundings. Such is the unknown man in the story 'Fedya Davidovich' who sends Fedya to the devil. Such is the young man who asks the doorman [dvornik] the way to heaven [nebo].' The appearance of these heroes suggests the possibility of escape from the harsh environment of the 'Incidents'. Aleksandrov makes explicit the spiritual, religious and moral nature of that escape by emphasising the choice of destination, heaven or hell, in these particular 'Incidents'. The supernatural in Kharms's stories is explicitly linked with the concepts of reward and moral authority.
The 'young man' on his way 'to heaven' is featured in the text 'A
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of respect. The young man appears to register the watchman's disgruntle-ment and begins to address him in the polite, vy, form. Such a transformation might indicate the young man's recognition of his error and a certain compliance. But the young man only switches to the polite form of address when he begins to talk of heaven. If his choice of modes of address indicates any supplication, it is not so much to the watchman as to the immaterial domain the young man seeks to enter.
At every turn in the text, opposites meet. Even the tangible and intangible appear to come into contact and yet, by definition, the intangible cannot be touched. Perhaps the joiner's glue with which the watchman intends to catch the fly stands as a symbol for the attempted cohesion between the two disparate elements in the one text. On the one hand, Kharms attempts to establish the verisimilitude of his tale, yet on the other, to emphasise its mystery and mythical quality, implying a meeting of two distinct and homogeneous worlds, that of the spirit and that of the flesh.
Kharms insists that the young man is no optical illusion to the watchman. His other senses also register the young man's presence. Before he sees him, the watchman first hears the young man speak. When the young man finally disappears, the watchman sniffs the air, which smells of 'burnt feathers'. The allusion to an angel's wings notwithstanding, the smell indicates the material and organic nature of the young man.
The near 'collision' between the two generates apparently insoluble questions for the reader. If the young man is the embodiment of another realm, what does he seek to accomplish by manifesting himself to the watchman? Why does the young man persist in asking the watchman questions to which he, the questioner, is more likely to know the answer? The watchman gives not the slightest indication that he could or cares to provide an answer. Furthermore, who exactly are the 'they' who have told the young man of the room that awaits him? 'They' apparently provide the motivation for the meeting of the two realms, but 'they' never actually materialise in the text.66
The broader question here is the one of material proof of an immaterial world. The appearance of the young man to the watchman mirrors the devil's appearance to Ivan in Dostoevskii's The Brothers Karamazov. The devil taunts Ivan for his confusion of material evidence with belief: 'Thomas believed, not because he saw Christ risen, but
ether renders the dialogue between the young man and the watchman meaningless and absurd. What need has the young man of a room if he can dispense with physical form, what need has he of directions to a world or place to which he already seems to belong and, above all, what need has he of the watchman's permission to pass through when he can disappear at whim?63
The question, 'which way to heaven?', signals where the two orders, the mundane and the extra-mundane, meet, yet it makes no sense as a mundane inquiry. The path to heaven cannot be a material one. One may understand the young man's question as a request for spiritual guidance, but the directions one might give do not involve the empirical concepts of distance and co-ordinates. The question is more properly asked of a clergyman or theologian than of a watchman, when the answer would presumably involve the moral direction of one's life. The young man has sought a figure of authority, and has indeed found one, but the watchman's purview does not include the realm of the extra-mundane.64 The watchman's specious authority derives from his strategic position at a threshold. However, the young man's disappearance illustrates the limits of the watchman's prerogative. By vanishing the young man draws attention to a more significant and absolute threshold: that between this world and another. The knowledge of that threshold and the special power to pass across it at whim clearly belong to the young man and lend him special authority.
Notions of authority and the attendant idea of a hierarchical order are central to this text. When the watchman observes a fly, he muses on the fate of the fly which lies entirely within his hands. The watchman notes how easy it would be to end the fly's existence by the application of joiner's glue: 'Now there's a thing [vot ved' istoriya]\ Just by glue!' The watchman's considerations of the fate of the fly and his own sense of power are interrupted by the young man whose own peculiar, magical power and authority will soon be apparent. Just as the fly is unaware of the 'story' (istoriyd) the watchman has in mind for it, so the watchman cannot fathom the intentions of the young man who now directs him.65
The young man immediately asserts his sense of superiority over the watchman by addressing him by the familiar form of address, ty. Relations between the two men are marked entirely by contrast and distance, emphasised from the beginning by the antonyms, young and old. The watchman is patently annoyed by the young man's tone and his lack
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because he wanted to believe, before he saw.'67 The devil's commentary on the conversion of doubting Thomas has belief precede the 'evidence' that confirms it. Once one has faith, the need for proof disappears. Similarly, Ivan's 'belief in the reality of the devil is confirmed when he says he will kick the devil and later when he hurls a glass of tea at him.68 Ivan's actions prove his belief in the devil, but not the devil's actual existence. The devil disappears or dematerialises before Alesha arrives at Ivan's with the news of Smerdyakov's suicide and so 'avoids' confirmation by another witness.
In Kharms's text alluding to an intangible order, the significant omission among the senses is one of touch. At no point does the watchman attempt to verify the young man's existence and physical presence by touch. Furthermore, the young man's connection with a non-corporeal realm is emphasised by his wearing gloves, like a magician. A magician dons gloves to stress the purity of the trick he or she is about to attempt. Contact with a bare hand implies manipulationthat is, the antithesis of pure magic. The glove symbolises a barrier between the material world of construction and the supposedly non-material act of conjuring. The true force behind the sorcery is, like the hand itself, concealed. When the young man vanishes, he waves his gloved hand above his head; he does not even touch himself.69
This absence of physical contact might serve as a metaphor for the entire text, for although two distinct orders come within close proximity of one another, they never make firm contact. The mysterious young man and the artless watchman converse, but the dialogue that occurs between them is always at cross purposes. The single, mutually-shared context that would give their interlocution meaning and purpose never 'materialises'. At times, the conversation is as one-sided as the watchman's reflections on the fly. It is as though two different stories exist side-by-side, but can never truly become one fully coherent narrative.
The watchman is not 'touched' by the young man's visit. He remains largely unaffected by the young man's curious behaviour. The story's title indicates that the young man 'surprises' the watchman, but there is little evidence within the text to support that conclusion. When the young man disappears the watchman seems barely even to register the extraordinary nature of the event he has just witnessed. He remarks: 'how do you like that!' (ish' ty) and 'threw open his jacket, scratched his stomach, spat on the place where the young man had stood and slowly
went into his lodge.' His comment (ish' ty!) is the same, word for word, as the comment that begins the story, when he observes the fly. The two 'events' of the watchman's daya man disappearing into thin air and the travail of an ordinary flyelicit the same matter-of-fact reaction.
If, as Aleksandrov argues, the young man is not a typical Kharms hero, then the watchman certainly is. He has just witnessed an extraordinary, magical occurrence and yet he reacts by carrying on his routine without further reflection. Even dumb bewilderment would seem to be a more appropriate response. The watchman, however, remains rooted in his mundane environment and preoccupied with his thoroughly humdrum concerns. At all times he remains attached to a specific place. When the young man once again tells him his desired destination, 'the watchman leaned forward, moved his right leg in order to stand more firmly [and] stared at the young man...' The watchman's every gesture emphasises his intention to establish himself and not to move from his spot. His actions evince an obstinate defence of his own territory and confirm his unfailingly earthly perception of things. His only apparent concession to the possible proximity of a non-material world is to scratch his stomach, perhaps to verify his own continued material and tangible existenceby touch. Touch provides empirical evidence of his own existence, which is all that really matters to the watchman.70
The watchman's indifference implies a rejection of all that the young man represents. His spitting on the site of the young man's miraculous disappearance can be seen as an act of profanity. With only a rudimentary command of language, the watchman expresses himself best by bodily acts and gestures. That emphasis on bodily functions implies the watchman's limited potential for spiritual development and comprehension. The young man only really engages the watchman's attention by resorting to insults. 'You beast!' (skotind), the young man shouts at him and then, as if to confirm the appropriateness of the appellation, the watchman squashes the fly with his finger. Thus touch is linked with a base and unthinking act The only evidence one has of the watchman actually involved in contemplation is deciding the fate of the fly, but in the end he simply squashes it. Like spitting or scratching his stomach, the extinguishing of life is, to the watchman, an instinctive, purely reflex action.
The watchman seems closed within his own world and unable to appreciate the significance of anything lying outside his immediate
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comprehension. His attitude to the remarkableremarkable at least from the reader's perspectivedisappearance of the young man and to the possibility of an actual miracle is one of baffling indifference. The watchman's reaction betrays his complete egocentricity, which marks him as thoroughly at home in the atomised environment of Kharms's world. When faced with elements of a potentially higher, or at least different, order, the watchman cannot adapt his perspective. His is a solipsistic existence. Extreme introspection and self-absorption render the watchman incapable of appreciating what lies beyond his self-contained world. Even if the watchman stands guard at the threshold to another realm, his position at the threshold is rendered meaningless by the fact that material obstacles, thresholds themselves, have no significance in an immaterial order. What real authority can a watchman have at the entrance to a spiritual world?
As readers, we resemble the watchman, for in any attempt at logical analysis we tend to display a similar literalness. We seek textual support for our conclusions in the expectation that it will shed light on areas of doubt or obfuscation. Such a techniqueindeed any technique whose basis is logical deductionis found wanting when confronted by pure mystery. We have the equivalent of the watchman's evidence for the young man's 'presence' in the form of the text. Like the watchman, however, we lack the final conclusive proof. The 'disappearance' of the plot coincides with that of the young man and the watchman's own concealment within his hut. We engage the text, but our analysis does not permit us to grasp it fully, for we lack certain answers. It is not that they are concealed within the empirical aspects of the text, its words, but rather that they lie beyond the meaning of the text as a whole: the sum of its apparent and its concealed meanings.
It is instructive to compare this story with the curious Kharms text entitled 'How Heralds Visited Me' ('O torn, kak menya posetili vestniki', 22 August 1937).71 The first-person narrator senses that he is being visited by 'heralds', whose arrival is announced by a noise from his clock: 'Something banged in the clock and heralds came to me.' He cannot see them; he only senses their presence. Unable to distinguish the 'heralds' from his surroundings, the narrator is afraid even to take a drink of water, lest the 'heralds' be in the water and he drink them by mistake. The narrator searches everywhere in his apartment for the 'heralds', but he cannot discover them. They are invisible, they announce their presence*
to him: he hears the noise in the clock, he feels a sudden draught. The narrator knows they have left when he hears the clock ticking normally and showing the correct time.
Kharms evidently wrote this text in response to a letter from Druskin, who writes: 'In August 1937 I wrote a literary-philosophical meditation [razmyshlenie] in the form of a letter to Daniil Ivanovich, which could be entitled: "How Heralds Left Me" ["Kak menya pokinuli vestniki"]. After a while, Kharms wrote the story: "How Heralds Visited Me".'72 The term 'herald' (vestnik)13 was appropriated by Leonid Lipavskii to denote a being from a 'neighbouring world' (sosednii mir). For Lipavskii, a 'neighbouring world' comprises a distinct realm which exists in close proximity to our own, but is, generally, beyond our ability to perceive fully. Lipavskii derived this notion of discrete, but proximate realms from an assertion by Leibnitz that no two drops of water are alike.74 Just as no two drops of water are alike, Lipavskii argues, so every human being sees the world in his or her own way and so has his or her own world. Hence, there exist 'neighbouring worlds'. We encounter human 'neighbouring worlds' all the time because they all have something in common language or a degree of understandingbut there may be other such worlds more difficult to discern. Such is the case with the world from which the 'heralds' appear in Kharms's story.
Indeed, why should a 'herald' from another world, albeit a neighbouring one, be bound by the laws that apply to ours? In Kharms's story, the narrator is aware of the heralds' movements precisely because of the distortion in the laws governing his own world. The clock, measuring a fundamental physical law, first bangs (it appears to stop as a result) to signal the arrival of visitors from another dimension and then begins to work normally to announce their departure.75 The narrator cannot prove that heralds have visited him, yet he experiences their presence.76
The idea of the text uniting disparate elements from different dimensions features elsewhere in Kharms's prose. Consider, for example, the story 'Makarov and Petersen No. 3' (1934), also from the Incidents cycle. This story also involves physical disappearance by magical means. Makarov turns to a book, opens it and reads: '... Gradually a person loses [teryaet] his form and becomes a sphere. And, becoming a sphere, a person loses [utrachivaet] his desires.' Petersen then dematerialises before our eyes. Through his disembodied voice, however, he manages to impart
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Now my concern is to create the correct order [...] 1 am the creator of a world [tvorets mira] and this is the most important thing in me [...] In everything that I do, I invest the consciousness that I am the creator of a world. And I don't simply make a boot, but I create a new thing. It's not enough for me [mne malo togo] that it should turn out to be comfortable, solid and elegant. What's important to me is that it should have that same order that is in the world as a whole; that the order of the world should not suffer, should not be soiled [zagryaznilsya] by contact with leather and nails, that, in spite of the boot's form, it should retain its own form, it should remain the same as it was, remain pure.
It is that same purity which permeates all the arts. When I write verses [stikhi], the most important thing seems to me not the idea, not the content and not the form, and not some hazy [tumannoi] notion of 'quality', something still more hazy and unintelligible to the rational mind, but intelligible to me and, I hope, to you, dear Klavdiya Vasil'evna. That is the purity of order. (Emphasis in original.)
Later in the letter Kharms remarks, 'I never read newspapers. That is a fabricated [vydumannyi] and not a created [sozdannyi] world.' The distinction Kharms draws allows for political allegory. The creation of a fictitious history was common political practice in the Soviet Union of Kharms's time.82 Newspapers are the preferred medium for this falsification, because their content changes daily: one history replaces another. Newspapers concoct a false order, one that establishes a rationally-consistent and invented pattern. That pattern can impose order on 'wayward' events, which otherwise might not fit a recognisable format. In doing so, they obscure and falsify the true nature of occurrences; they create a false cohesion between events.
Many of Kharms's short prose pieces resemble short newspaper accounts83, but they lack the authorial or editorial direction that would order or explicate what is described. When editorial comments are added, they appear out of place. Such comments seem obtrusive, extraneous and false. Kharms's stories present, on the contrary, a highly disordered picture of the world; they invert and parody the order of newspaper writing. Nevertheless, Kharms depicts the chaos of human existence and the proximity of the mundane and the miraculous within one text. Kharms's stories may imply incoherence, but they are, in their own peculiar way, perfectly executed pieces of art.
to Makarov and the reader what lies beyond the disappearance. The story further implies that all knowledge or all attempts at knowledge are only an exercise in self-reference, confirming what we already know; the conclusion one reaches in any notion of eternal return. The text itself is, or at least becomes, a sphere.77
It is tempting to see The Young Man who Surprised a Watchman' as, to use Druskin's phrase, a 'literary-philosophical meditation', in which the reader plays a role similar to that of the watchman. Although the watchman 'sees' the young man, he cannot perceive his purpose. The young man's ability to ignore the physical constraints of this world is nevertheless an indication of his association with another, non-material world. The watchman's inability to understand the young man's appearance in such terms further emphasises his limited material understanding. His comprehension does not extend to the possibility of other worlds, similar, yet distinct. One may imagine the young man appearing as a 'herald' to other mortal creatures and noting their reaction. The young man can be seen as a peripatetic tester of men, a kind of ange provocateur. Whatever his significance, however, it certainly escapes the watchman, and possibly the reader who seeks an interpretative framework, which, like the text itself, can contain both disparate elements.79
'A Young Man Who Surprised a Watchman' implies the existence of a fantastical, mysterious domain that lies beyond and separate from the mundane order. In Kharms, fantastic incidents may be accepted or dismissed, but not decoded. It is not simply that 'wonder' and 'miracle' dispense with cause and effect: they also remove the need and the desire for an answer. Kharms's world is truly mysterious and enigmatic to its very foundations. The lack of curiosity so apparent in the protagonists of Kharms's prose may simply be a recognition of the permanent incomprehensibility of their environment and the origin of events. The Young Man who Surprised a Watchman' implies a different order, which lies beyond the power of rational inquiry to discover or uncover.80
The prospect of a spiritual order inaccessible to pure reason is revealed by Kharms through his art. There exists in Kharms's work 'purity of order' (chistota poryadkd). The phrase occurs in a letter from Kharms to his actress friend K.V.Pugachova in 1933.81 Although Kharms refers explicitly to poetry in the letter, the notion of an unsullied, pure order applies equally to the artistic intentions of his prose:
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'Connection' indicates that there is a knowledge about the interconnection of events that the narrator possessesand which he shares with the readerwhich the characters cannot obtain. The violinist could never recognise the tram driver, not because fourteen years have elapsed from the time when he lost his coat, but because he never saw the tram-conductor (as he then was) take his coat. The violinist does not realise that the coat links him to the tram driver; the 'connection' escapes him. Similarly, it might be conceivable that the violinist would recognise one of his attackers, even after such a long time, but he would scarcely be able to recognise the man's son. The violinist has not forgotten these things: he simply never knew them.
The violinist does not see the story-lines that ramify from the loss of his coat or the attack by the gang. The violinist also loses his cap, which dissolves in a puddle of nitric acid. The 'story', of which it is merely a part, does not simply dissolve, but rather expands geometrically. The violinist cannot see that progression because, although it proceeds from him, it does not require his further involvement to sustain it. Indeed, no characters present at the initial scene (or even members of their family) could possibly be aware of the new chain of events which begins with worms eating through a grave post and ends in the building of a club.
The narrator or author, however, evidently possesses a superior perspective, to which he alludes in the opening sentence:
Philosopher!
1.1 write to you in answer to your letter, which you are about to write to
me in reply to my letter, which I wrote to you.86
This apparently nonsensical beginning is actually crucial to a discussion of authorial intent. If one accepts the text as a letter intended for a specific, as opposed to a general addressee, the narrator becomes Kharms himself. The identification of the narrator with the real author reveals the presence of the text's supreme arbiter. Whether the in the text is meant to represent Kharms or not, that first sentence makes entirely evident the exclusively authorial prerogatives of foreknowledge and initial animation. As Jean-Philippe Jaccard notes: 'The first phrase disqualifies any wish to establish a plausible causal chain [...] The expression "in answer" implies the existence of the letter, whereas the verb "to be about to" implies that it does not exist yet'87 Kharms's letter purports to reply to a letter he has not yet received, but which he apparently expects. His own letter both anticipates and preempts a response. He thus looks forward and backward
Kharms's categorisation of two distinct worlds has a meaning beyond political allegory. When Kharms distinguishes between a 'fabricated' and 'created' world, he in fact differentiates between the false order imposed by man and the true order created or ordained by God. With its own 'purity of order' art approaches that true order. Through art one has a clearer sense of creationthat is, Original Creation. If one views Kharms's prose in a religious light, one comes to appreciate that the text itself represents God's order for the world. That order, which emphasises the inter-connection of all mundane 'incidents', lies beyond the perception of the characters who feature in it. They, by necessity, have only a partial view, and from their perspective they witness only conflict and confusion.
Kharms's artistic representation of 'the purity of order', implying a natural cohesion, is best illustrated in the prose piece 'Connection' ('Svyaz", 1937), which comprises a complicated narrative begun in the form of a letter84 and involves a series of events connected by a highly dubious causal chain. That chain, emphasised by the sequential numbering of the events, is apparent only to the narrator and the reader. The characters involved never become aware of the larger plot in which they figure. The story's concluding scene reunites key characters from the initial instigating drama, although they are not conscious that this is a concluding event or indeed of what it concludes.
Suffering a series of misfortunes, beginning with an attack by a street gang, a violinist loses the magnet he is carrying and then his hat and coat. The conductor of the tram on which the violinist leaves his coat takes the coat and exchanges it for food. Another chain of events thus begins that leads, among other things, to an untimely death, to the placing of the wrong body in the wrong grave, and to a fire that burns down the cemetery watchman's house and the church. On the site where the church once stood a club is built. At that club, fourteen years after his attack by a gang, the violinist is invited to perform. In the audience at the concert sits the son of one of the members of the gang that attacked the violinist. They ride home in the same tram. The driver on the tram behind theirs turns out to be the conductor who found the violinist's coat. None of them is aware of the others: 'They ride along and do not know what con^ction [svyaz^] there is between them, and they will not know it till their death [/ ne uznayut etogo do samoi smerti].9*5
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at the same time, as only an oracular creator can. The author not only knows of the text he has written, but also of one as yet unwritten by someone else. That suggests a miraculous ability to perceive that which lies beyond the normal authorial purview.
By addressing his 'letter' specifically to an (unnamed) philosopher, Kharms encourages comparisons with exercises in logic and philosophical contest It is as though the text of 'Connection' were itself a logical puzzle that requires a solution. Yet, as Jaccard's comments suggest, the exercise would be essentially futile, for the text itself rests on presumptions by the author which the reader can never know. The text appears open to deliberation, but in fact it is entirely closed: the outcome is predetermined. By making the pattern explicit, Kharms absolves the reader of the need to determine one. Although the letter seems to invite a response, that response has, as the first line of the text indicates, already been anticipated.
That God-like presumption is rarely made explicit in Kharms's prose. On occasion, a reader may presume the existence of such a figure, if only to impute some (hidden) meaning to otherwise unintelligible occurrences. In most instances, however, that existence is obscured by the presence of a narrator whose powers of perception are either naturally limited or deliberately curtailed. Here a certain order prevails, an order 'created' by the author, which is apparent to the reader but not to the characters. The reader finds no explanation for events, except that there exists a thread that links this set of bizarre occurrences.
Nevertheless, some events lead nowhere, or rather, proceed no further. The violinist buys a magnet and is on his way home with it when he is set upon by the gang. The gang seize the magnet and hide. One might presume that the magnet, which obviously had some value for the violinist, had some significance for the gang and that is why it was taken. However, the magnet never reappears in the story. If one were to take this incident aloneand taken on its own it would read like a 'conventional' Kharms 'Incident'the significance of the magnet would be seen to increase. In the longer perspective of the entire text, however, the magnet appears as one object among many that does not specifically bear on the development of other plots. Thus one's perception of an vital detail shifts as the focus of the tale broadens.
Indeed, if one's perspective is so limited that without authorial guidance one cannot see the thread which links these events, it is
conceivable that there exist others which one cannot perceive because the author has chosen not to make them explicit. The magnet, like the joiner's glue in the earlier tale, may imply the attraction of the initial events of the story. Its loss may suggest the dispersion of the story line. Equally, the magnet may symbolise the connection between every event, even those lying beyond one's perception, beyond the text. The narrator makes a pattern explicit, but it may be only one pattern among many.
'Connection' emphasises the contrast between the myopia of the characters and reader and the far-sightedness of the author. It is not simply that one cannot see to the conclusion of an event, but rather that the very technique for discovering an event's true significance is itself shown to be wanting. The author establishes a long causal chain beginning with worms eating through a grave-post and ending in the destruction of a church by fire. The connection is most improbable. Although the causes of the catastrophe have been incontrovertibly presented by the author to the reader, an investigation undertaken by the characters within the text into the matter cannot establish the cause of the fire. The true causal chain is simply too obscure and implausible to contemplate. For indeed how likely is a scenario that involves worms, a fly in someone's soup, the cemetery watchman and two beggars? Probability, one of the guiding principles of rational thinking, would suggest innumerable other more plausible causes, but might never consider the given reason. No single event is in itself implausible, but when connected together in a complex chain, cause and effect prove impossible to reconcile in any rational or probable reconstruction of events.
Kharms makes explicit a connection that in all 'probability' could never be taken as implicit.89 Even if one were to approach the story of the church fire in the manner of an investigation and even if one were, by chance, to uncover the real cause of the church's destruction, one would arrive at a false comprehension of the text. After all, the entire text does not end with the burning of the church. The investigators, however, with their necessarily partial view, are unable to comprehend not only the causal chain that leads to the fire, but also the chain's place within the story of the violinist. To be able to see that, the investigators would need to be able to look beyond the immediate story, both backward and forward, like the narrator anticipating the philosopher's letter and simultaneously responding to it.90 The investigators, even if they were
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aware of the other events, would, in the time-honoured myopia of detectives, dismiss them as red-herrings.91 With this text, any attempt to establish a vantage point within it is doomed to fail, because such a stance ignores the momentum, or rather, the stasis of the whole. Only the author has that perspective.92
By instigating plot-lines and discarding all but the most improbable, the author demonstrates the extreme fluidity and multiplicity of events, while still asserting their essential cohesiveness in his unique perspective. In doing so, he mocks the notion of endings and strictly linear progression. To follow one series of events to their conclusion is not only to ignore or diminish others, but also to misrepresent the vital interaction of even the seemingly most disparate and diverse occurrences. In looking for 'a connection' one ignores the possibility of the inter-connectedness of all events, the connection.93 That vision is naturally precluded from the shortest Kharms pieces: their very brevity nullifies such a perspective. Nevertheless, it does suggest an explanation for the apparent contradictions and contrary nature of most of Kharms's work. It provide^ for a thematic interpretation of the numerous unmotivated and untimely endings in Kharms's short prose.
The disconnected elements in other Kharms stories bespeak the futility of looking for a connection. Rather, what ties them together is the connection. This connection, however, is never normally visible even at the end of a text, or even at the end of a sequence of texts. Endings draw elements together in a comprehensible way, but since the connection between them lies beyond comprehension there can be no true, observable ending. Thus Kharms's stories are perennially incomplete.
The ending of a piece may obscure the true perception of the significance of its composite parts. In 'Connection', Kharms does indeed provide a conclusion to the text. However, it is not an ending the characters can sense. While it is true that no fictional character can anticipate the end of a work in which he or she figures, a character may sense a degree of fulfilment within the work. One thinks of Raskol'nikov at the end of Crime and Punishment on the brink of a new realisation, or of the Master and Margarita in Bulgakov's novel who are destined to enjoy peace in a world beyond ours. The many literary works that end in marriage, death, the solving of a crime and so on bring both reader and character a satisfactory sense of completion.
Other works, particularly picaresque works, on the contrary, imply the possible continuation of the hero's adventures beyond the text. Nevertheless, such works still provide the reader, if not the character, with the satisfaction that one knows all one will ever know about the protagonist and that a convenient curtailment of his or her adventures may be brought about by the author before the character's death. That editorial decision does not necessarily deprive the work of a sense of completion.
Kharms, however, exaggerates the internal logic of a picaresque work, creating an ultra-picaresque, utterly episodic prose that eschews integrity. In 'Connection', any character's sense of completion would most likely be mistaken. The confluence of forces that brings the violinist together with the gang and the tram-conductor re-emerges fourteen years later long after the initial meeting, but it is no longer detectable by any of the characters involved. The 'outcome' lies beyond the character's and the reader's power to predict. One has neither a recognisable conclusion, nor a foreseeable continuation. The ending appears, to a finite perspective, entirely arbitrary and yet equally it concludes a series of events; or rather, once there exists such a conclusion, the notion of a series of events becomes apparent.
The ending to 'Connection' involves differences in perspective. The human perspective of the world and of existence is essentially Ideological: that is, finite. It derives from a sense of one's mortality. One may not aspire to envisage the end of history, but one is continually conscious of the impending conclusion to one's own story. That finite perception undeniably colours one's ability to act and to conceive of the significance of one's actions. The sure knowledge of one's death affects one's comprehension of what precedes it. Human beings may use that knowledge of their death to provide their own 'regressive ending' by which they might hope to structure the narrative of their life. True authorship, however, entails the conceit of controlling life and overcoming death. That pretence affords an author a potentially infinite perspective. In human terms, only God can be supposed to possess that perspective. In 'Connection', the relation of author to character mirrors that of God to man. Only God can see the true conclusion; or rather, in God there is neither beginning nor conclusion, only a continuous, infinite present. God stands outside time and space; He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end (Revelations 1:8).
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'Connection' suggests a fundamental cohesion to Kharms's works. Kharms's readers, however, cannot presume that connection because Kharms generally omits plausible causal links and conceals his authorial vision. Putative rational analyses of Kharms's work are constantly frustrated by the absence of a readily discernible, truly comprehensive perspective. As a result, the reader (like the violinist in the story) is compelled to posit necessarily partial interpretations as conclusive and then to face the prospect of their mutual exclusiveness and their failure to account for all the bizarre occurrences even within one extremely short and superficially uncomplicated text. One aspires to the visidn the mysterious 'they' or 'the young man' appear to have in 'A Young Man Who Surprised a Watchman', but it seems to be a vain hope.
In 'Connection', Kharms alludes to the prospect of a framework which connects his miniature prose pieces. It provides a key to the analysis of the stories taken separately and alludes to their inter-connection. That connection extends beyond the formal and structural cohesion of individual texts. It involves a mystical vision which provides a perspective on the sum of all 'incidents', bizarre and banal, supernatural and mundane. For Kharms, without a conception of the unity of events one cannot hope to appreciate them individually. Only if one comes to understand the sum do the individual parts have meaning. The bewilderment one experiences in reading a single Kharms piece derives from one's failure to see how it connects in a broader picture. One needs an holistic view of Kharms's prose.
Knowledge of a broader scope extending beyond one's limited, earthly imagination is, however, the prerogative of the author alone, and by analogy the prerogative of God. Thus one can either accept the word of the author, by which he reveals his comprehensive vision, or one can reject it. One cannot, however, aspire to share it. That would be sheer hubris on the part of the reader. It is the perennial conceit of human reason.
CHAPTER THREE
Enforced Belief: Religious Questions in The Old Woman

