‘Anecdotes from the Life of Pushkin’ by Daniil Kharms

Kharms, the absurdist Russian grandfather of flash fiction, has many pieces that could be included in an anthology of the history of the form. For me, he can be too harmlessly gruesome (stories where one grandmother after another fall out of a window, for example). But this one I enjoy very much, because it does that charming, petty thing of taking a well-known figure and putting them in odd situations, rewriting what one might expect about their way of seeing the world and behaving in it. In these anecdotes, Kharms reforms Pushkin as a kind of benignly weird public nuisance:

‘6. Pushkin liked to throw stones. If he saw stones, then he would start throwing them. Sometimes he would fly into such a temper that he would stand there, red in the face, waving his arms and throwing stones. It really was rather awful!”

Pushkin, in Kharms’ narrative, also reacts badly to being teased by his friends (for having broken his legs and having to use a wheelchair), envies beard growth, and repeatedly falls out of chairs along with his ‘idiot sons’, none of whom know how to sit. What value does all of this have? Perhaps in the fact that it will forever alter your impression of Pushkin. Read Eugene Onegin, and imagine him leering over your shoulder, rock in hand. The world has been changed, just a little bit. For the better or worse is not the point.

(In Today I Wrote Nothing, Duckworth. Read online here)