Daniil Kharms: A Brief Background of the Russian Literary Rebel

Saurav Singh

Daniil Kharms (30 December 1905 – 2 February 1942) was an avant-garde Russian writer and poet during the early 20th century. His absurdist works blend elements of poetry, prose, and drama to create a unique style of writing. Today, Kharms is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in Russian literature and modern art.

Life and Career

Daniil Kharms is a renowned Russian avant-garde writer and poet. Born on 30 December 1905, Kharms was deeply interested in the intellectual and creative movements of his time. He was an active participant in the Soviet literary culture of the 1920s and 1930s, making noteworthy contributions to Constructivism and Futurism. Despite his immense talent as a writer, Kharms faced many obstacles during his lifetime due to oppressive government censorship laws that were commonplace during Stalin’s rule.

Kharm’s writings often possessed surrealistic qualities that were heavily influenced by Dadaism and other contemporary artistic styles. His works ranged from poetry and short prose to plays, children’s stories, theoretical essays, and more abstract forms of writing. During this period, he also wrote radio plays for various children’s programs on All Union Radio Station.

23 August 1941 – Kharms was arrested for spreading “libellous and defeatist mood. According to the NKVD report, Kharms said:

The USSR lost the war on its first day. Leningrad will be either besieged or starved to death. Or it will be bombed to the ground, leaving no stone standing. If they give me a mobilization order, I will punch the commander in the face, let them shoot me, but I will not put on the uniform and will not serve in the soviet forces, I do not wish to be such trash. If they force me to fire a machine gun from rooftops during street-to-street fights with the Germans, I would shoot not at the Germans, but at them, from the very same machine gun.

To avoid execution, Kharms simulated insanity; the military tribunal ordered him to be kept in the psychiatric ward of the ‘Kresty’ prison due to the severity of the crime. Daniil Kharms died of starvation on 2 February 1942 during the siege of Leningrad.

Award and Legacy

Kharms has made an incredible impact on the world of literature, having been nominated for several prestigious awards in Russia such as the Lenin Prize, and awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour by Soviet authorities. His unique humor and imaginative storytelling have gained him widespread recognition, making him one of the most influential writers to come out of Russia in the 20th century.

Kharms’ legacy has endured long past his death thanks in part to film adaptations of his work, as well as English translations which are widely available today. His stories explore themes such as absurdity, violence, and surrealism that still resonate with modern readers.

On 30 December 2013, a Google Doodle was created to celebrate Daniil Kharms’ 108th Birthday.