In Kharms, the author of the text is analogous to God and the text to His creation. Nevertheless, to claim the ability to create an order involves extraordinary and unjustifiable presumption. Therefore within a text (even within one that has an author as a character)94, Kharms only alludes to this God-like potential, but does not reveal the author's presence or explicitly disclose his intentions. Thus many of the incidents in Kharms's prose seem to be 'unauthored', purely random occurrences. It is not that they do not have an author, but that the chaos within the text suggests that the author has withdrawn from it. This would perhaps not be so disconcerting a prospect if the author's concealment or disappearance were countered by the presence of a narrator, who could 're-order' events. Frequently, however, the narrator is a shadowy figure, as absent as his creator, the author, who cannot provide a reasonable narrative by which to explain what he witnesses. Thus events seem to exist beyond narratorial and indeed authorial control. In the absence of overt control one comes to believe that meaning in Kharms is not simply obscured, but actually non-existent. Only an author, the creator of the characters' world, sees that events are part of a greater order. Attempts to gain control by characters (even those who are at the same time narrators, or even authors) over the direction of a story, as with attempts to comprehend what binds events in Kharms, are ultimately disappointed. Efforts to comprehend are frustrated not through lack of effort but because comprehension has to take account of the irreducible whole that of necessity remains inaccessible. To render it accessible would take a miracle, and it is a miraculous vision that appears beyond Kharms's characters.95
Miracle is the true resolution of the narration, which in most of Kharms's prose the reader never sees. It is both a poetic and an ineluctable truth, lying beyond the confines of the material, mundane
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world or, rather, framing that world. Complete knowledge of that frame, however, is denied the elements within and is accessible only to the creator. Authorial perspective remains the prerogative of the true author of all events. In most forms of representational art, one glimpses the author behind the work. Kharms, however, takes great care to obscure authorial intent, principally by failing to provide a neat narratorial schema that might give order, a false order, to events. The reader who attemp^ to impose his or her own order via rational interpretation is continually hampered by the paradoxes and contradictions which abound in the radically restricted perspective provided by Kharms's narrators. Exegesis is not merely difficult, but actually impossible, because Kharms provides his reader only with a mere fragment of the larger text.
However, where the reader sees chaos, the author sees pure order. To employ Kharms's felicitous distinction, the world of man (of Kharms's characters and his readers) is a 'fabricated' one, a false a posteriori concoction, whereas that of the author, that of the whole text, is 'created' by God. In revealing, if only at the margin, how a text coheres (the frame), Kharms alludes not simply to his own authorship, but ultimately to that of the original author, God. Within the text, however, God is conspicuous only by His absence. In Kharms's miniature prose, God remains innominate, thus assuring the ineffability and divinity of the transcendent order. Even the basest acts of man cannot defame or sully that true frame.
That conclusion suggests the perennial absence of God or religious belief from Kharms's world. Vvedenskii writes: '(The last hope is Christ is risen). Christ is risen is the last hope.'96 In the world of Kharms's prose no Christ-like figure unites the two discrete worlds of the mundane and the extra-mundane, and so Kharms's world seems forever Godforsaken. The unity of God suggested by the material incarnation of His Son lies properly beyond the material realm. In Kharms, God transcendsutterly. To appreciate that transcendence requires an absurdist theology. In his longest and best-known work, The Old Woman, Kharms uses literary parody to elaborate a theology of the absurd, which stresses the unavoidable separation between human beings and their Creator.97
The Old Woman is set in Leningrad/St.Petersburg and centres on the appearance of a mysterious old woman who forces the narrator to submit to her will. The tale is narrated in the first person by a character who is also a writer and who seems to borrow liberally from the classics of
Russian literature. These 'insurgent narratives' from other well-known texts effectively capture Kharms's text.98 Indeed the plot of The Old Woman works as much by random association as by obvious authorial direction. The constant switch from present to past tense and back makes it difficult to determine to what extent the narrator has command of his own tale. He lives in a state of perpetual delirium and cannot himself readily distinguish what he has dreamt from what he has consciously witnessed.
The questionable credibility of the narrator's perspective allows for other interpretations of events to vie with his own. The narrator's reaction to finding the old woman's corpse in his apartment is conditioned by his own awareness of the likely literary interpretation of events: that the police will see it as a classic (literary) Petersburg scenario, in which a young man murders an old woman. He readily admits that his plan to dispose of the evidence, the old woman's dead body, comes to him from his reading (from novels and newspapers) about how murderers act. Preformed and potent narrative sequences restrict the freedom of action one generally associates with authorship.
The narrator's impotence is in contrast to the mysterious, even miraculous power of the old woman. Her unwelcome intrusion into the narrator's life and her untimely and inexplicable death in his flat provide the real motivation for a bizarre sequence of events. She seems even to possess supernatural powers. She is able to tell the time from a watch with no hands and apparently overcomes death itself. She compels the narrator to accept her dominance over him, forcing him to his knees. Later, after she has apparently died in the flat, the narrator is convinced he sees her crawling towards him. To his mind she is a bespokoinik (literally, 'one without peace'), similar perhaps to the mythical Wandering Jew. In all respects the old woman can be said not to belong to the narrator's world. She hails from another realm and possibly from another text.
A dead old woman in a tale set in Petersburg encourages not only the narrator, but also the reader, to think of other stories, most obviously Dostoevskii's Crime and Punishment and Pushkin's Queen of Spades. Consequently much of the critical reaction to the text has focused on Kharms's apparent willingness to rely on well-known themes and narratives, apparently appropriated from classic Petersburg tales. Furthermore critics have noted affinities with other works by Dostoevskii,
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especially Notes from Underground, Gogol"s Petersburg stories, the novels of Knut Hamsun and Meyrink's novel Der Golem (a favourite text of Kharms). Moreover The Old Woman's modernist thematics suggest parallels with Andrei Belyi's Petersburg. The text also contains many elements of Kharms's shorter prose, and in particular the Incidents cycle of stories, where old women, violence and death are commonplace and where Kharms continually plays with accepted notions of story-telling. The theme of an indolent writer who bears a remarkable resemblance to Kharms himself features in the story 'Morning' ('Utro', 1931/32).
Although The Old Woman has been regarded primarily as parodic, there is surely something rather peculiar in the extent to which Kharms employs other literary texts and incorporates them wholesale into his own work. Even the narrator's own story of the miracle worker who chooses to work no miracles, draws parallels with the desires and designs of Arkadii Dolgorukii in Dostoevskii's A Raw Youth. The presence of so many dominant and preformed narratives impinges on the ability of the narrator to make his tale his own. The influence of such narratives calls into question the effectiveness of human agency. The narrator's actions and attempts to record them are seriously curtailed by the presence of other complete hermeneuticsbetter-known stories and even ready-made charactersin the text. The impression is created that details of the narrator's story and his life have already been scripted elsewhere."
Even though Kharms appends his name to the story, reading the text one gains the impression of an all-seeing, but reclusive and innominate author. That hidden author signifies a God who has removed Himself from the realm of His creation. Furthermore, by using insurgent narratives to suggest the possibility of different, even contradictory accounts of the same set of circumstances, Kharms alludes to the unique vision and comprehension of God, the true author of events. In a work relying on so many authors, God stands alone as supreme author and originator of events, for whom literary authorship is a convenient metaphor. Thus The Old Woman becomes an exercise not only in meta-fiction, but also in metaphysics.
Remarkably for Kharms's prose, interest in religion is made explicit in The Old Woman. Nevertheless, in keeping with the semantic obscurity of most of his prose, Kharms gives no obvious clue as to what these religious motifs are meant to signify. Like many other features in Kharms's prose, the question of God intrudes into the text unannounced
and apparently unmotivated. The narrator specifically asks the young woman and his confidant Sakerdon Mikhailovich whether they believe in God, but receives incomplete or obscure answers.1(X) His discussion with Sakerdon Mikhailovich seems only to complicate the question of faith. Later, the narrator's journey to the marsh where he intends to dispose of the Old Woman's body takes him past a Buddhist pagoda. It is unclear how that symbol of faith is to prepare the narrator (or the reader) for his extraordinary prayer to God with which the narrator's journey and the narrative culminate.
The narrator meets a young woman in a queue for bread. They strike up a conversation which quickly takes on an intimate tone. Suddenly, however, he asks the young woman whether she believes in God. It is clear that she anticipates another question altogether (410).K)1 Up to this point he has been trying to establish a certain intimacy with the young woman. The prospect of a further question causes her to blush (sil'no pokrasnev), indicating that she believes that the narrator's next inquiry will attempt to further that intimacy, rather than ask her if she believes in God. The young woman's answer, 'yes, of course', may be a true response, but it sounds rather perfunctory. The narrator, whose reason for asking the question escapes both the reader and his interlocutor, seems unconcerned by the reply and at once resumes the previous tenor of the conversation, inviting the young woman to drink vodka at his place (410). The question about God even in retrospect seems to have no purpose.
The dialogue between the narrator and the young woman is represented in the text as in a play, with each remark prefaced by 'She' or to denote the speaker. Moreover, it is introduced by the words 'and the following conversation occurs between us' which directly echo the epigraph to the story, taken from a specific author, Hamsun (409).1()2 That unusual editorial comment, or stage direction, seems out of place in a narrative that has been related in the first person. The change in style once again calls into question whether the narrator is relating his own reminiscences. It emphasises that he is a character trapped in a narrative and thus ultimately not the author of these words. The notion that the narrator and the woman appear in a play not of their own making may explain the brief 'digression' on religious faith.
The narrator soon realises that he cannot invite the young woman to his room because the dead Old Woman is still there. The narrator takes the first bus he sees in order to avoid explaining the circumstances to the
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young woman. The bus brings him to Sakerdon Mikhailovich's place. Sakerdon Mikhailovich takes the place of the young woman as the narrator's drinking partner and also as his interlocutor. A dialogue between the two ensues, which, while not obviously presented as a play, nevertheless still retains the dramatic convention of delineating the change of speaker. Moreover, it continues the talk about God. The narrator asks his friend the same question he has asked the young woman: whether he believes in God. The line of questioning thus continues, regardless of the change in circumstances and interlocutor.
Sakerdon Mikhailovich, however, refuses to answer on the grounds that the question itself is a 'tactless and improper [bestaktnyi i neprilich-nyi] act'(415). He argues that such actions remove one's freedom of choice, because they effectively shame one into a specific response.103 That argument may indeed explain both the young woman's embarrassment and her reply. Sakerdon Mikhailovich contends that such acts remove one's freedom to choose, because they anticipate a predetermined answer. Sakerdon Mikhailovich understands one's ability to choose only in terms of accepted social convention, but in fact for Kharms's characters that convention actually reflects their existential situation.
The suggestion in these dialogues is that the characters mistake the semblance of choice for actual choice. In fact, they can have no real freedom of action. Similarly, their exercise of belief is also only a sham. Both Sakerdon Mikhailovich and the narrator fail to recognise true faith because they regard it as a consequence of their own 'free will'. When the subject of God intrudes into their existence they are epistemologically and existentially unprepared for it. They concern themselves not with the possibility of the knowledge of God, but with the knowledge of how to frame the question of God. That is, they attempt to establish an acceptable theology. As with narrative structures, Kharms's characters recognise only a certain formal pattern, one rooted in convention and not in objective reality. Faced with an inexplicable event, they adopt patterns of accepted behaviour. Just as the narrator, faced with the unexplained appearance of the Old Woman, consults crime stories to give a plausible account of what has occurred (like the detectives in Lem's The Investigation) so Sakerdon Mikhailovich resorts to sophistry and confuses social mores with a true sense of ethics.
It becomes clear from his conversation with Sakerdon Mikhailovich that the narrator understands belief specifically as belief in immortality:
, , - -
.
.

