How does one respond to a story when a quote from the writer asserts the practical meaninglessness of his work? I can say this: The New Yorker’s uncharacteristic decision to include a biography of the writer shot up my guard, and my sensibilities were further annoyed by the sentence, “Several books followed, as did festivals in Kharms’s honor and critical comparisons to Beckett, Camus, and Ionesco.” The New Yorker thinks Kharms is important or unique enough to warrant a posthumous publication; fine! but don’t defend your publication choices with anonymous praise (or praise at all).This decision made the New Yorker editors comparable to a woman buying a dress and telephoning her girlfriends to say all the great fashion editors said “purple hue, either plaid or striped” dresses are all the rage this season.
Forewarned of this writer’s greatness,I treaded warily. Can my opinion possibly have relevance? Somebody compared this guy to Beckett! Kharms already told me his work is nonsense; to use reason to describe, approach, or understand it is foolish. (What is wrong with us stupid readers? Why do we want drama, humor, beauty, tragedy, sex, or – for Shakespeare’s sake! – a little tension somewhere in our stories?) We fickle readers are like the Frenchman who “was given a couch, four chairs, and an armchair.” When he sits in the armchair, he finds it “a bit too opulent,” and decides it’s “better to be a little plainer, on the chair.” Hence, his move “to the chair by the window, but he was restless in this chair, because there was a kind of draft coming from the window.” The chair by the stove makes him feel tired, thus back to the arm chair he goes – only to decide, “it’s probably better on the couch.”
(7: 49 p.m.)
Often chatting witticisms online, I speculate about the person on the other side of the cyber landscape. If it is a girl, I imagine her clothing. Revelatory? Perhaps my female counterparts like to fumble around online naked? My male friends are easier to imagine. Budweiser in one hand, they are pretending to work out by playing Nintendo Wii, while taking self-portraits with their cell phones for their MySpace pages. Perhaps life existed before the internet, and people had to wonder about their neighbors. Forced to such imprisonment, I’d likely think “how strange, how indescribably strange, that behind the wall, this very wall, there’s a man with an angry face sitting on the floor with his legs stretched out, wearing red boots.” Really, internet or not, what is the point of thinking of others? Likely it’s “better not to think about him. What is he? [or rather how old is she really?] Is he not a particle of a dead life that has drifted in from the imaginary void?”
(7: 50 p.m.)
When words emerge on a virtual white screen, and the writer hunches over his electric -hot keyboard, dumbly tapping his fingers against letter-buttons, while an outside wino screams a tirade of curses at his girlfriend, (Winos do better with women than our writer.)and it seems to the writer that an thin coat of pomp and diction and circumstance separate his words, words, words! from the inebriated wino swooning against the concrete steps, and the writer’s fingers tap their tired utterances.
A writer by the name of A. Colom was hunched over his computer, dumbly tapping his keyboard, trying to write a response to a story. But his words began to sound like prattle. A. Colom slammed his forehead against the keyboard and listened to the wino outside.
Why is it I named a blog obsessed with the New Yorker’s fiction, Everything But the Fiction? Honestly, it’s because I question what percentage of people read the fiction in the New Yorker; considering the numerous times I hear the title of this blog - not very many. Weeks like this one, I almost can’t blame them. While much of the magazine deals with issues forcefully relevant, the fiction maintains a very literary aesthetic. This week’s story is an ideal example. Besides very intellectually savvy readers, who could possibly stomach this fiction? (Ironic since much of the story dismisses intellectualism.) More like prose poetry, this week’s story could turn a reader away from contemporary fiction forever. Of course, this isn’t contemporary literature, and I guess the magazine’s editors never promised to present to us the writers of our times, but to publish such an esoteric work from a Russian writer dead for over fifty years? One could say the work speaks so uniquely to its time, it demands a universal appeal. I think not. Neither do the New Yorker editors really. Hence, they felt compelled to place the work in a context.
I must apologize. I used the word esoteric like it is where Bin Laden is hiding. Esoteric work can be perplexing like a good mystery novel, one in which the labyrinth makes you more interested, not less. Several of these anecdotes are adroitly amusing. Absurd lines like “I found out that Sharik, Cinderyushkin, and Misha usually live in our stove” explode out of the text like a stand up comic’s swipe at the audience. Furthermore, several of these sections have moments of light, gleeful humor that thinly hides an intense loneliness and despondency. The unsettled Frenchman, for example, reminded me of both Kafka and Borges, except it had more humor than one usually expects from either of those two writers. Yet, too many times, the tone of these short pieces made them laugh alone. The humor within the jokes and ironic situations were withheld from the reader, as well as the characters. It’s like Kharms is really having his biggest laugh at the reader’s expense. Perhaps, Communism is the unspoken culprit. Life underneath it so senseless, Kharms felt comfort only in literature of the absurd. Similar to how I feel after writing this post in five minutes.