Daniil Harms (1905-1942)

Fragment from the work Paw [Lapa], 1930, 0'52"
Voice – Ernest Peshkov
Recording – Miguel Molina, Audio Laboratory of the UPV Opt. of Sculpture (Valencia, Spain)
Production Date – 2007

Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachev (b. St. Petersburg 1905 - d. Leningrad/St. Petersburg 1942) was a writer who used various pseudonyms: Kharms, DanDan, Shardam, Charms or Daniil Harms (most frequently). It was even rumoured that he wrote some of these in his passport. His literary work was multifaceted: poetry, satirical miniatures, dramatic scenes, pseudo-scientific investigations and, in particular, children's literature. In 1928, along with Alexander Vvedensky, he founded the avant-garde collective OBERIU ("Union of Real Art") considered "the last Soviet avant-garde", which performed provocative spectacles based on "circus-like stunts", "cabaret-style events", "readings of nonsensical verse", and theatrical representations that were the forerunners of the future European Theatre of the Absurd. His objective was centred on the search for an autonomy of art beyond the rules and logic of the real world, with the aim of discovering new meanings in words freed from their practical function. That is why Harms, with his anti-rational verse and his non-linear theatre, has been associated with the literature of the absurd ("nonsense"). Affinities have also been found with Kafka, Beckett, Borges and the Surrealists. His eccentricity in literature and in his illogical, decadent public appearances (he dressed as an English dandy with a gourd pipe) led him to be considered as a "fool" or "crazy man" in the cultural circuits of Leningrad. In 1931, during Stalin's purges, he was arrested, along with the poet Alexander Vvedensky, as a member of "a group of anti-Soviet children's writers". In interrogations by the secret police, they were both accused of "encoding anti-Soviet messages in zaum or sound poetry". Once its public representations were forbidden, the OBERIU group disappeared. Harms died in a psychiatric hospital in 1942, during the Nazi siege of Leningrad. The work presented here has an ambiguous title, as the word "Iapa" in Russian is translated by "paw" (of an animal), but there is no correspondence with the text, so it has been understood that this word is "pure sound", expanding the meaning of that word in "connotative meanings" and enclosing an "impervious mystery" (according to Matvei Yankelevich who translated it into English). In the fragment that appeilrs in the recording, zaum words (trans-sense) are used along with other recognizable ones: "the moms", "the howls", "the thoughts", "the glue", "the nurse", all of them set out indistinctly in a column which makes the conventional words into a language that is also "trans-rational". The original manuscript is written on an "accountant's graph paper notebook", even respecting some signs such as a large "X" that appeared in "his accounts", this being interpreted as an "alternative ending" or as an accountant would say: "account closed".

Russian Futurists from the GLM Collection (1920-1959)
Sound Experiments in The Russian Avant-Garde (1908-1942)