, , , - ?
. , ,
?

, . .
? ?
.

, , .
, ?
, : « -
?» - , -
. (415)

['You see', I said, 'in my opinion, there aren't people who believe and those who don't believe. There are only those who want to believe and those who want not to believe.'
That means those who want not to believe already believe in something?' said Sakerdon Mikhailovich. 'But those who want to believe don't believe in anything before?'
'Perhaps just that/ I said. 'I don't know.'
'But they believe or they don't believe in what? In God?' asked Sakerdon Mikhailovich.
'No,' I said, 'in immortality.'
'Then why did you ask me whether I believe in God?'
'Well, simply because to ask: 'Do you believe in immortality?' sounds somewhat stupid,' I said to Sakerdon Mikhailovich and got up.]
The dialogue between the narrator and Sakerdon Mikhailovich is the most overt discussion of belief in all of Kharms's prose.104 By virtue of its content, it recalls the debates on man's awareness and acknowledgement of God in The Brothers Karamazov. In Dostoevskii, belief in immortality implies belief in God, because it alludes to His Providence. For Ivan Karamazov, a belief in immortality provides the cornerstone of any sense of God-given moral order. Without such belief, Ivan contends, all acts, even the most heinous, must be recognised as lawful, even inevitable.105 Furthermore, in Dostoevskii's work belief involves a
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freedom of choice: in God man is free, even to deny God.
Kharms's narrator suggests, again after Dostoevski!, that belief is distinct from the desire to believe. One wants to believe or not to believe, but belief exists regardless of one's wishes. Moreover, the narrator seems to suggest that belief, or rather a desire to believe, is properly belief in immortality. However, in Kharms's story, immortality does not necessarily imply God's Providence. Kharms borrows the association of free will with belief, forcefully expressed in Dostoevskii's major novels, but sunders the relation between immortality and God's grace.
The separation of immortality from Divine Providence delineates clearly man's prerogative from that of God. Indeed, Kharms's story implies that man's prerogative involves only the semblance of the real authority which resides in the omnipotence of God. Belief cannot be achieved through desire: that is, by the exercise of human prerogative. Belief precedes the conscious desire to believe; faith is not chosen but given. Thus a conscious recognition of a desire to believe is not a wish to know God so much as a wish to exercise some control over one's destiny, which prior belief denies.
In Kharms, human desire, ineffectual as it is, aspires to an entirely human understanding of grace: immortality. As Kharms indicates elsewhere in his notebooks, the aspiration to immortality represents the boldest conception of a human prerogative:
1. : .
1. : -
.

2. ,
,
,
, .

3. : - ,
, , - .

4. .
5. , .
, ,
.

6.
.

[ 1. There is one aim for human life: immortality.
la. There is one aim for human life: the achievement of immortality.
2. One person strives for immortality through the continuation of his
own family, another achieves great earthly deeds to immortalise
his name, and only a third will lead a pious and holy life to gain
immortality as eternal life.

3. Man has only two interests:
The earthlyfood, drink, warmth, woman and restand the
heavenlyimmortality.

4. All earthly things testify to death.
5. There is one straight line on which all earthly things lie. And only
that which does not lie on that line can testify to immortality.

6. That is why a man who seeks to diverge from that earthly line is
called beautiful or a genius.]106

For Kharms here, immortality represents exclusively an earthly desire, although its prospect lies beyond the mundane realm of human existence. The most man can do while he remains on this earth is to testify to the prospect of immortality; he cannot acquire it through earthly deeds or progeny.
In The Old Woman, religious faith denies human choice. Thus when Kharms's characters desire to believe, they are, in effect, attempting to exercise a control over their existence that the presence of God effectively thwarts. 'Of course', as the young woman says, one cannot avoid believing in God. Neither can one prevent oneself from mentioning His name. So the narrator speaks of God to the young woman and Sakerdon Mikhailovich even though the circumstances, and indeed the narrator's interests, suggest a different topic.
Belief in God does not arise from a free, conscious act, nor does it guarantee salvation. To liberate man from his oppressive surroundings and from a sense of utter impotence, Kharms's narrator offers a belief in immortality: the physical conquest of death and a triumph over destiny. Thus belief in immortality, far from affirming God, entails the ultimate expression of hubris imaginable to human beings.
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Immortality is the aspect of the divine that most captures the imagination of mortal beings who exist conscious of their impending non-existence. Immortality not only implies another realm, but also signifies the possible extension of human influence into that realm. In Kharms's The Old Woman, moreover, life after death has immediate material import. The figure of the Old Woman, who invades the narrator's mundane existence, is apparently immortal. She seems able to control the narrator even though she is dead.107 Once she has appeared, she dogs his every step. He cannot, for instance, invite the young woman back to his room, because the old woman is lying there. The narrator's frustration (sexual and otherwise) is such that he kicks the old woman even though she is dead. By assaulting the Old Woman's corpse, the narrator implicitly expresses doubt in her mortality, for what reason does one have to kick a corpse?108 Indeed, when the narrator returns to his apartment after his conversation with Sakerdon Mikhailovich, he sees, or imagines he sees, the 'dead' Old Woman crawling towards him 'on all fours' (418).109
From the moment of her appearance, the figure of the Old Woman leads both an extra-mundane and a material, earthly existence. Her presence seems to involve both defiance and respect of time and other Aristotelian constraints. With her literary antecedents in the Countess in Queen of Spades and the old pawnbroker in Crime and Punishment, Kharms's old woman is a generic composite, an 'Every-Old-Woman' . As a creature of myth, independent of the text in which she finds herself, the Old Woman appears to have a claim on eternity. The Old Woman seems to be associated with 'timelessness', an absence of time. In the first scene, she carries a watch with no hands. In the presence of the Old Woman, the narrator loses track of the hours that pass.110 Thus she is not bound by time and, as a generic figure at home in any number of narratives, she is unconstrained by the specifics of space. Her death is merely part of her essential function and, in any case, her influence remains independent of her ontological status.
Her effect on the narrator's life, her moving about the room and her unexplained disappearance indicate the possibility of her continued defiance of the basic limitations of mundane existence. A 'mythical' figure from another narrative, she cannot be bound by the contingency of the current text. The Old Woman hails from somewhere beyond the framework of the narrator's world, and yet she is also a part of that
world. Her status is like that of her clock, which combines in one object the notion of timelessness and time. Indeed, what use to an eternal being is a clock? The Old Woman exists in a kind of limbo, lying between or uniting two apparently distinct realms: the material and the immaterial, the textual and the sub-textual.
The narrator appears to recognise the Old Woman's unique place in the universe. He recalls or invents a series of 'incidents' that involve dead people taking revenge on the living. They are the living dead.111 The narrator describes these creatures as bespokoiniki, literally 'those without peace' (420).112 These souls may torment the living but, as the name suggests, they are tormented themselves, unable to rest. Death has not provided a release from the mundane world; rather, they are trapped in an 'immortal' form.
Immortality, then, provides no escape from destiny; at best, it simply prolongs it. The Old Woman is as determined in death as in life: she is a bespokoinik. Indeed, her existence renders distinction between life and death meaningless. A prerequisite of her eternal 'existence' is that she is forever required to 'die'. That death, however, is simply the principal action that she must perform in a cycle that is never-ending (hence perhaps the reference to the Buddhist pagoda). In her case, death does not mean disappearance or the end of existence. She disappears as mysteriously as she appears, without any obvious reason. The narrator removes the Old Woman's body so that it does not provide evidence of a crime. Ostensibly to dispose of the body, he takes a train out of the city to a secluded spot. However, on the train, the narrator leaves the trunk containing the corpse unattended and, by the time he returns, the trunk has vanished. Two other passengers on the train could possibly have removed the trunk, but neither the narrator nor the reader has direct evidence that either of the passengers took it. Perhaps it is simply the case that the Old Woman has completed her function and, as the Dostoevskian narrative heads towards the epilogue (emphasised by the journey away from St. Petersburg), she vanishes. Indeed, how exactly does one lay a bespokoinik to rest?
In The Old Woman, as in other Kharms tales, in the absence of one perceptible order, all potential orders obtain and the barriers between them collapse. The distinction between physical and non-physical existence is endlessly confused in Kharms; they blend with each other.113 Unreal or surreal events occur in the midst of a recognisably
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'Rothschild': that is, a man of unlimited wealth and hence of unequalled power. Once he achieves his goal, however, Arkadii proposes not to use his power. Indeed, he intends not to dispose of his wealth at all. Wealth and power prove only a means to a greater end: '[T]he calm and solitary consciousness of strength! That is the fullest definition of liberty for which the whole world is struggling! Liberty!'115 Freedom derives not from the exercise of power, but from the mere 'consciousness' of one's strength, a realisation Kharms's miracle-worker appears to share.116
Arkadii's idea is demonic in intent; he aspires to a God-like prerogative, an emulation of Christ's unwillingness to succumb to provocation. In its very imitation of divine action, however, Arkadii's plan is tantamount to sacrilege. The preservation of the pure essence of authority as absolute, unconditional freedom is the message of Christ's refusal to submit to the temptations of the devil: His refusal to perform miracles to order. Freedom is thus identified with a refusal to act, which in itself preserves the sanctity of the unmotivated miraculous acts of God. Freedom lies in the awareness of the possibility of miracle, not in the witnessing or the actuality of a miracle. It follows that one cannot request a miracle, for such a request implicitly undermines the transcendent nature of true freedom. Miracle by definition cannot involve any notion of necessity. A belief in the necessity of miracle is a denial of freedom, which is the very justification for the enslavement of man advanced by Dostoevskii's Grand Inquisitor.
The Grand Inquisitor argues that freedom without definition cannot be borne by man: 'nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom.'117 He identifies freedom as the province of the divine, unknowable to man. Similarly, miracle is accessible to man only in the act of miracle and not in its possibility. 'Consciousness' is not enough for man; or rather, it is too much. So it proves for Arkadii Dolgorukii, whose proposed emulation of the divine is naturally impossible. Equally, it lies beyond the narrator's power in Kharms's The Old Woman to put his conception of the miracle-worker, whose consciousness matches that of God, in mundane narrative form. No miracle can occur, so there can be no action, no incidents; without incidents there can be no narrative.
The story of the miracle-worker alludes to the possibility of miracle, but none worked by him takes place within the text. Indeed, how could a mundane author like the narrator describe and 'author' a miracle? The
real contemporary Leningrad landscape. Yet Kharms's The Old Woman, set in nineteen-thirties Leningrad, is also a classic Petersburg tale in the tradition of Pushkin, Gogol' and Dostoevskii. It is a timeless narrative with seemingly timeless figures. With the many references to that tradition, explicit or implicit, it is frequently difficult to tell where one story ends and another begins. Moreover, within the text one frequently cannot distinguish between what actually happens and what does not. The state the narrator inhabits is one of utter delirium. As the actions of the Old Woman demonstrate, even death may not offer relief. In a word, it is hell.
As Camus reminds us, 'the absurd does not liberate; it binds'.114 Immortality in Kharms, far from providing the reassurance of salvation, simply condemns human beings to unending absurdity. If, as some existentialists argue, life is absurd in the face of certain death, what meaning can one give to a life that may never end? In The Old Woman narratives recur and characters invade from other texts. Kharms's text absorbs other narratives but never allows any one of them to assume dominance; hence parallel narratives conflict with each other within one text. Order is eliminated and the Aristotelian constraint of a beginning, a middle and an end is dispensed with summarily. Indeed, The Old Woman never really ends: 'At this point, I temporarily end my manuscript, considering that it has already been drawn out quite enough', writes the narrator, or conceivably the author (430). Here is yet another ending by editorial fiat, and so the conclusion to The Old Woman, borrowed from Notes from Underground, whose narrator of necessity continues to write beyond the text itself, implies a lack of finality. In effect, not only is the Old Woman a bespokoinik, but she features in a bespokoinyi text.
In contrast to the disordered and almost infinite narrative, there is the (narrator's) complete tale of the miracle-worker. The miracle-worker's purported ability to perform miracles suggests an untrammelled will to act, but paradoxically his exercise of free will results in an utter lack of action. The miracle-worker consciously refrains from using his supernatural abilities to gain material reward or even to extend his life. Instead he chooses restraint. For all his ability to alter events, the miracle worker actually allows himself to die. He spurns both immortality and posterity.
The story of the miracle-worker recalls the narrator's 'idea' in Dostoevskii's A Raw Youth. Arkadii Dolgorukii dreams of becoming a
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narrator is incapable of composing a story that requires a divine sanction, so he cannot complete the transmission of his 'story' of the miracle-worker to the actual page. Human narrative is shown to be unequal to the task of revealing aspects of the divinity. Narratives, as we have seen with earlier Kharms stories, can describe effectively only the material aspects of existence.
Hence, in The Old Woman the narrator emphasises the mechanics of writing, how much time he can spend writing.118 The miracle-worker's height and time spent writing are the only aspects of the story quantifiable and comprehensible in human terms. Indeed, Kharms's narrator adds nothing to the original idea of the miracle-worker; it remains an immanent conception. There is in fact nothing to add. Even in apparent outline in the narrator's mind, the miracle-worker's tale is already successfully authored.
The Old Woman may be seen as a parable of humanity's attempt to understand the world and to define its place in it. By borrowing different narrative patterns and motifs from other recognisable literary works, Kharms conveys the idea that human beings believe themselves to be free, but that belief is a mere delusion. Like characters in a narrative, human beings cannot know the design of which they are a part. The notion of freedom is thus no more than an illusion. Any act they strive to perform, even a personal act of creation over which they would seem to exercise ultimate control, has been foreseen by the true author of the real narrative in which they act. Thus, far from bespeaking independence, all human actions testify to necessity.
If human beings are indeed characters lost in a narrative beyond their recognition and control, there might be an author who has provided the script they follow. The narrator, who no longer commands his narrative, appeals to the only possible higher narratorial authority, to the only conceivable 'author' of this mayhem, God. After the narrator discovers that the trunk containing the Old Woman has disappeared, he leaves the train and wanders into the forest. There he observes a caterpillar crawling on the ground. He kneels down and touches the creature. Then, after first assuring himself that no-one can see him, the narrator utters a short prayer to God: 'In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and ever and ever. Amen' (430). The prayer seems to conclude the tale, although these are not the final lines of the text.
After so many allusions to Dostoevskii in The Old Woman, one now apparently confronts a 'Dostoevskian' epilogue, in which the hero discovers or rediscovers his faith. Critics have been quick to see this prayer as an incident of the true miracle of belief, but have not examined the religious implications of this sudden revelation. The narrator has evidently been brought to this scene by the dynamic of the Dostoevskian narrative of redemption. Yet while Raskol'nikov, in the epilogue to Crime and Punishment, is brought to the apparent state of grace through recognition of his responsibility and a desire to redeem himself through suffering, Kharms's narrator arrives unaware even of the need to be saved. The spiritual development of Kharms's narrator remains largely mysterious. The narrator's path to this overt expression of religious belief is curious for its lack of obvious intent. The narrator has embarked on this journey ostensibly to dispose of the Old Woman, not to find God.119 If the narrator can be said to be motivated at all, it is by material, even nefarious concerns, rather than by a realisation of a need to confess his 'sins' and abide with God. Indeed, before the prayer the Old Woman actually disappears, in effect liberating the narrator from the 'sin' for which, as a character in a surrogate Dostoevskian narrative, he needs to atone. The narrator does not require God's intercession to relieve him of the Old Woman: she has already left him. Thus, when the narrator prays, his action is made more dramatic by the fact that it occurs without warning or obvious need. The prayer appears to be simply another mysterious chance occurrence among many.
The prayer to God is indicative of some change in the narrator. The journey from the city to the country can indeed be seen as symbolic of a progression: a progression to a greater consciousness. In the countryside, the narrator meets the existence of another realm, symbolised by the caterpillar he sees crawling on the ground. The narrator holds the caterpillar and effectively has its life (and future reincarnation) in his hands. However, in contrast to the turbulent fate he has suffered and which he has intended to perpetrate on others, the narrator handles the creature carefully, even respectfully.120 While he does so, the narrator adopts a kneeling posture, indicating submission, similar to the one the Old Woman forces him to assume. Here, however, there is no obvious compulsion about the narrator's act. Still on his knees, he utters the prayer.
Between the prayer and the narrator's concluding remarks comes the
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ellipsis. The narrative effectively breaks off before an authorial decision is made to end the story. The break in the text suggests a deference to the narrator's discovery of the supreme author, God. Perhaps the narrator understands his relation to God as the relation of the caterpillar to himself. He imagines himself in God's hands but unaware of His intentions. He cannot reveal that awareness in his narrative, just as he cannot write the story of the miracle-worker. Nevertheless, the narrator must accept his predicament. He need not write further because the 'consciousness' of true authorship is enough. Thus he prays: 'In the name of the Father...' (430; emphasis added). The ellipsis that follows the prayer suggests that the narrator abandons all pretence that the narrative in which he figures can be authored by himself. The final line, an obvious allusion to the conclusion of Notes from Underground, serves to emphasise the existence of another, more powerful, authorial presence.
The narrator's prayer can be seen as a response to an apparently rhetorical question he asks earlier in the text. Imagining suddenly that the Old Woman has left his apartment, the narrator exclaims: 'My God! Are there really no miracles [ ]? (418) The absence of any miracle soon becomes apparent when he discovers the Old Woman is still there. Miracles, the narrator learns, are not available on demand, even in extreme circumstances. So when the Old Woman finally disappears, the narrator ascribes her real disappearance to human, not divine, action: he concludes that one of the passengers must have stolen the trunk. In effect, the narrator concedes in his actions and in his own story of the miracle-worker that miracles have no predeterminable place in his world, even one that allows the possibility for creatures to return from the dead and for other mystical occurrences.
The narrator's exclamation is in effect a call upon God to intercede. The narrator requires a miracle, but cannot expect one for, as he himself has indicated, human desire cannot guarantee belief in God, the only source of miracle. By offering a prayer to Him, the narrator implicitly recognises that all events have their probable, if unknowable, origin in God. The narrator's 'journey to God' may lack motivation, and thus psychological credibility, but that is as it should be. Human beings are perforce incapable of comprehending God's design. The desires of man (demands and requests) can never motivate the actions of God. Man can in no way aspire to emulate God's authority or to discover God's mystery; one can only submit, as the narrator does, to an infinitely greater authority.
CHAPTER FOUR
Conclusion: A Theology of the Absurd

