“I Am a Phenomenon Quite Out of the Ordinary” The Notebooks, Diaries and Letters of Daniil Kharms

“I Am a Phenomenon Quite Out of the Ordinary” The Notebooks, Diaries and Letters of Daniil Kharms

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Daniil Kharms
Edited by Anthony Anemone & Peter Scotto

Series: Cultural Revolutions: Russia in the Twentieth Century
ISBN: 9781936235964 (hardcover) / 9781618113726 (paper)
Pages: 588 pp.
Publication Date: February 2013

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AATSEEL 2014 Best Literary Translation into English

In addition to his numerous works in prose and poetry for both children and adults, Daniil Kharms (1905–1942), one of the founders of Russia’s “lost literature of the absurd,” wrote notebooks and a diary for most of his adult life. Published for the first time in recent years in Russian, these notebooks provide an intimate look at the daily life and struggles of one of the central figures of the literary avant-garde in Post-Revolutionary Leningrad. While Kharms’s stories have been translated and published in English, these diaries represent an invaluable source for English-language readers who, having already discovered Kharms in translation, desire to learn about the life and times of an avant-garde writer in the first decades of Soviet power.

August 30, 2013 - In this podcast, the third episode of "Subjected", host Justin Curfman discusses the life and work of early Soviet-era writer, poet, dramatist, and children's author, Daniil Kharms.

Featuring lengthy interviews with:

  • (31:25) Anthony Anemone, PhD (Univ. of CA, Berkeley) & Peter Scotto, PhD (Univ. of CA, Berkeley), translators & editors of the book "I Am a Phenomenon Quite out of the Ordinary: The Notebooks, Diaries & Letters of Daniil Kharms" (Academic Studies Press) 

March 5, 2014: LQ Podcast #57 Danill Kharms (http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/content/daniil-kharms#)

Anthony Anemone (PhD University of California, Berkeley) is associate professor of Russian language and literature at The New School. He is the author of numerous articles on modern Russian literature and cinema, and the editor of Just Assassins: The Culture of Terrorism in Russia (Northwestern UP 2010).

Peter Scotto (PhD University of California, Berkeley) is professor of Russian language and literature at Mount Holyoke College. He has published many articles on Russian poetry and prose, and his translation of Aleksandr Blok’s The Twelve appeared in the St. Petersburg Review in 2012.

The volume is unquestionably the most comprehensive biographical resource on Kharms available in English. . . . Avid Kharms readers will certainly enjoy the wealth of materials that this collection brings together and may be surprised and may be surprised by some aspects of his personality revealed here (for instance, his enthusiasm for chess problems). The book is also to be recommended to anyone with an interest in the Russian avant-grade or everyday life in 1920s and 1930s Leningrad. . . . The volume provides an excellent display of the style of an author whose dictum on writing applies equally well to his professional activities and his personal papers: ‘Always write with an interest and look on writing as a holiday’ (483).
— Geoff Cebula, Princeton University, Slavic and East European Journal, 58.2 (Summer 2014)
In producing this volume Anemone and Scotto have faced not just a challenge of translation, but also one of organization and interpretation. They have extracted material from the notebooks and arranged it in chronological order. They have added a potted biography, notes on their approach to the selection and treatment of the notebook entries, a chronology of events from Kharms’s life and times, a glossary of people, places and concepts, and a copious commentary to contextualize the entries. Yet, for all this imposed order, they have striven to represent the ‘wild heterogeneity’ (p. 45) of the original notebooks. The result is a fascinating, if disjointed, read. . . . Whether they represent a new genre or a collision of genres, the notebooks certainly offer another point of departure for elaborating Kharms’s artistic legacy. . . . Remaining true to [Iakov] Druskin’s view that life and art are close to indistinguishable in an author like Kharms, Anemone and Scotto have adopted a policy of maximum disclosure. This excellent compilation of Kharms’s notebooks can be seen, therefore, as both a biographical portrait and a literary-critical assessment.
— Neil Carrick, in The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 92, No. 3 (July 2014)
As the [editors] themselves clearly indicated in the section about their translation, their intention to write “a creative biography in documents” has been thoroughly accomplished. It is obvious that the [editors] are intimately familiar with and have made extensive use of the original handwritten sources and original documents. The translations are of a very high quality showing that the [editors] have attempted to bring out the full meaning of Kharms’ writings. For anyone interested in Daniil Kharms, his life and his times this book constitutes an invaluable source.
— Ayse Dietrich (Middle East Technical University), International Journal of Russian Studies, Issue No. 3 (2014/2)
Anemone and Scotto do an outstanding job in conveying the texture of Kharms’s writings. . . . The notebooks, diaries, and letters presented in ‘I Am a Phenomenon’ show the breadth of Kharms’s interests, in literature, music, art, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, religion. . . . Certain sections of the book can be seen as a creative workshop for Kharms’s literary works. . . a glimpse of contexts into which readers can place their knowledge of his literary works. More than that, the book documents Kharms’s hopes, doubts, frustrations, and physical and psychic pains about work and life. . . . Anemone and Scotto have done an excellent job. They state, ‘We believe that we have remained true to the spirit of the notebooks’ (p. 43). Absolutely!
— Ellen Chances (Princeton University) in The Russian Review, January 2014 (Vol. 73, No. 1)
[Kharms’s notebooks] are generously sampled and gracefully translated by Anemone (The New School) and Scotto (Mount Holyoke College). . . . Not only have they succeeded in producing a vivid, often poignant portrait of Kharms, they offer a host of new texts in English—many as funny, violent, and profoundly existential as any seen before. . . . Highly recommended.
— M. Kasper (emeritus, Amherst College) in CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, August 2013
Gives the best sense of any book in English of Kharms both within his context and as a deeply fascinating individual whose work can’t be explained away by the circumstances of its creation. . . . A huge addition to the Kharms canon in English. . . . Dozens of entries translated here for the first time that are just as great, as weird and delightful and mysterious, as his better-known works.
— Chris Cumming, review published on BOMBlog, August 1, 2013
Those familiar with Kharms (1905–1942) won’t need encouragement to pick up this collection of writing, much of it translated for the first time; this writer, a Soviet avant-garde legend, could make a dog laugh.
— Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Table of Contents

About this translation

Arrest by OGPU. December 1931
Diary 1932-1933
The Blue Notebook
Unknown years
Epilogue and Finale

Selected Bibliography
Glossary of Names, Places, Institutions and Concepts