In Kharms's world one may affirm God, but one cannot know God. Faith can proceed only from direct revelation: that is, God reveals an aspect of Himself. However, God so transcends Kharms's world as no longer to be a recognisable part of the mundane order. The theologian-philosopher Henry Dumery writes: 'God is not an order; he is that by which order can exist.'121 In a world lacking all apparent order, the order brought by God cannot be seen to exist. If a divine order does incorporate the material disorder evident in Kharms's prose, it lies beyond recognition. Kharms's prose therefore demonstrates the utter divorce between man and God. In The Old Woman, human beings are predetermined and God alone is free.
In God's exclusivity lies His authority. God, like the miracle-worker in The Old Woman, can do anything, but He chooses to do nothing. God withdraws from the world of His creation; He recuses Himself. That divine restraint signifies His transcendence. By refusing to act, God preserves His discrete integrity. Action characterises the mundane world and, as we see in Kharms's prose, is invariably evil in result and intent. In The Old Woman we witness the evil acts contemplated by the narrator, his attacks, imagined or real, on children and dead people. In a conversation with Sakerdon Mikhailovich, he lists dead people and children among the most odious features of life (The Old Woman, 413-14). The narrator displays his unabashed delight at the prospect of inflicting harm on defenceless persons. However, the narrator's striking the Old Woman serves only to increase his problems (the mark on the body he leaves could be interpreted as the cause of death), and the children return to taunt the narrator as he struggles to remove the Old Woman in the trunk. In both incidents the objects of his hatred and the intended victims of his revenge exercise more influence on his behaviour than he can, despite his pretension to author his life. It seems that the only acts that human beings can commit of their own will in Kharms's prose
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something in this matter, wherein there is a certain learned
ignorance.

The knowledge one acquires of God, if any, is thus essentially negative. Calvinism holds the ways of God to be entirely mysterious to man. Neither human knowledge nor human action can impinge on the majesty and power of the Creator. Nevertheless, Calvin appears to borrow from the mediaeval tradition of 'Negative Theology' the notion of docta ignorantia: namely, that a greater awareness of human inadequacy leads to a better comprehension of the extent of God's wisdom and dominion. Human ignorance, therefore, need not imply a denial of the deity.
Calvin, ever conscious of the appearance of presumption, frequently used metaphorical language to convey his ideas. One of his favourite metaphors for the human condition places human beings in an abyss with no immediate or obvious prospect for escape.126 Thus Calvin essentially sees man bound by the same absurdist predicament that envelops Kharms's pitiful creatures. Yet Calvin's followers could at least be assured of the 'reality' of salvation, even if they could not be certain of their own personal share in it.127 Kharms's characters are scarcely able to conceive of that prospect. Calvinists, for all their denial of human knowledge of God, derive comfort from an understanding of the soter-iological message manifested in Christ. Christ's existence and his appearance to man provide hope for human salvation. In Kharms's work, even in the overtly religious passages in The Old Woman, that message is entirely absent. Kharms's world remains bereft of any obvious revelation of the divinity.
Kharms's absurdist theology is marked by the assumption that God, in a form intelligible to man, is absent. That radical dissociation of creator and created, author and character, is a view Kharms shares with the twentieth-century Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968), who reformulated and amended many Reformation ideas for the modern world. The confluence of Earth's teachings and Kharms's art may owe something to the theological interests of Kharms's friend Yakov Druskin. Mikhail Meilakh mentions the existence of a number of theological works written by Druskin which betray a connection with 'the Protestant school of dialectical theology'.128 'Dialectical Theology', also known as 'Crisis Theology', was a movement arising among Protestant theologians in Germany and Switzerland between the two world wars. Webster's
involve injury to others. Hence the remarkable number of 'incidents' in Kharms's prose that result in death and injury. In The Old Woman, however, the existence of bespokoiniki indicates that even this meagre human authority does not always obtain.
Without God-inspired moral beliefs, however, there is no sense of culpability either: the distinction between good actions and evil actions is a dead letter. One cannot conceive of offending a God who is perennially absent from one's life. Indeed, no human action can anticipate God's response. Divine Grace is thus wholly free, and entirely unpredictable. Moreover, the association of God with inaction 'absolves' Him of responsibility for mundane acts which remain exclusively the province of man. This extraordinary division between the realm of God and that of man represents the theological message of The Old Woman.
The relation between man and God that one sees in Kharms is reminiscent of the one found in aspects of Protestant religious thought. The idea of man as utterly predetermined and unable to motivate (or provide a motive for) God's will is at the heart of Calvinism. In Calvin's cosmology, the Catholic doctrine of 'good works' is replaced by the idea that human beings may achieve salvation only by divine Election: 'And he [God], willing to make himself the free dispenser and judge of this matter, summarily declares that only as it so pleases him will he be merciful to one rather than another.'122 God determines both man's earthly existence and his spiritual salvation, but reserves the knowledge of man's destiny for Himself. For Calvin and his followers the doctrine of predestination was a comfort, because it acknowledged God's benevolence. That acknowledgement, however, was as far as human presumption could stretch. Calvin averred that one could 'acknowledge' God's benevolence, through worship and obeying Him, but one could not 'believe' that God is benevolent, for that implied unacceptable hubris.123 One could experience God, through one's conscience, but one could never claim to know Him.124
According to Calvin's teaching, human understanding of God is limited to a recognition of its necessary limitations:
Let this, therefore, first of all be before our eyes: to seek any other knowledge of predestination than what the Word of God discloses is not less insane than if one should purpose to walk in a pathless waste ... or to see in darkness. And let us not be ashamed to be ignorant of
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Dictionary defines Dialectical Theology as 'a form of neoorthodox theology, emphasising the infinite tensions, paradoxes, and basic ambiguities inherent in Christian existence and holding, against rationalism, that God is unknowable to man except through divine grace and revelation'. David Edwards characterises Dialectical Theology as an attempt 4o preserve the otherness of God while acknowledging that the limitations of human speech prevented dogmas about God from being entirely satisfactory'.129 Barth was the principal proponent of dialectical theology. There is no direct evidence that Kharms was aware of this current of theological thought or that he read any of the articles about it by Druskin (who probably wrote them after Kharms's death; Druskin lived until 1980). One might, however, assume that Kharms was familiar with certain neoorthodox (as Earth's theology is often called) ideas without perhaps being personally familiar with Earth's writings. The interpretation offered here certainly recalls in spirit the major tenets of Dialectical Theology.130
Barth argues that there exists a 'diastasis' between man and God: a total divide.131 Barth thus rejects 'natural theology' and particularly the analogic* entis ('the analogy of being'), expounded by Thomas Aquinas, which sees God in terms of man. Instead Barth asserts that God cannot be recognised 'as man writ large', because He lies beyond man's creative imagination.132 In his own words, Barth views God (in as far as such vision is possible for a human being) as 'absolutely unique in his relation to man and the world, overpoweringly lofty and distant, strange, yes even wholly other'.133 The only way of man's coming to knowledge of God is via God's grace, but that knowledge can only be an awareness of God's 'prior knowledge' of man, an 'ac-knowledgement [sic]' of this divine knowledge.134
Naturally, Barth himself could profess no greater knowledge of God other than that which God had chosen to vouchsafe, and so he tended to confine his theological pursuits to an examination of the Word of God, the Bible, whose existence he held, with Calvin and other Protestants, to be a form of direct revelation and an expression of the deity. Barth understood the Bible not as it applied to Man but as it applied to God. Hence he held 'Faith' to mean not man's religious answer to God, but 'God's own faithfulness to his purpose and promises'.135 As one could never adequately comment on God's understanding of 'Faith' beyond the words of the Bible, it followed that any further discussion of God had to be conducted in ablative terms. Hence, Barth adopted a 'dialectical'
method to advance his theology, which neither denied, nor directly affirmed, God. Only God can be said to author unambiguous words.
Barth's theology with its unwillingness to specify directly the nature of God links it with the so-called Ontological Argument for the Existence of God.136 In the eleventh century Anselm, Abbot of Bee and later Archbishop of Canterbury, formulated a celebrated 'proof of God's existence.137 Emphasising the utter pre-eminence of the divinity, Anselm contends that God be defined as 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived [id quo mains cogitari nequit]\ Elsewhere Anselm substitutes 'more perfect' for 'greater'. Anselm's definition of God asserts His existence in thought, but Anselm proceeds via this formulation to assert God's existence in reality (in re) as well. For Anselm, things that do exist are of a greater order than things only imagined to exist. In the words of Philip Quinn, 'If God existed in the mind alone, then we could conceive of a being greater than that which nothing greater can be conceived, namely one that exists in extramental reality. Since the concept of a being greater than that than which nothing greater can be conceived is incoherent, God cannot exist in the mind alone. Hence God exists not only in the mind but also in extramental reality.'138 Thus if one accepts the terms of Anselm's initial definition of God, one can logically assert His 'real' existence. Centuries later, Descartes made explicit the presupposition of the Ontological Argument that existence is an attribute, or, in other words, a predicate, that something can be said either to have or to lack.139 Hence, the 'perfect being' or God has of necessity the attribute of existence.
In The Critique of Pure Reason, however, Kant contends that the real issue of the argument is not so much about whether a perfect, or as he terms it 'an absolutely necessary', Being, can be conceived, but whether one can prove its existence by the Ontological Argument.140 Firstly, Kant agrees that in the statement 'God is omnipotent', one cannot at the same time affirm the subject and deny the predicate without falling into contradiction. Yet, Kant argues, one can reject the statement as a whole and thus avoid any contradiction: 'If [...]! reject the predicate while retaining the subject, contradiction results; and I therefore say that the former belongs necessarily to the latter. But if we reject subject and predicate alike, there is no contradiction, for nothing is then left that can be contradicted.'141 In other words, the phrase 'God is omnipotent' is tautological: the adjective 'omnipotence' only reasserts the concept of
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God, because God is of necessity omnipotent. However if we reject the
concept of God, no predicate, even omnipotence, can affirm the subject.

From this follows Kant's second criticism of Anselm's argument, in which Kant asserts the impossibility of an ontological proof of God's existence. Here Kant concludes:
Being is evidently not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations, as existing in themselves. Logically it is merely the copula of a judgment. The proposition, 'God is omnipotent', contains two concepts, each of which has its objectGod and omnipotence. The small word 'is' adds no new predicate, but only serves to posit the predicate in its relation to the subject. If, now, we take the subject (God) with all its predicates (among which is omnipotence), and say 'God is', or There is a God', we attach no new predicate to the concept of God, but only posit the subject in itself with all its predicates, and indeed posit it as being an object that stands in relation to my concept.142
Kant's arguments point out the flaw in the Ontological Argument: existence is not a predicate. Furthermore the argument is synthetic and not analytic. The idea of a supreme being is a useful one, Kant concedes, but an idea alone cannot verify God's existence. It only asserts the possibility of God. Kant does not deny the possibility of God, but he cannot accept the Ontological Argument's 'proof of God's existence. Actual existence may be verified only by appeal to 'experience'; it is not to be sought in the realm of 'mere ideas'.
Kant's objection to 'The Ontological Argument' sheds light on a note in the margin of the manuscript of Kharms's story 'Blue Notebook No. 10' ('Golubaya tetrad' No. 10', 1937) 143, which bears the comment by Kharms: 'against Kant'.144 Although Kharms's friend, the philosopher Yakov Druskin, later claimed that Kharms had not read Kant145, this story seems specifically to refer to Kant's position on this philosophical debate. Here is the text in full:
10
, . , .
, .
.

. , , , . ! , .
.
Blue Notebook No. 10
[There was a red-haired man who had no eyes and no ears. He had no hair either, so he was called red-haired only relatively speaking.
He could not talk, since he didn't have a mouth. Neither did he have a nose.
He didn't even have any arms or legs. He didn't have a stomach either, and he didn't have a back, and he didn't have a spine, and he didn't have any innards at all. There was nothing! So it is not clear whom we're talking about.
So it's better if we don't talk about him any more.]146
The story involves an obvious contradiction: 'there was a man' and yet equally 'there was nothing!' Moreover, how could there be a red-haired man, who not only has no physical shape, but does not even have red hair? Kharms's story appears to take the question of the true nature of man literally and reduces a philosophical inquiry to a problem of ontological denomination. Yet 'Blue Notebook No. 10' is not simply a reductio ad absurdum of the most basic existential problem, but rather an attempt at a redefinition of human essence. Kharms's story suggests another level of existence, a non-physical, even spiritual level, not covered or reduced in scope by those definitions.
The intent of this particular text is thus primarily religious and links Kharms to the mediaeval philosophical tradition of 'Negative Theology', which sought to affirm the existence of God by emphasising his pervasive absence. However, Kharms turns to this tradition and its rhetorical techniques, especially the use of negative absolutes and paradoxes, not to assert the existence of God, but rather to confirm the existence of man. By expressing explicitly what is not, Kharms seeks to suggest what is. Absence thus acquires attributes of substance, just as the red-haired man of the story is said to exist without physical form.
In Kharms's world, existence and non-existence are both predicates. Furthermore Kharms is not predicating the existence or non-existence of God, but of man. Given that existence is a predicate, the existence of someone therefore becomes, in all senses, erasable.147 Kant did not
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The 'ablative' and 'negative' language used in negative theology sustained the mystery of divinity against the assault of rational inquiry. Divinity could surely not be within the province of human knowledge and experience. Negative theology adroitly circumvented the problem of fully expressing God's magnitude and magnificence. For if God were omniscient, failure to enumerate the extent of God's pervasivenessGod in everythinginvolved an unimaginable and unjustifiable restriction on the accepted nature of God. The inadequacy of human expression and language was thus paradoxically used to assert precisely that which, by its very deficiency, it appeared unable to affirm.
In Kharms's story one sees both the rhetorical and the philosophical aspects of negative theology, but applied to a man. One might argue that any link between Kharms's prose of the thirties and the mediaeval notion of negative theology must be, at best, tenuous. Yet beyond the direct rhetorical analogy, there exists certain circumstantial evidence to support such a contention. Yakov Druskin explicitly declared an interest in such matters. In a diary entry, Druskin describes a treatise he wrote entitled 'A Formula of Non-existence' ('Formula nesushchestvovaniya', no date). He writes: 'For a long time I could not understand "A Formula of Non-existence", but one thing I knew for sure [tverdo]: it is not nihilism; quite the contrary, it is a stronger affirmation of God and His Providence; it is apophatic [apofaticheskaya] theology...'154
'Apophatic theology' is another term for 'negative theology' and derives its name from its predominant use of apophasis. For Druskin that denial seems to involve the assertion not only of God's existence, but also of one's own. Elsewhere Druskin writes that Descartes' saying je pense done je suis should be expressed 'je doute done je suis'.155 Furthermore, in a discussion of nonsense or absurdity (bessmyslitsd) in the work of Aleksandr Vvedenskii, Druskin explicitly links the writer and his art to the tradition of negative or apophatic religious thought. Druskin compares Vvedenskii to Tertullian: 'If one does not fear the words, then in Greek one calls this paradox (Kierkegaard); in Latin, absurd (Tertullian); in Russian, nonsense [bessmyslitsd] (Vvedenskii).'156
Yakov Druskin identifies the philosophical purpose behind Kharms's work and that of his fellow Chinari as an attempt 'to build a new nonsubstantive existential ontology'.157 'Blue Notebook No. 10' gives artistic shape to that idea and illustrates its necessity in the modern world. Man's continued presence is asserted by recourse to a negative language
confront the problem of ontological verification in a world fabricated to allow no possibility of establishing the existence of a person in reality, not for all time but at any time. Nevertheless, that is the pass which totalitarian societies of the twentieth-century have reached. Kant's position presupposes a shared reality. Kharms's world, however, knows no such sense of assurance through common experience.
It is a curious and frightening feature of the modern world that one needs something of Anselm's argument for the existence of God, that existence is a predicate, to try to establish the existence of one individual man. One needs to believe that something, or rather someone, is greater than the idea of a thing or the idea of someone, for the comfortable era where one could take a man's existence as a given has passed. One also requires some guarantee that predication of existence is not an arbitrary process.148 Yet how is one to achieve that distinction in the absence of a shared, objective reality and when even the past is mutable?
That guarantee is alluded to by Kharms in his use of the rhetorical device of apophasis: that is, affirmation by denial.149 As Rosalie Colie notes, there are two principal ways of attempting to describe a divine being. The first is to express belief in its existence by recourse to terms of totality: references to 'omniscience', 'omnipotence' and the like. The second way is to use 'negative' or 'ablative' terms, which emphasise a lack of definition or qualification, such as 'infinity', 'immutability' or 'eternity'.150 Colie connects the second group of rhetorical devices with the aptly-titled 'negative theology'.151
Negative theology purported to testify to God's existence by means of negative rhetorical constructs which elaborate what God is not, thus implying, but not categorising, the extent of God's stature and domain. Tertullian's (c.160 - c.220) aphoristic phrase, cerium est, quia impossibile est from his De came Christi represents the quintessence of the tradition of negative theology.152 This paradoxical expression of faith was designed to avoid the undesirable hubris on man's part that all positive definitions of the Creator tend to imply. Any attempt to outline the parameters of God's purview might be taken as an insupportable encroachment on his divinity. Indeed, how could the ways of God be known to man? As Feuerbach once remarked: 'Is the knowledge that man has of God the knowledge that God has of himself? What a dichotomy and what a contradiction.'153
78
79
that denies his physical existence only to attest to the non-material being that ensures his inalienable humanity.
Confirmation of that non-material being, however, is possible only if one recognizes the prospect and the providence of a non-material order. Curiously, the notion of a transcendent realm, which appears to be an impossibility in the excessively mundane world of Kharms's prose, is crucial to an understanding of the import of his art. Belief in a community which prevents the alienation of this non-material essence can alone nullify the perennial uncertainty and instability of the mundane world and ultimately ensure the preservation of man and the idea of humanity. However, belief (or faith) is pure and abstract. It requires no affirmation from God by deed.
Kharms's rejection of Kant's requirement of verification brings him close to Barth, who agreed with what he took to be Anselm's own understanding of the Ontological Argument. Barth stressed that Anselm's argument is cast in the form of a prayer and should not be regarded as an assertion of fact. Barth refused to regard the argument as a proof of God's existence, but took it instead to be a profession of faith. For Barth, the objection, advanced by Kant, that Anselm's hypothesis does not confirm God's existence in reality disappears, because, he argues, if one can think of God as existing in thought, one can also think of Him as existing in reality. This thought is 'greater' than the first and so must be preferred, in order to satisfy Anselm's formula which holds that God is 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived'. Furthermore, one could conceive of God in a way that it is impossible for Him not to exist, and thus Barth arrives at the idea of God's necessary existence. That necessary existence is mirrored in Kharms's authorial presumption of the 'red-haired man'. Man cannot properly be said to conceive of God, but he can nevertheless come to a rational affirmation of the faith that necessarily precedes that affirmation. Thus even though God is by nature 'wholly other', to the believer he does not lie entirely beyond the bounds of perception.
Both Barth and Calvin, while stressing that God lies beyond man's true cognisance, nevertheless, in the very profession of their faith, admit to the reality (albeit a personal one) of God. Barth may attribute faith to the miracle of God's grace, but there remains no doubt that God exercises that grace, which is in itself miraculous. Similarly, Calvinists saw comfort in the notion that their lot was predetermined. Calvinists attested to some
human influence in allowing for a certain responsibility for human behaviour. Evil was admitted, as an absence of good (privatio boni\ but ascribed to man's sinful volition. In Calvin's words: 'Man falls according as God's providence ordains, but he falls by his own fault.'158 The statement suggests what some see as a fundamental contradiction in Calvinism: man is predetermined, his fate decided by God, but still he has the power to effect his own damnation. God was thus untainted by man and His beneficence assured.
Such theological views, though apparently emphasising the separation of human beings and God, are paradoxically also stratagems to preserve a relationship between God and man. Barth may speak of God's otherness, but at the same time he asserts His necessity. The idea that God is necessary to man establishes a bond between the two that seems close to contradicting the notion of 'diastasis'. Barth, following Anselm, speaks of God's 'aseity', his existing a se, from himself, implying total freedom. Nevertheless, God's freedom is 'freedom for man, not from man'.159 The divorce between God and man does not preclude reconciliation. For the believer there can be no doubt that God exists for man, even if one can never know why or how.
Thus, underlying all these professions of human weakness and ignorance is the conviction that there exists a divine purpose to the world. The world may be absurd to man, but it is not absurd to God. As Leibnitz contended, there exists a sufficient reason for everything, even if it is not readily recognisable by man. One takes the world to be unique and to have a particular, ultimately beneficent author: 'all for the best in the best possible world.' Most theologians adopt a similar premise, arguing that though one cannot know God's design for humanity, it must be for the best because it emanates from God, the source of all beneficence.
In the light of the notion of 'sufficient reason', one can embark on a rational philosophical discourse about the apparent absurdity of the human condition without lapsing into absurdity. Dostoevski!'s novels indeed provide notable examples of such discourse. As Albert Camus has written of The Brothers Karamazov: 'It is not an absurd work that is involved here, but a work that propounds the absurd problem.'160 Dos-toevskii's characters may recognise the fundamental absurdity of their existence, but they do so in a work, in an environment, that is not fundamentally absurd. Dostoevskii's narrative structure allows his readers to appreciate the motivation of his characters, even those whose ideas and
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31
behaviour, like those of Ivan and Raskol'nikov, bring them close to the edge of utter absurdity, without abandoning the prerogative of human reason. Moreover, for the characters themselves, belief in God, or at least the prospect of it, allows them to escape from the notion that the world must be absurd to the core by regarding the inexplicable as part of His ineffable design. The prospect of liberation via belief in God and redemption through the admission of one's responsibility are options of which Dostoevskii's characters, and readers, are constantly aware.
By contrast, Kharms's The Old Woman and his Incidents are absurd works.161 That is, they defy Reason. As such one cannot readily discern any reasonable cause for what occurs, except pure hazard. Even the infinite world, represented by the Old Woman and the other bespokoiniki, bears no obvious testimony to its origins, only to a continuation of the absurdity. Understanding it requires a miracle, for it lies beyond reason and all reasonable thoughts. Hence the central importance of the concept of a miracle-worker. True miracles can originate only with God, but they may never come because God has withdrawn not simply from the mundane world but conceivably from all other (or, to use Lipavskii's term, 'neighbouring') realms. One cannot assume God's intercession and one cannot request His intervention. In the absence of signs from God, one cannot have the conviction of any belief. The absurdity of existence pervades even attempts to deny it. All that one can hope for is God's grace, but God too may be a figure of the absurd.
Going further than that of Calvin and Barth, Kharms's theology is not simply negative, it is absurdist. It does not provide a commentary on the absurdity of the world in the anticipation of the reasonableness of God. Indeed, as Kharms's experiments with narrative suggest, any attempt at human explanation is doomed to be inadequate because it carries with it its own sense of absurdity. Equally one should not automatically assume that God, if He exists, has a purpose. He may be as capricious as the world he has created. Thus grace can also be absurd. We as human beings simply cannot know, either in advance or in retrospect.
In Kharms, negative theology can assert an essence of man, but cannot demonstrate God's presence. Kharms advances a negative ontology, but an absurdist theology. Art may imitate God's design, but though an author may create in imitation of God, as we see in The Old Woman, an author cannot go so far as to replicate God's ways. Kharms as author also
withdraws; he also recuses himself.162 Original creation, mysterious and beyond human conception, remains exclusively God's domain.
A maxim from the time of the Reformation holds that 'the finite cannot grasp, or contain, the infinite', finitum capax infiniti.163 Kharms's prose exemplifies that distinction, but also implies that the absurd can only contain or spawn the absurd. An absurdist world can only 'expect' an absurdist God, who, by definition, can never be expected. The 'mystery of God' thus remains a thorough mystery, which even a felicitous use of language cannot altogether challenge. In an absurd world, one cannot prove His existence and one cannot deny it. Neither can one seek to affirm Him by stating what He is not: Negative Theology. Even Negative Theology is not negative enough. The absurd leaves man Godforsaken.
The only imaginable relief is that although belief in God is absurd, it is as a consequence no less likely or desirable for its absurdity. One must comfort oneself with the 'consciousness' of that fact. Camus concludes his famous essay on the Absurd, The Myth of Sisyphus, by calling for us to accept it, even to delight in it: 'One must imagine Sisyphus happy.'164 In Kharms, one has no choice but to believe, not in man, but in an utterly transcendent entity. In Kharms's theology, the divorce between human beings and God, which begets the feeling of absurdity, can be bridged only by God.
NOTES
Biographical Incidents and Accidents
1 For more details on Kharms's life see Anatolii Aleksandrov's introductory
article 'Chudodei' to his Kharms anthology, Polet v nebesa, ed. Anatolii
Aleksandrov, L., 1988, 7-48 and also, in the same volume, 'Kratkaya khronika
zhizni i tvorchestva Daniila Kharmsa', ibid., 538-55. An English translation is
available in Neil Comwell, ed., Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd:
Essays and Materials,
New York, 1991 under the title 'A Kharms Chronology',
32-48. Further details concerning Kharms's literary career are available in
Mikhail Meilakh's 'Predislovie', Aleksandr Vvedenskii: Polnoe Sobranie
Sochinenii [PSS],
ed. Mikhail Meilakh, 2 vols., Ann Arbor, 1980, vol. 1, ix-
xxxiii. In addition to these summaries, details of Kharms's life and his
personality can be gleaned from accounts in various memoirs listed in the
bibliography. Kharms's diaries and notebooks have been published by
Vladimir Glotser under the title 'Bozhe, kakaya uzhasnaya zhizn' i kakoe
uzhasnoe u menya sostoyanie', Novyi mir, 2, 1992, 192-224.

2 The OBERIU Manifesto, originally entitled simply 'OBERIU' and published
in Afishi Doma pechati, 2, 1928, is translated into English in George Gibian
ed., The Man in the Black Coat: Russia's Literature of the Absurd, Evanston,
IL., 1987, 245-54.

3 OBERIU was severely criticised in the Soviet press. See, for example, the
reception given to an OBERIU performance in 1928: L.Lesnaya,
'YTUEREBO', Krasnaya gazeta, 24, 1928. The inversion and distortion of the
word oberiuty in the article's title stands for the author's own sense of
indignant incomprehension at the Oberiut antics. It is generally agreed,
however, that the end for OBERIU came with the publication of the article
entitled 'Reactionary Jugglerism' by the mysterious L-NiKvich. L.Nii'vich,
'Reaktsionnoe zhonglerstvo (ob odnoi vylazke literatumykh khuliganov)',
Smena, 81, 1930.

4 According to their publisher, Anna Gerasimova, the latest excerpts of the
Conversations to appear in print amount to about a sixth of the complete work.
See Anna Gerasimova ed., 'Leonid Lipavskii. Razgovory', Moskovskii
nablyudatel',
5-6, 1992, 54-64. For further details on the Chinari see Yakov
Druskin, 'Chinari', Wiener Slawistischer Almanach, 15, 1985, 381-403

84
85
(henceforth 'Chinari' [1985]) and 'Chinari', Avrora, 6, 1989, 103-15 (henceforth 'Chinari' [1989]). Jean-Philippe Jaccard is the first critic, after Lidiya Druskina, to address the notion of the Chinari as a distinct literary entity in his book Daniil Harms et la fin de avant-garde russe, Bern, 1991, 131-207. Jaccard takes the ideas of the Chinari to be a continuation and, in part, also a rejection of the earlier OBERIU principles.
5 At least one prominent Kharms scholar, Vladimir Glotser, is convinced that
Kharms suffered another arrest during the mid-thirties. (See Vladimir Glotser
ed., 'Bozhe, kakaya uzhasnaya zhizn", 223.) Glotser believes this arrest and
the probable search of Kharms's possessions afterwards may explain the
absence of Kharms's diary materials from that period. For details of the
process of Kharms's rehabilitation years after his final arrest and death in a
prison psychiatric hospital, see Mikhail Meilakh, 'Devyat' posmertnykh anek-
dotov Daniila Kharmsa', Teatr, 11, 1991, 76-9.

6 Lidiya Druskina, 'Bylo takoe sodruzhestvo...', Wiener Slawistischer
Almanach,
15, 1985, 100-102. The majority of Kharms's notebooks and works
from the thirties are now contained in the Ya.S.Druskin archive in the
St.Petersburg Public Library (henceforth referred to by its Russian acronym,
GPB), holding number \fond\\ 1232. Manuscripts from Kharms's early period
are located in the Institute for Russian Literature in St.Petersburg, the so-called
Pushkin House. For details of the archival holdings there, see Anatolii
Aleksandrov, 'Materialy D.I.Kharmsa v rukopisnom otdele Pushkinskogo
doma', Ezhegodnik rukopisnogo otdela Pushkinskogo doma na 1978g., L.,
1980, 64-79.

7 The writings for adults of Kharms and Vvedenskii began to be recognised
through the pioneering work of the Russian scholars Anatolii Aleksandrov and
Mikhail Meilakh in the late sixties. See their Tvorchestvo Daniila Kharmsa'
and 'Tvorchestvo A.Vvedenskogo', in Materialy XXII nauchnoi studencheskoi
konferentsii,
Tartu, 1967, 101-4 and 105-9 and also Anatolii Aleksandrov,
'Oberiu. Predvaritel'nye zametki', Ceskoslovenska rusistika, , 5, 1968,
296-303.

I'avant-garde russe, Jean-Philippe Jaccard documents how Kharms was influenced by the philosophical and spiritual views of Yakov Druskin and Leonid Lipavskii. Anatolii Aleksandrov indicates that the religious beliefs of Kharms's father, Ivan Pavlovich Yuvachev (1860-1940), made a strong impression on Kharms, Yuvachev, a former member of the People's Will organisation who was arrested and sentenced first to imprisonment and then to internal exile, published a number of religious works after his release under the pseudonym P.Mirolyubov. Apparently his beliefs were akin to those of Tolstoi, with whom he corresponded. For details on the life and works of Kharms's father, see Anatolii Aleksandrov, 'Materialy D.I.Kharmsa v rukopisnom otdele Pushkinskogo doma', 65-6 and also 'Chudodei', Polet v nebesa, 8-10. A recent article by L.F.Katsis emphasies the links between the religious outlook of the OBERIU movement and those of the Russian symbolists, especially Vladimir Solov'ev, and also with the views of Kazimir Malevich, who was a personal friend of Kharms. L.F.Katsis, Trolegomeny k teologii OBERIU: Daniil Kharms i Aleksandr Vvedenskii v kontektse Zaveta Sv. Dukha', Literaturnoe obozrenie, 3-4, 1994, 94-101.
10 The first major anthology of Kharms's work did not appear in Russian until
1987 with the appearance of Anatolii Aleksandrov's Polet v nebesa, although
some individual texts had been published earlier. See, for example, the
publications of Kharms's stories in the United States by Ilya Levin, 'Rasskazy
Daniila Kharmsa', Soviet Union/Union Sovietique, 7, 1980, 229-36.

11 Jean-Philippe Jaccard entitles his book Daniil Kharms and the End of the
Russian Avant-Garde.
Elsewhere, however, Jaccard stresses Kharms's
connection with the playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd. See Jean-
Philippe Jaccard, 'Dam'il Harms dans le contexte de la litterature de 1'absurde
russe et europeenne' in Contributions des savants suisses X-e congres
international des slavistes a Sofia, septembre 1988,
Bern, 1988, 145-69, in
English: 'Daniil Kharms in the context of Russian and European literature of
the absurd', in Neil Cornwell, ed., Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of the
Absurd: Essays and Materials,
New York, 1991, 49-70. In a similar article,
Jaccard makes a specific comparison between Kharms's play Elizaveta Bam
with Eugene lonesco's La cantatrice chauve. Jean-Philippe Jaccard, * Daniil
Kharms: Teatr absurda - real'nyi teatr: prochtenie p'esy Elizaveta Bam\
Russian Literature,
XXVII, 1990, 21-40.

12 See the bibliography for further details of articles placing Kharms in pre-
existing literary traditions.

13 Anna Gerasimova, 'OBERIU (Problema smeshnogo)', Voprosy literatury,
4, 1988, 78.

14 Milena Michalski writes: '"[S]luchai" is the name given to the literary
genre he [Kharms] invented.' Milena Michalski, 'Slobodan Pesic's film
Sluchaj Harms and Kharms's Sluchai\ in Neil Comwell ed., Daniil Kharms

NOTES
Introduction
8 In employing the term Theology of the Absurd, one is conscious of the
precedent set by Martin Esslin's felicitous interpretative construct, 'The
Theatre of the Absurd'. As Esslin admits at the beginning of this seminal work,
there was no self-proclaimed or self-conscious school or movement to use the
name. Martin Essiin, The Theatre of the Absurd, London, 1967, 15.

9 Work has been done by scholars on the influence on Kharms of the religious
and philosophical beliefs of his friends and peers. In Daniil Harms et la fin de

NOTES
86
87
and the Poetics of the Absurd, 123.
15 The cycle was first published in its entirety in Aleksandrov's anthology Polet v
nebesa.
The stories are contained in a notebook which now resides in the Druskin
archive (fond 1232, ms. 75). There are thirty complete stones (originally thirty-one),
at least one of which, 'Blue Notebook No. 10' ('Golubaya tetrad' No. 10'), has been
transferred from another notebook. The story 'An Event in the Street' ('Proisshestvie
na ulitse') has been crossed through by Kharms and has generally been excluded
from the cycle in publication.

16 See Yakov Druskin, 'Chinari' (1989), 112. Druskin intends the term nedochelo-
vek
as an antonym to the Nietzschean concept of the 'Superman' (in Russian,
sverkhchelovek).

17 Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, tr. Justin O'Brien, London, 1975, 32.
18 Anatolii Aleksandrov, 'Chudodei', Polet v nebesa, 40.
Chapter One
19 Ellen Chances characterizes Kharms's short prose as 'anti-story' in her
comparison of Kharms's short story style with that of Chekhov. Ellen Chances,
'Cexov and Xarms: Story/And-Story', Russian Language Journal, 38,1982, 353-66.

20 Viktor Shklovsky, 'Sterne's Tristram Shandy: Stylistic Commentary', in Lee
T.Lemon and Marion J.Reis eds., Russian Formalist Criticism, Lincoln, Nebraska,
1965, 30.

21 Ibid., 35.
22 One may presuppose Kharms's familiarity with Formalism and its practitioners
given the evidence of his personal and professional dealings with some of its leading
lights. In 1929, Kharms and other Oberiuty considered publishing a collection of
their works to be entitled Archimedes' Bath (Vanna Arkhimeda). The Formalist
critics Boris Eikhenbaum, Yurii Tynyanov and Viktor Shklovskii were all invited to
participate. However, perhaps for political rather than artistic reasonsthere had
already been attacks on the Oberiuty and their performances in the Soviet pressthe
project was never realised. For further details, see Lidiya Ginzburg, 'Zabolotskii
dvadtsatykh godov', in Vospominaniya Zabolotskom, M., 1984, 146, and Mikhail
Meilakh, 'Predislovie', Aleksandr Vvedenskii: PSS, vol. 1, xxiii. Anatolii
Aleksandrov published a collection of OBERIU prose and verse entitled Vanna
Arkhimeda
(L., 1991), but this collection contains no work by Formalist writers.
Alice Stone Nakhimovsky, writing on Kharms's interest in fairy-tales, notes that
Kharms was personally acquainted with their Formalist interpreter, Vladimir Propp.
Alice Stone Nakhimovsky, Laughter in the Void, Vienna, 1982, 78.

For a detailed discussion of OBERIU's theoretical and artistic links with the Formalists and Formalism, see Graham Roberts, The Last Soviet Avant-Garde: OBERIUFact, Fiction, Metafiction (Cambridge, 1997). Roberts discusses the influence of the Formalists and indeed of the Bakhtin circle on OBERIU and also
NOTES
identifies the parodic treatment of Formalism by the Oberiuty. However, Roberts treats the movement as a whole, seeking to identify a shared aesthetic, and concludes that OBERIU bridges the gap between modernism and post-modernism.
23 Susan Stewart, Nonsense: Aspects of Intertextuality in Folklore and Literature,
Baltimore and London, 1978, 209.

24 Stanley Fish, 'How to Recognise a Poem When You See One', in Is There A Text
In This Class?,
Cambridge, MA., 1980,327.

25 'Vyvalivayushchiesya starukhi' is the third story in Kharms's Incidents cycle and
is preserved in the original notebook in the Druskin archive in St. Petersburg (GPB,
fond 1232, ms. 228). The Russian text is in Polet v nebesa, 356. Vladimir Glotser in
his collection Daniil Kharms. Starukha: rasskazy, stseny, povest', M., 1991, gives
the date of the story as 1937. The English translation of the title is borrowed from
Neil Cornwell. Neil Cornwell, Daniil Kharms: Incidences , London, 1993, 50. The
original translation of the story into English may be found in George Gibian ed., The
Man in the Black Coat: Russia's Literature of the Absurd,
Evanston, IL., 58. Gibian
translates vyvalivayushchiesya starukhi more literally as 'falling-out old women'.

26 Roman Jakobson observes that 'association by contiguity gives prose its basic
impulse'. Prose works according to the principles of metonymy, argues Jakobson,
whereas poetry proceeds by metaphor. Roman Jakobson, 'Zametki proze
Pasternaka', Raboty po poetike, M., 1987, 331. Jakobson's understanding of the
mechanics of prose would seem to be extremely relevant to Kharms's prose, which is
distinguished by its constant juxtaposition of elements. Nevertheless, in metonymy a
part or an attribute is substituted for a generally recognisable whole. In Kharms's
prose, if individual elements do indeed imply a whole, that whole remains obscure.

27 Boris Tomashevsky, 'Thematics', in Lee T.Lemon and Marion J.Reis eds.,
Russian Formalist Criticism, especially 63-6.

28 Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction, Chicago, 1983, 158-9.
29 The most graphic example in Kharms's prose of a narrator unable to exert control
over his narrative occurs in The Old Woman (Starukha). I discuss the narratorial
unreliabilty in The Old Woman in my article, *A Familiar Story: Insurgent
Narratives and Generic Refugees in Daniil Kharms's The Old Woman', The Modern
Language Review,
90:3,1995,707-21.

30 Kharms's widespread use of first-person narratives and the inclusion of details
from his personal life and beliefs in his texts have caused some critics to assume that
the narrator is Kharms himself. This conclusion is a fundamental misunderstanding
of the role of the narrator in Kharms's work. Functionally, the narrator corresponds
to the reader, who is desperate to fathom the significance of the bizarre events he
witnesses. The narrator in fact has no knowledge of the author and patently does not
share the author's view (his exclusive vantage point) or his views.

31 Boris Tomashevsky, 'Thematics', 73.
32 The narrator may also be denied external perspective. Without the benefit
of omniscience, even apparently in hindsight, the narrator observing the old

NOTES
88
89
women may be unaware that they too are observing him.
33 Alice Stone Nakhimovsky, Laughter in the Void, 76.
34 Jean-Philippe Jaccard, 'De la realite au texte: L'absurde chez Daniil
Harms', Cahiers du monde russe et sovietique, XXVI, 1985, 285.

35 For a discussion of Carroll's work and the techniques and implications of
Nonsense see Michael Holquist, 'What is a Boojum? Nonsense and Modern-
ism', Yale French Studies, 43, 1969, 145-64. Kharms would almost certainly
have been familiar with the ending to Carroll's poem, as he read and admired
Carroll's work. Indeed, Kharms placed Carroll's name along with that of
another writer of Nonsense, Edward Lear, in a list of his (six) favourite
authors. The other four writers contained in the list are: Gogol'; Kozma
Prutkov; the Austrian writer Gustav Meyrink; and the Norwegian writer Knut
Hamsun. See 'Vot moi lyubimye pisateli' in Vladimir Glotser ed., 'Bozhe,
kakaya uzhasnaya zhizn' i kakoe uzhasnoe u menya sostoyanie', Novyi mir, 2,
1992, 218.

36 Susan Stewart, Nonsense, 138.
37 Victor Shklovsky, * Sterne's Tristram Shandy1, 29.
38 Jean-Philippe Jaccard, 'De la realite au texte: L'absurde chez Daniil
Harms', 295.

39 Stanislaw Lem, The Investigation, tr. Adele Milch, New York, 1974, 214.
Italics mine.

40 Robert C.Trundle Jr. and Ramakrishna Pugligandla, Beyond Absurdity: The
Philosophy of Albert Camus,
Lanham, MD., 1986, 83.

41 Lewis Carroll, Game of Logic. Cited in Susan Stewart, Nonsense, 138.
Italics in original.

42 Kharms himself had something to say about the middle and its relation to
the outside: 'Everything at the edge is very difficult to do. The parts in the
middle happen much easier. The centre itself requires no effort. The centre is
equilibrium. There is no struggle there.' (' .
. .
- . .') From 'Blue Notebook'
('Golubaya tetrad"), 5, GPB, fond 1232, ms. 75. The narrator perhaps finds it
safer to be in the middle and play the role of cautious and unforthcoming
observer, or, more likely, he has no choice.

43 Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Poetic Closure, Chicago, 1968, 2.
44 See, for example, The Brothers Karamazov, where the narrator specifically
alludes to the continuation of the story beyond the current volume. Similarly,
in Notes from Underground, the editor ends the Underground Man's 'Notes',
while admitting that the Underground Man could not in fact refrain from
writing more.

45 In his essay on Tristram Shandy, Shklovsky examines the technique of the
'discovered manuscript', which is used in the conclusion to Sterne's other

NOTES
novel Sentimental Journey, and to Gogol "s short story 'Ivan Fedorovich
Shponka and his Aunt'. Victor Shklovsky, 'Sterne's Tristram Shandy\ 39.

46 Cornwell translates the phrase "
' as 'a knitted shawl had been given to a certain blind man' (Neil
Cornwell ed., Incidences, 50). Gibian's translation reads: 'a blind man had
been presented with a knitted shawl.' George Gibian ed., The Man in the Black
Coat,
58. Emphasis added throughout. In view of the apparent importance of
numbers in the text, however, it seems preferable to stress that the shawl was
given to 'one blind man'. It is, after all, by the numbers, not by the character of
an event, that the narrator appears to distinguish incidents. Kharms's other
writings reveal a deep and even mystical interest in numbers. In the text
'Numbers are not connected by order' ('Chisla ne svyazany poryadkom'),
GPB, fond 1232, ms. 374, he even suggests that individual numbers have their
own particular attributes.

47 For a discussion of narrative in Tolstoi's novel, see Gary Saul Morson's
Hidden in Plain View, Stanford, 1987.

48 'A Sonnet' ('Sonet', 1935) is perhaps the most graphic example of the
confusion of empirical knowledge with convention in Kharms's work. See my
article, 'Laughter through Forgetting: Epistemology in the Prose of Daniil
Kharms', Proceedings of the SSREES Conference, University of Strathclyde,
1997 (forthcoming).

49 Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 13.
Chapter Two
50 Kharms's diaries give evidence of religious faith, as well as a vibrant
interest in mysticism. See a diary entry for 1936, for example, which contains
the prayer 'Gospodi, nakormi menya telom Tvoim' ('Bozhe, kakaya uzhasnaya
zhizn", Novyi mir, 2, 1992, 214) and the entries for 1938, 219-20. It appears
that a number of religious books and icons were removed from Kharms's
apartment on his final arrest in 1941. Strange drawings and mystical, cabalistic
lettering adorn many of Kharms's manuscripts. An attempt has been made to
decipher these signs and symbols. Aleksandr Nikitaev, 'Tainopis' Daniila
Kharmsa: Opyt deshifrovki', Daugava, 8, 1989, 95-9.

51 'His [Kharms's ] Sluchai [Incidents} are directed not against the Stalinisi
regime, but against any regime whatever. They were not anti-Soviet, but anti-
political, anti-social. In other words, they were religious'. Yakov Druskin, 'On
Daniil Kharms', in Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd, 26.

52 Arthur C.Danto, The Appreciation and Interpretation of Works of Art', The
Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art,
New York,1986, 23-46.

53 In expressing this view of art, Danto would seem to concur with Stanley
NOTES
90
91
Fish's belief in the power of interpretation to create literature. (For Fish's views, see the previous chapter.) However, in discussing Duchamp, Danto is speaking of the author's, not the critic's, prerogative of interpretation.
54 The interpretation is not something outside the work: work and
interpretation arise together in aesthetic consciousness. An interpretation is
inseparable from a work, it is inseparable from the artist if it is the artist's
work.' Arthur C.Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, 45.

55 Consider the 'Incident', 'The Beginning of a Very Fine Summer's Day',
subtitled 'A Symphony' ('Nachalo ochen' khoroshego letnego dnya
[Simfoniya]', no date). The story catalogues the venal actions by which a
number of characters begin the day. If it is indeed a Very fine' day, it is not of
the character's making. As for the subtitle, it can only be meant ironically, for
what results is total cacophony.

56 This is particularly the case in pieces that are ordered by a sequence of
numbers. Consider, for example, the texts 'Four Illustrations of How a New
Idea Disconcerts a Person who is Unprepared for It' ('Chetyre illyustratsii
togo, kak novaya ideya ogorashivaet cheloveka, k nei ne podgotovlennogo',
1933) and 'Five Unfinished Narratives' ('Pyat' neokonchennykh povestvova-
nii', 1937). The decision to end these stories at four or five is entirely arbitrary
and cannot be said to be motivated from within by the texts themselves.

57 The Russian text is in Polet v nebesa, 370-71 and the English translation in
Incidences, 61-2.

58 There are many such texts, but see especially 'Mashkin killed Koshkin',
'Pakin and Rakukin', 'What they sell in the shops nowadays' ('Chto teper'
prodayut v magazinakh'), 'Rehabilitation' ('Reabilitatsiya'). Death not only
dominates Kharms's stories but also his play Elizaveta Bam.

59 Rosalie Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of
Paradox,
Princeton, 1966, 300.

60 Anatolii Aleksandrov, 'Chudodei', Polet v nebesa, 42. Aleksandrov uses the
word dvornik (literally, yard-keeper) here for what the text explicitly refers to
as a storozh (watchman).

61 Comwell renders the participle, udivivshii, as 'astonished' in English. This
is a perfectly acceptable translation, but does tend to imply a degree of
amazement on the part of the watchman that may be too extreme. For reasons
that will become apparent, 'surprised' is the preferred translation here.

62 It is difficult to establish over what exactly the watchman watches. It could
be a building or a building site. The references in the text to 'joiner's glue'
(stolyarnyi klei\ with which the watchman hopes to kill the fly, and to his
'lodge' (storozhka) tend to indicate a building site. Whatever the true setting,
however, it is clear that the watchman understands the young man's request to
pass by and the idea of a room in physical and earthly terms.

63 Compare this event with the 'timeless' Old Woman's possession of a clock
NOTES
in The Old Woman. (See Chapter Three.)
64 When he initially seeks to attract the watchman's attention, the young man
calls out: 'Hey you, wood-goblin!' (Ei ty, leshii!) This may be a figure of
speech, but in the light of the magical disappearance of the young man at the
end of the story it is worth noting that at first he characterises the watchman as
a magical and mythical creature. The watchman's subsequent actions mark
him as entirely the product of the Material world.

65 A similar incident occurs in The Old Woman when the narrator holds the
caterpillar in his hands. This occurs just before the narrator offers his prayer to
God, by which he recognises the supreme authority of the divinity.

66 The meeting of representatives from the mundane world and the world
hereafter recalls Tolstoi's short story 'What People Live By' ('Chem lyudi
zhivy', 1881), in which Semen, a poor shoemaker, finds a man, Mikhail, naked
and abandoned by the roadside who later turns out to be an angel banished
from heaven by God. L.N.Tolstoi: Sobranie sochinenii v 20-kh tomakh, M.,
1963, 252-72. Once the angel has discovered the answers to the three
questions God has posed (the last being, 'what do people live by?') by living
among mortals and experiencing their love, God allows him to return. In the
final scene of the story, Mikhail recovers his wings and ascends to heaven (na
nebd).
Kharms's story reads like a parody of Tolstoi's. Unlike Semen and his
wife in the Tolstoi story, however, Kharms's watchman displays no acceptance
of the visiting 'angel'.

67 Fedor Dostoevskii, The Brothers Karamazov, tr. Constance Garnett, New
York, 1955, 774. The devil's words recall those of the narrator at the beginning
of the book, who avers that 'The Apostle Thomas said that he would nol
believe till he saw, but when he did see he said, "My Lord and my God!" Was
it the miracle that forced him to believe? Most likely not, but he believed
because he desired to believe and possibly he fully believed in his secret hean
even when he said, "I do not believe till I see".' Ibid., 25.

68 Ivan's idea of kicking the devil is mirrored in Kharais's The Old Woman
when the narrator explicitly reveals his doubt in the Old Woman's mortality b)
kicking her corpse.

69 Before he conclusively states his wish to go to heaven, 'the young mai
shielded (prikryl) his mouth with the palm of his hand and very quietly said
"To heaven!'" Again the use of the hand is connected to the quest for heavei
and again the hand appears not to touch anything.

70 Of course, there is an element of topical satire in Kharms's depiction of thi
watchman. He resembles a typically lackadaisical and negligent Sovie
functionary, who has no interest or desire in assisting anyone, but only ii
displaying his own authority and disregarding anyone else's.

71 Polet v nebesa, 503-4.
72 Yakov Druskin, 'Chinari' (1985), 401.
NOTE
92
93
73 Vestnik is a caique of the Greek word angelos, although Druskin maintains
that his and Kharms's vestniki have little in common with 'angels'. Druskin,
ibid., 391-2.

74 Druskin, 'Chinari' (1989), 114.
75 Kharms's 'Old Woman' is also associated with a distortion or an
interruption of time, which suggests she hails from another realm.

76 The notion of two worlds in different dimensions becoming temporarily
apparent to each other is a trope common to much science fiction. In Ray
Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, a meeting takes place in the darkness
between a settler from earth (Tomas) and a native Martian. They see the same
environment from utterly different perspectives. When their hands meet the
one passes right through the other. Where the Martian sees life and signs of
material prosperity, Tomas sees only death and destruction. It is as if they
occupy the same space but at a different time. Given the darkness and the
disparity in testimony, neither is sure he has met the other. Ray Bradbury,
'August 2002: Night Meeting', The Martian Chronicles, New York, 1958,
102-10.

77 Polet v nebesa, 374-5.
78 As such, the young man resembles another peripatetic and supernatural
tester of men, Woland, from Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita
and also the angel in Tolstoi's 'What People Live By'.

79 By writing the story, Kharms adopts the role of a herald bringing the extra-
mundane to a mundane audience, his readers. To support the notion that
Kharms sees himself in the role of a herald, see Druskin's reminiscences. At
one evening gathering of the 'Chinari', Druskin read a section from a so-called
'philosophical-poetic work' entitled 'Heralds and their Conversations'
('Vestniki i ikh razgovory'). Druskin later wrote that 'after forty years in one
of D.I.'s [Kharms's] notebooks I read: "Druskin read Heralds [Vestniki]. I am
a herald [ - vestnik]": 'Chinari' (1985), 392.

80 Nevertheless in Kharms's prose characters do sometimes attempt to claim
knowledge of some prior order and to use it to gain authority. Purveyors of
magic and mystery can then hold sway and, like 'the man in a black coat' in
The Obstacle' ('Pomekha', 1940) or the curious, ill-defined 'master'
(khozyain) in 'Fedya Davidovich' (1939), acquire secular power by seeming to
have hidden knowledge of the real significance of certain events. As it does for
Dostoevskii's Grand Inquisitor, authority accrues from the recognition of
mystery and miracle as primary motivating forces in the world. In Kharms's
world, that authority is not always used, but the potential for its use and abuse
is always present.

81 The letter is published in full in Polet v nebesa, 482-5. Extracts from the
letter are translated in Comwell's Incidences, 201-3.

82 Neil Carrick, 'Daniil Kharms and the Art of Negation', Slavonic and East
NOTES
European Review, 72:4, 1994, 622-43.
83 Kharms's prose can be seen as a parody of the 'literature of fact', in which
current events were seen as a vehicle for art. This view of Soviet art was
advanced by LEF (the Left Front for the Arts) in the late 1920s. Essentially the
reliance on current events as the source for new works of art was a political
concession which allowed politicians and not artists to determine subjects
worthy of artistic representation. Kharms's Incidents contain, on the contrary,
factually insignificant events, which are worthy of consideration only when
taken as part of a work of art.

84 The piece is dated 14 September 1937, and does not belong to the Incidents
cycle of stories. It was first published in Literaturnaya gazeta, 27, 1 July 1970.
The Russian text can be found in Polet v nebesa, 500, where it is placed in a
section with other letters. The content and style of 'Connection', however,
demand that it be regarded as a literary text. The English translation is in
Incidences, 130-32. Comwell gives the translation as 'The Connection'. Given
the nature of the connection and connections involved, neither the definite nor
the indefinite article is entirely appropriate, so I prefer 'Connection'.

85 This line is reminiscent of the famous hospital scene at the front in
Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago (Part 1, Chapter 10, Section 10) where only the
narrator is aware of the presence at the same place and same time of characters
some of whom do not recognise each other and some of whom will only be
recogisable to one another in the future. The narrator sees a connection where
they cannot.

86 Anatolii Aleksandrov identifies the philosopher specifically as Yakov
Druskin. Polet v nebesa, 537.

87 Jean-Philippe Jaccard, Daniil Harms et la fin de avant-garde russe, 247.
88 Lewis Carroll used to frame logical puzzles in the form of short narratives.
For examples of Carroll's puzzles see William Warren Bartiey ed., Lewis
Carroll's Symbolic Logic,
New York, 1986. More recent examples of short
stories as logical puzzles may be seen in the work of Jorge Luis Borges,
especially, his 'Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius'. Jorge Luis Borges, 'Tlon, Uqbar,
Orbis Tertius', in Labyrinths, Donald A.Yates and James E.Irby eds., London,
1970, 27-43.

89 Alice Stone Nakhimovsky notes of 'Connection': 'The order if it exists at
all glimmers playfully beyond the reach of human reason.' Alice Stone
Nakhimovsky, Laughter in the Void, 86. It certainly lies beyond the characters'
perception and, as is argued here, it would also be beyond that of the reader
were it not for Kharms's explicit authorial direction.

90 Woland displays a similar ability to look backward and forward in his
* prediction' of Berlioz's 'impending' death at the beginning of The Master and
Margarita.
Of course his knowledge of the improbable sequence of events
leading to the severing of Berlioz's head indicates that he has 'already'

NOTES
94
95
witnessed the occurrence. Mikhail Bulgakov, Master i Margarita, in Mikhail
Bulgakov: Izbrannoe,
M., 1983, 20-21.

91 The approach of detectives in traditional mystery stories is wonderfully
parodied by Douglas Adams in his novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective
Agency,
New York, 1987. Here the only 'solution' is an holistic composite
that takes account of all occurrences and treats them with equal respect and
significance. It follows that for Adams's hero, Dirk Gently, there is no such
thing as a red-herring.

92 As Bertram Miiller notes of 'Connection', men appear as 'objects of fate',
because 'they do not know what connection exists between them and they will
not know until their death'. Muller concludes, 'to make a generalisation, this
means that they do not know the sense [Sinn], provided by a philosophical
system, which their being [Dasein] has, because they do not know how this
system might look.' Bertram Muller, Absurde Literatur in Rutland: Entstehung
und Entwicklung,
Munich, 1978, 71.

93 Ellen Chances argues that 'Connection' reproduces a major theme from The
Brothers Karamazov,
namely the inter-connectedness of all things. Then,
however, she adds (incorrectly, I believe): 'Unlike the nineteenth-century
novel, Charms [sic] does not fasten the connections to a larger philosophical,
metaphysical, religious message. The connections remain dangling connec-
tions, not fitting into a larger framework.' Ellen B. Chances, 'Daniil Charms'
"Old Woman" Climbs Her Family Tree: "Starukha" and the Russian Literary
Past', Russian Literature, XVII, 1985, 356-66. Chances makes a similar
observation in her 'Cexov and Xarms: Story/Anti-Story', Russian Language
Journal,
XXXVI, 123-124,1982, 185. As the current discussion indicates,
Kharms's interest in the connections between disparate elements forms the
basis of the religious dimension to his prose.

96 Aleksandr Vvedenskii from The Grey Notebook (Seraya tetrad'), in
Aleksandr Vvedenskii: PSS, vol. 2, 184.

97 Like most of Kharms's work, this text remained unpublished until well after
his death. Indeed the definitive Russian text appeared only in 1988: 'Starukha',
Novyi mir, 4, 1988 and reprinted in Polet v nebesa, 398-430. An earlier
version published by George Gibian in Daniil Kharms: Izbrannoe, Wurzburg,
1974, is incomplete, as is Gibian'*s translation in The Man in the Black Coat,
Evanston, IL, 1987. A new English translation by Neil Cornwell from the
complete text is contained in Incidences, London, 1993.

98 See Neil Carrick, 'A Familiar Story: Insurgent Narratives and Generic
Refugees in Daniil Kharms's The Old Woman9, Modern Language Review,
90:3, 1995,707-21.

99 This post-modernist idea of a text being a composite of other famous
narratives recalls recent, experimental Russian fiction and, in particular, Viktor
Erofeev's 'Life with an Idiot' with its many textual references to Dostoevskii,
Gogol", and Lenin, among others. Viktor Erofeev, 'Zhizn' s idiotom', in
Viktor Erofeev: Izbrannoe, M., 1993, 178-94.

100 The name Sakerdon is highly unusual in Russian. As Aleksandrov notes, it
is derived from the Latin sacer meaning 'secret' or 'holy'. But it may also be
derived from sacerdos meaning 'priest'. As such it suggests that Sakerdon
Mikhailovich is more than an ordinary confidant and that he has access to
secret and, possibly, holy knowledge. In Kharms's works, such knowledge is
ordinarily available only to authors. Curiously, Aleksandrov reveals that the
original name for Sakerdon Mikhailovich was Nikolai Makarovich, the first
name and patronymic of the author and close friend of Kharms, Oleinikov.
Anatolii Aleksandrov, 'Primechaniya', Polet v nebesa, 531-2.

101 All page references are to Polet v nebesa.
102 The source of the epigraph, Hamsun, but not the specific work (Mysteries)
is given at the beginning of the text.

103 Sakerdon Mikhailovich gives a specific example of an 'improper' act. It is
'improper', he argues, to ask someone for a loan of fifty roubles when you
have just seen him place two hundred roubles in his pocket. By your actions
you deprive him of the chance to say he does not have the money, because he
knows you know he does (414-15). The narrator objects that one cannot
compare Sakerdon Mikhailovich's example with his question. To this
Sakerdon Mikhailovich replies, curiously, that he is not comparing them.
Perhaps Sakerdon Mikhailovich is alluding to the difference between a
material and an immaterial order?

104 The narrator's curiously negative formulation of his own 'beliefs' seems
to be derived from the following entry in Kharms's diary: 'A person does not
"believe" or "not believe", but "wants to believe" or "wants not to believe".
There are people who do not believe and do not not believe, because they do

NOTES
Chapter Three
94 There are a number of Kharms's sketches, from the early to mid-thirties,
that deal explicitly with the idea of authorship by featuring a protagonist who
bears a remarkable external resemblance to Kharms himself. The main
character is depicted in the knee-length checked trousers Kharms favoured,
smoking a pipe, even with a dog named 'Kepka' after Kharms's own. See the
story 'Morning' ('Utro', 1931/2), for example. Anna Gerasimova explores this
phenomonen in 'Daniil Kharms kak sochinitel' (problema chuda)', unpub-
lished manuscript.

95 It is one that Kharms apparently also sought. In his diary Kharms wrote: 'Is
there miracle? That is the question to which I would like to hear an answer.'
'Bozhe, kakaya uzhasnaya zhizn", Novyi mir, 2, 1992, 219.

NOTES
96
97
not want to believe and do not want not to believe. So I do not believe in myself, because I do not have the desire to believe or not to believe/ Entry for 23 November 1937. See 'Bozhe, kakaya uzhasnaya zhizn', 219. Emphasis in original.
105 This is essentially the thesis of Ivan's article on ecclesiastic courts which
is discussed at the gathering in the elder Zossima's cell. The Brothers
Karamazov,
tr. Constance Gamett, 78-9.

106 Dated June [?] 1938, 'Bozhe, kakaya uzhasnaya zhizn", 220. The narrator
talks of writing a 'brilliant piece (geniarnuyu veshchy to show Sakerdon
Mikhailovich. One wonders whether the narrator intends to seek immortality
through his writing.

107 Similarly, in Queen of Spades the death of the Countess sends Hermann
into an uncontrolled state of anxiety that ends in madness, and in Crime and
Punishment
the dead pawnbroker and her sister haunt Raskol'nikov until his
redemption begins through contact with a living woman, Sonya Marmeladova.

108 The kick is the equivalent of Ivan Karamazov throwing a glass at the devil
which is, as the devil is quick to point out, an admission that Ivan regards him
as a material being. The Brothers Karamazov, 790.

109 The Old Woman's position, on her hands and knees, suggests her relation
to animals and may refer to the narrator's earlier image of her as a 'dead
horse'. The narrator later senses that the Old Woman 'shivered [vzdrognulaY
(421). In Queen of Spades Hermann imagines that the dead Countess winks at
him from her coffin. Later the Queen of Spades, the card that proves to be
Hermann's undoing, also 'winks and smiles' at him. Hermann makes the
association between the two immediately and cries out: 'The old woman
[Starukhd\r A.S.Pushkin. Sobranie sochinenii v vos'mi tomakh, M., 1970,
vol. 8, 44.

110 The last time recorded by the narrator before the old woman's arrival is
'twenty past five' in the evening. When he regains consciousness the narrator
observes that the time is five-thirty, presumably in the morning, as his
neighbour is getting up. Thus the narrator has spent at least twelve hours
unconscious of the passing of time.

111 One could place these 'living dead' and the story in which they appear
among the 'living corpses' identified by Andrew Wachtel as a vital cultural
paradigm in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russia. Andrew Wachtel,
'Resurrection a la Russe: Tolstoy's The Living Corpse as Cultural Paradigm',
PMLA, 107:2, 1992,261-73.

112 Bespokoinik is an adaptation of the usual Russian word for 'deceased',
pokoinik, which derives from the word pokoi (peace) and evokes a sense of
eternal repose.

113 In this context, it is worth noting that in Russian the words pokoinik (the
deceased) and mertvets (a dead man) are treated as animate nouns (e.g. ya

NOTES
vide! mertvertsa'I saw the dead man'), whereas the word trup (corpse) is,
perhaps more logically, inanimate.

114 Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 65.
115 Fedor Dostoevski!, Raw Youth, tr. Constance Garnett, New York, 1916,
84.

116 Kharms's friend Yakov Druskin appears implicitly to have realised the
connection between Kharms's tale and Dostoevskii's 'idea' when, in his
commentary on The Old Woman, he argues that the 'consciousness' that the
miracle-worker 'could' perform miracles was enough for him. Yakov Druskui
'On Daniil Kharms', Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd, 22.

117 The Brothers Karamazov, 299.
118 The narrator later informs Sakerdon Mikhailovich disingenuously that he
spent all the time since their last meeting writing: ' ' (412).

119 The material aspect of the journey is emphasised with extreme
deliberation by Kharms by having his narrator take the train.

120 Contrast the narrator's gentle handling of the caterpillar with m<
Watchman's sadistic treatment of a fly in the story 'A Young Man wh<
Surprised a Watchman'. See Chapter Two.

Chapter Four
121 Henry Dumery, The Problem of God in Philosophy of Religion, tr. Charle
Courtney, Evanston, IL., 1964, 49.

122 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion cited in Stuart Sim
Negotiation With Paradox: Narrative Practice and Narrative Form in Bunya*
and Defoe,
Savage, MD, 1990, 25.

123 Nicholas Wollerstoff, 'John Calvin', The Encyclopedia of Philosophy
6
vols., New York, 1967, vol. 2, 7-9.

124 One of Calvin's favourite metaphors held that God was like thunder: on
could 'experience' it, but never claim to 'know' it. W.J.Bouwsma, 'Calvin
New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia, Chicago, 1991, vol. 15,451.

125 Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, in Sim, Negotiation wit
Paradox,
22. Italics mine.

126 W.J.Bouwsma, 'Calvin', New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedu
vol. 15,451.

127 Stuart Sim regards this reasoning to be 'an entirely characteristic Calvini:
paradox'. Negotiation with Paradox, 37.

128 M.Meilakh, Tredislovie', Aleksandr Vvedenskii: PSS, vol. 1, xiv.
129 David Edwards, 'Crisis Theology', in The Fontana Dictionary of Mode?
Thought,
Alan Bullock and Oliver Stallybrass eds., London, 1977, 145.

130 In his article on Vvedenskii's poem 'Kuprianov i Natasha', Druskin writ<
NOTE
98
99
that the poem contains similarities with aspects of dialectical theology which 'Vvedenskii did not know'. Cited by L.F.Katsis, 'Prolegomeny k teologii OBERIU',p. 99.
131 The discussion here is based on the summary of Earth's theology by
William Nicholls in Systematic and Philosophical Theology, London, 1969,
75-149.

132 Ibid., 86.
133 Karl Barm, The Humanity of God, cited in William Nicholls, Systematic
and Philosophical Theology,
85.

134 Ibid., 94.
135 Ibid., 87.
136 Barth indeed wrote an entire book on the argument's originator and main
proponent, Anselm, entitled Fides Quarens Intellectum, Anselms Beweis der
Existenz Gottes
(1931). For a fuller discussion of Barm's work on Anselm, see
William Nicholls, Systematic and Philosophical Theology, 103-9.

137 The basis for this recapitulation of the Argument is John Hick's entry 'The
Ontological Argument for the Existence of God', in The Encyclopedia of
Philosophy,
New York, 1967, vol. 5, 538-42.

138 Philip L.Quirm, 'The Philosophy of Religion', in The Cambridge
Dictionary of Philosophy,
ed. Robert Audi, Cambridge, 1995.

139 Ibid., 539.
140 Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, tr. Norman Kemp Smith,
London, 1933, 500ff. All subsequent references are to this edition.

141 Ibid., 502.
142 Ibid., 504-5. Emphasis in original.
143 The curious title refers to the text's original place in Kharms's 'Blue Note-
book' ('Golubaya tetrad"). He kept the reference to the story's original source
when he transferred it to the Incidents (Sluchai) notebook. In the original
'Notebook', which is now to be found in the Druskin archive in St.Petersburg,
GPB, fond 1232, ms. 75, the story is dated 7 January 1937. The Russian text is
in Polet v nebesa, p. 353. Aleksandrov's text, however, contains one crucial
textological error: he has zhil [lived] for byl [was] in the first sentence.

144 In the original 'Blue Notebook' the phrase is written in pencil on the
facing page with an arrow pointing to the story. When Kharms copied the story
into the Incidents notebook, however, he omitted the phrase. The phrase is not
included in the printed editions of the text. In a text that involves palpable
absence, this omission suggests yet another significant absence.

145 Yakov Druskin, 'Primechaniya k proizvedeniyam D.I.Kharmsa' (written
between 1974 and 1978). Druskin is discussing Kharms's article 'A Treatise
More or Less Summarizing Emerson' (Traktat bolee ili menee po konspektu
Emersona'). Before he wrote the article, Druskin notes, Kharms talked to him
of the worth of 'complete order' [sovershennyi poryadok]. Kharms contended

NOTES
that complete order, by virtue of its completeness and its lack of any fixed aim, should be to no purpose. Druskin relates Kharms's words to those of Kant, from Kant's The Critique of Judgement, I, 10, but Druskin then concludes: 'but D.I. [Kharms] had not read Kant'. Manuscript in GPB, fond 1232, ms. 16.
146 The concluding line of Kharms's story recalls the famous ending to
Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: 'Whereof one cannot speak,
thereof one must be silent.'

147 For Kharms, a philosophical and theological argument about ontology has
distinct mundane and political ramifications. The erasing of a figure was a
feature of Stalinist historiography and life. In literature the process is examined
and imitated in Orwell's 1984 and Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and
Forgetting.
For conections between these works and Kharms's Incidents, see
Neil Carrick, 'Daniil Kharms and the Art of Negation', especially 630-32.

148 In this regard Kharms's story can be read as a parody of Chebutykin's
speech in Chekhov's Three Sisters (Act ), where he claims that man, for all
his presumed intelligence, in fact knows nothing ('I know nothing, no-one
knows anything [Niche go a ne znayu, nikto niche go ne znaetY). Chebutykin
has earlier suggested that maybe he does not even exist but only has the
appearance of existing, of having arms and legs and a head. Between these two
speeches he drops his watch which smashes, an action that only underlines
Chebutykin's profound existential doubt: a lack of significance, of presence
and weight in the world around him. Chekhov's play culminates with that
doubt unresolved. To Chebutykin's 'it doesn't matter (vse ravno)\ Ol'ga
simply repeats, 'if we only knew (esli by znaty. Tri sestry, in A.P.Chekhov:
Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem,
vol. 12, M., 1978, especially 160 ff.
Kharms's 'Blue Notebook No. 10' transforms Chekhov's personal, existential
uncertainty into an ontological distrust of the existence of the world itself.

149 J.A.Cuddon cites Hamlet's farewell words to Gertrude as an example of
apophasis: 'Not this, by no means, that I bid you do: Let the bloat King tempt
you again to bed;' (Hamlet, , iv). J.A.Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary
Terms,
Harmondsworth, 1979, 52. Ann Shukman has also remarked on
Kharms's use of apophasis in this and other stories. See Ann Shukman,
'Toward a Poetics of the Absurd: The Prose Writings of Daniil Kharms', in
Discontinuous Discourses in Modern Russian Literature, ed. Catriona Kelly et
al., London, 1989, 60-72. Shukman argues that Kharms's use of pervasive
absence indicates a search for a hidden, misplaced or lost meaning that would
lend the stories intelligibility and coherence. However, Shukman does not
directly link Kharms's employment of apophasis in 'Blue Notebook No. 10'
with Negative Theology.

150 Rosalie Colie, Paradoxia Epidemic a: The Renaissance Tradition of
Paradox, 24.
151 In Orthodox religion the ideas of negative theology are linked with the
NOTES
100
teachings of Dionysius the Areopagite (1st century A.D.). For a brief summary of his teachings and influence, see Etienne Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, New York, 1955, 81-5.
152 Rosalie Colie, Paradoxia Epidemic a, 23.
153 Feuerbach added: 'Turn the sentence around and you have the truth, the
knowledge that man has of God is the knowledge that man has of himself, of
his own essence/ Feuerbach, Das Wesen des Christentums. Cited by Henry
Dumery, The Problem of God in Philosophy of Religion, 36, footnote.

154 Druskin's diary entry for 25 February 1942. Cited by Lidiya Druskina in
'Zhizn' ili zhitie? (Shtrikhi k portretu Ya.S.Druskina)', unpublished
manuscript, 23.

155 Cited in 'Zhizn' ili zhitie?' 15. Emphasis added.
156 Yakov Druskin, 'Chinari' (1985), 383.
157 Ibid., 403. Emphasis added.
158 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, cited in Sim,
Negotiation -with Paradox, 20.

159 William Nicholls, Systematic and Philosophical Theology, 107. Italics in
original.

160 Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 101.
161 Rosanna Giaquinta makes the distinction between an absurd effect and an
absurd condition in The Old Woman: 'We would assume that the absurd is not
an effect ("absurd" effect), not the result of a narrative situation, not the
product of an atmosphere built on specific techniques of expectation and
suspense, but an element, a condition predating the narration which we cannot
dispense with/ The world in The Old Woman is therefore absurd in its
essence. Rosanna Giaquinta, 'Elements of the Fantastic in Daniil Kharms's
Starukha\ in Neil Comwell ed., Daniil harms and the Poetics of the Absurd,
135-6.

162 It is curious that thus far all printed editions of Kharms's work omit the
line 'against Kant* from the margin of 'Blue Notebook No. 10' and thus abet
the removal of the author's presence!

163 Cited in William Nicholls, Systematic and Philosophical Theology, 94.
164 Camus, Myth of Sisyphus, 111.
SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
M. = Moscow, L. = Leningrad
I. Works by Daniil Kharms
In
Russian:

'Bozhe, kakaya uzhasnaya zhizn' i kakoe uzhasnoe u menya sostoyanie',
ed. V.Glotser, Novyi mir, 2, 1992, 192-224.
Daniil Kharms. Gorlo bredit britvoyu, ed. A.Kobrinskii and A.Ustinov,

Glagol,4, 1991.
Daniil Kharms. Izbrannoe, ed. G.Gibian, Wiirzburg, 1974.
Daniil Kharms. Proza, ed. A.A.Aleksandrov, L., 1990.
Daniil Kharms. Sobranie proizvedenii, 3 vols., ed. M.Meilakh and V.Erl',

Bremen, 1978.
Daniil Kharms. Starukha: rasskazy, stseny, povest', ed. V.Glotser, M.,

1991.
Polet v nebesa, ed. A.A.Aleksandrov, L., 1988.
'Proza', ed. I.Levin, Kontinent, 24, 1980, 271-95.
'Rasskazy Daniila Kharmsa', ed. 1 Levin, Soviet Union/Union

Sovietique, 7, 1980, 228-36.
In English:
Daniil Kharms: Incidences, ed. and tr. N.Cornwell, London, 1993.
Russia's Lost Literature of the Absurd: A Literary Discovery, ed. and tr.

G.Gibian, Ithaca, NY, 1971.
The Man in the Black Coat: Russia's Literature of the Absurd, ed. and tr.

G.Gibian, Evanston, IL., 1987.
The Plummeting Old Women, ed. and tr. N.Cornwell, Dublin, 1989.
'Yelizaveta Barn: A Dramatic Work. A new translation from the definitive

NOTES
102
103
text by Neil Corn well', in Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of
the Absurd,
ed. N.Cornwell, New York, 1991, 220-40.

Arndt, M., 'OBERIU', Gram, 81, 1971, 45-64.
Bakhterev, I., 'Kogda my byli molodymi (Nevydumannyi rasskaz)', in
Vospominaniya Zabolotskom, M., 1984, 57-100.
Bogomolov, N.A., '"Mydva grozoi zazhzhennye stvola": Erotika v

russkoi poezii ot simvolistov do oberiutov', Literaturnoe
obozrenie, 11, 1991, 56-65.
Carrick, N., 'Daniil Kharms and*the Art of Negation', Slavonic and East

European Review, 72:4, 1994, 622-43.
Carrick, N., 'A Familiar Story: Insurgent Narratives and Generic

Refugees in Daniil Kharms's The Old Woman', The Mod-
ern Language Review,
90:3, 1995, 707-21.
Carrick, N., 'Laughter Through Forgetting: Epistemology in the Prose of

Daniil Kharms', Proceedings of the SSREES Conference,
University of Strathclyde, 1997 (forthcoming).
Cassedy, S,, 'Daniil Kharms's Parody of Dostoevski!: Anti-Tragedy as

Political Comment', Canadian-American Slavic Studies, 18,
3, 1984, 268-84.
Chances, E.B., 'Cexov and Xarms: Story/Anti-Story', Russian Language

Journal XXXVI, 123-124, 1982, 181-91.
Chances, E.B., 'Daniil Charms' "Old Woman" Climbs her Family Tree:

"Starukha" and the Russian Literary Past', Russian Litera-
ture,
XVII, 1985, 353-66.
Cheron, G., 'Mixail Kuzmin and the Oberiuty: An Overview', Wiener

Slawistischer Almanach, 12, 1983,87-101.
Corn well, N., 'Introduction: Daniil Kharms, Black Miniaturist', in Daniil

Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd, ed. N.Cornwell,
3-21.
Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd: Essays and Materials, ed. and

introduced by N.Cornwell, New York, 1991.
Druskin, Ya.S., 'Primechaniya k proizvedeniyam D.I.Kharmsa', 1974 to

1978. Unpublished manuscript in Druskin archive, GPB,
fond 1232, ms. 16.
Druskin, Ya.S., 'Chinari', Wiener Slawistischer Almanach, 15,1985, 381-

403.
Druskin, Ya.S., 'Stadii pominaniya', Wiener Slawistischer Almanach, 15,

1985,405-13.
Druskin, Ya.S., 'Chinari', Avrora, 6, 1989, 103-15.
Druskin, Ya.S., 'Sny', Daugava, 3, 1990, 114-21.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
II. Secondary Sources: Literature by Oberiuty/Chinari, Memoirs and
Critical Studies

Aizlewood, R., '"Guilt Without Guilt" in Kharms's Story "The Old Woman"', Scottish Slavonic Review, 14, 1990,199-217.
Aizlewood, R., Towards an Interpretation of Kharms's Sluchai", in Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd, ed. N.Cornwell, New York, 1991, 97-122.
Aleksandrov, A.A. and M.Meilakh, Tvorchestvo Daniila Kharmsa' and Tvorchestvo A.Vvedenskogo', in Materialy XXII Nauch-noi studencheskoi konferentsii, Tartu, 1967, 101-4 and 105-9.
Aleksandrov, A.A., 'Oberiu. Predvaritel'nye zametki', Ceskoslovenska rusistika, XIII, 5, 1968, 296-303.
Aleksandrov, A.A., 'Materialy D.I.Kharmsa v rukopisnom otdele Push-kinskogo doma', in Ezhegodnik rukopisnogo otdela Push-kinskogo doma na 1978 g., L., 1980, 64-79.
Aleksandrov, A.A., 'Chudodei', in Polet v nebesa, ed. A.A.Aleksandrov, L., 1988,7-48.
Aleksandrov, A.A., 'Sud'ba chudodeya', Leningradskaya pravda, 21 October 1988.
Aleksandrov, A.A., 'Mesto smerti Daniila Kharmsa? Dokumenty i sudxby', Literaturnaya gazeta, 8, 21 February 1990, 5.
Aleksandrov, A.A., 'Evrika Oberiutov', in Vanna Arkhimeda, ed. A.A.Aleksandrov, L., 1991, 3-34.
Aleksandrov, A.A., 'Kratkaya khronika zhizni i tvorchestva Daniila JKharmsa', in Polet v nebesa, 538-55. (In English as: 'A Kharms Chronology', tr. N.Cornwell, in Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd, ed. N.Cornwell, 32-48.)
Aleksandrov, A.A., 'Primechaniya', in Polet v nebesa, ed. A.A.Aleksandrov, 505-37.
Anemone, A., 'The Anti-World of Daniil Kharms: On the Significance of the Absurd', in Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd, ed. N.Cornwell, 71-93.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
104
105
Glotser, V., 'Kharms sobiraet knigu', Russkaya literatura, 1, 1989, 206-
12.
Glotser, V., 'Posleslovie', Novyi mir, 2, 1992, 223.
Glotser, V., "Trudno predstavit' bez...", ili Kogo chestvovat'?' Literatur-

naya gazeta, 26, 24 June 1992, 5.
Gritsina, E.L, 'Elizaveta Ivanovna Gritsina vspominaet', Teatr, 11, 1991,

38-45.
Jaccard, J-P., 'De la realite au texte: L'absurde chez Daniil Harms',

Cahiers du monde russe et sovietique, XXVI, 3-4, 1985,
269-302.
Jaccard, J-P., 'Daniil Harms. Bibliographic', Cahiers du monde russe et

sovietique, XXVI, 3-4, 1985, 493-522.
Jaccard, J-P., 'Daniil Harms dans le contexte de la litterature de 1'absurde

russe et europeenne', in Contributions des savants suisses
X-e congres international des slavistes a Sofia, Bern, 1988,
145-69. (In English: 'Daniil Kharms in the Context of
Russian and European Literature of the Absurd', in Daniil
Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd, ed. N.Cornwell, 49-
70.)
Jaccard, J-P., 'Daniil Kharms: Teatr absurda - real'nyi teatr: prochtenie

p'esy Elizaveta Bam', Russian Literature, XXVII, 1990,
21-40.
Jaccard, J-P., Daniil Harms et la fin de avant-garde russe, Bern, 1991.
Jaccard, J-P., 'Strashnaya beskonechnost' Leonida Lipavskogo', Wiener

Slawistischer Almanach, 27, 1991, 229-32.
Kasack, W., 'Daniil Charms: Absurde Kunst in der Sowjetunion', Die

Welt der Slavenf XXI, 2, 1976, 70-80.
Katsis, L.F., 'Prolegomeny k teologii OBERIU: Daniil Kharms i Alek-

sandr Vvedenskii v kontektse Zaveta Sv. Dukha',
Literaturnoe obozrenie, 3-4, 1994, 94-101.
Kobrinsky, A., 'Some Features of the Poetics of Kharms's Prose: The

Story "Upadenie" ("The Falling")', tr. Neil Cornwell, in
Daniil Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd, ed. Neil
Cornwell, 149-55.
Lesnaya, L., 'YTUEREBO', Krasnaya gazeta, 24, 25 January 1928.
Levin, L, The Fifth Meaning of the Motor-Car: Malevich and the

Oberiuty', Soviet Union/Union Sovietique, 5, 1978, 287-
300.
Druskin, Ya.S., 'Kommunikativnost' v tvorchestve Aleksandra Vveden-
skogo', Teatr, 11, 1991, 80-94.
Druskin, Ya.S., 'On Daniil Kharms', tr. N.Cornwell, in Daniil Kharms

and the Poetics of the Absurd, ed. N.Cornwell, 22-31.
Druskina, L.S., 'Bylo takoe sodruzhestvo...' Wiener Slawistischer

Almanach, 15, 1985, 100-102.
Druskina, L.S., 'Zhizn' ili zhitie? (Shtrikhi k portretu Ya.S.Druskina)',

unpublished manuscript.
Faryno, J., 'Kharms's "1st Destruction'", tr. Neil Cornwell, in Daniil

Kharms and the Poetics of the Absurd, ed. N.Cornwell,
170-73.
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tion zum Schriftstellerkongrefl,
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Berlin, 1979.
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Kharmsa', Stanford Slavic Studies, 1, 1987, 247-58.
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1988,48-79.
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tation, Gorky Institute of World Literature, M., 1988.
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36-50. )
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proizvedenii', de visu, 0, 1992, 24-34. (NB The numeral 0
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unpublished manuscript.
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and the Poetics of the Absurd, ed. N.Cornwell, 132-48.
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1988, 129-32.
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INDEX
A Raw Youth, 56, 64-5
Crime and Punishment, 50, 55,
62, 67, 96
Notes From Underground, 26,
56, 64, 68, 88
The Brothers Karamazov,
39-40, 59, 65, 79, 88, 91, 94,
96
Druskin, Yakov, 1, 6, 31, 43, 71, 72, 74, 77, 85, 92, 93, 97, 98, 98-9
'A Formula for Non-exist-
ence', 77

Druskina, Lidiya, 2
Duchamp, Marcel, 32-4
Erofeev, Viktor
'Life with an Idiot', 95
Feuerbach, Ludwig 76,100
Fountain, 33

Gogol', Nikolai, 5, 14, 56, 64, 88
Gritsina, Elizaveta, 3

Hamsun, Knut, 56, 57, 88, 95
Kafka, Franz, 24
The Trial, 21-2

Adams, Douglas, Dirk Gently s Holistic Detective Agency, 94
Anselm, 76, 79, 98
'The Ontological Argument',
73, 74, 78

Aquinas, Thomas, 72
Barth, Karl ('Dialectical Theology'), 71-3, 78, 79, 80, 98
Belyi, Andrei, Petersburg, 56
Borges, Jorge Luis, 93
Bradbury, Ray, The Martian Chronicles, 92
Bulgakov, Mikhail, The Master and Margarita, 50, 92, 93-4
Calvin, John, ('Calvinism'),
70-71,72,78-9,80,97
Camus, Albert, 6, 30, 64, 79

The Myth of Sisyphus, 81
Carroll, Lewis 24, 88, 93

The Hunting of the Snark, 19
Chekhov, Anton

The Three Sisters, 99
Chinari, 1-2,77, 84, 92

Descartes, Rene, 73, 77
Dostoevski!, Fedor, 26, 60, 64,
67,79-80,92

BIBLIOGRAPHY
112
113
'What People Live By', 91, 92
Tomashevskii, Boris, 13, 15
Tufanov, Aleksandr, 2

'Rehabilitation', 90
'Symphony No.2', 33
'The Beginning of a Very Fine
Summer's Day [A Sympho-
ny] ',90

The Obstacle', 92
'The Old Woman', 5, 54ff.,
69-70,80,91,100
'The Plummeting Old
Women', 1 Iff., 34
'What They Sell in the Shops
Nowadays', 90
Kierkegaard, Soren, 77

Prutkov, Kozma, 5, 88
Pushkin, Aleksandr, 64

The Queen of Spades, 55, 62,
96
Shklovksii, Viktor, 10, 20
Sterne, Laurence

Tristram Shandy, 10, 20
Tertullian, 76, 77
Tolstoi, Lev

War and Peace, 28-9
Kant, Immanuel, 75-6, 78
The Critique of Pure Reason, 73-4
Kharms, Daniil
'A Meeting', 26, 32, 33
'A Sonnet', 33, 35
'A Young Man who Surprised
a Watchman', 35, 37ff., 97
'An Historical Episode', 33
'An Unsuccessful Show', 21,
26

'Blue Notebook No. 10', 74-5,
98, 99, 100
'Clunk!'26

'Connection', 36,46ff., 93, 94
Elizaveta Bam, 90
Tedya Davidovich', 92
'Five Unfinished Narratives',
90

'Four Illustrations of How a New Idea Disconcerts a Person who is Unprepared for it', 90
'How Heralds Visited Me', 42-3
'Incident with Petrakov', 26
Incidents (cycle), 5, 6, 9, 31,
80,93

'Incidents', 21
'Makarov and Petersen No.3', 35,43-4
'Mashkin Killed Koshkin', 32, 90
'Morning', 55,94
'On Equilibrium', 26
Takin and Rakukin', 90
'Pushkin and Gogol', 21

Vvedenskii, Aleksandr, 1, 2, 54,
77
Wittgenstein, Ludwig
Tractatus Logic -Philoso -
phicus, 99

Lear, Edward, 88
Leibnitz, Gottfried, 43, 79
Lem, Stanislaw

The Investigation, 23, 58
Lipavskii, Leonid, 2,43, 80, 85

'Conversations', 2
Malich, Marina, 2
Meyrink, Gustav, 88
Der Golem, 56

'Negative (Apophatic) Theo-
logy', 75, 76-7, 81, 99

OBERIU ('The Association for
Real Art'), 1,6,83
Oleinikov, Nikolai, 2,95

Pasternak, Boris
Doctor Zhivago, 93

INDEX
INDEX
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