Sunday, April 29, 2007

RIP: Josh Hancock & David Halberstam + Rogers's Prize + Poem: Daniil Kharms

I am very sorry to hear about the tragic death of Saint Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, who was killed early this morning when he drove into a tow truck parked in the left lane on one of St. Louis's main highways. He was 29 years old. Last season, he appeared in 62 games for the World Series winners, and posted decent numbers up until the championship series. Previously he'd pitched for Cincinnati, Boston, and Philadelphia. This is the second time in the last few years that the Cardinals have lost a pitcher to untimely death; starter Darryl Kile, only 33 years old, died in his sleep of a heart attack during the 2002 season. I imagine that the team is in a state of shock right now, and will play the rest of the season under the cloud of this loss and thus in memory of Hancock, who was so integral to last year's success and to this year's squad. My thoughts are with them.

Reggie has a great long post on the recent passing of journalist and author David Halberstam, who also died in a tragic car crash this week, and was everything that so many of the "mainstream" journalists, especially the ones given to punditizing, are not.

A great quote from him:

"If you're a reporter, the easiest thing in the world is to get a story. The hardest thing is to verify. The old sins were about getting something wrong, that was a cardinal sin. The new sin is to be boring."

Journalists, are you taking note(s)?


I realized I hadn't written anything about Richard Rogers's Pritzker Prize yet (and now another month is almost over!). Hurray for him! I managed to snap a number of shots of one of his masterpieces, which is also one of my favorite museums in the world, the Centre Georges Pompidou, which is one of the true visual icons of contemporary Paris. He is also designing the addition to fellow Pritzker Prize winner I. M. Pei's hideous Jacob Javits Center in New York, which probably could have used a lot more color, a livelier external carapace, or something, but we all make mistakes, some of them monumental. Rogers's addition certainly can't hurt. The Millennium Dome isn't ugly, it just didn't draw as many visitors as the British government would have liked. Many of his other buildings are up to the Pompidou level--like the Lloyd's Tower in London, or the brightly colored Minami Yamashiro School in Tokyo. I always think Santiago Calatrava is next in line for this award, but I'm sure his time is coming. Meanwhile, enjoy the Pompidou.

Its front plaza

From the rear

Inside, behind the Samuel Beckett exhibit

People on the front plaza, from high up, on the escalator


Apropos of nothing that I've just written about (or perhaps it was the Pompidou and Beckett, if I work backwards) here's a "poem" by one of Russia's least known but important 20th century avant-garde authors, Daniil Kharms (the pen name of Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov, 1905-1942), who ran afoul of the Soviet authorities, was exiled to Kursk, and then died of starvation while in prison during World War II. In the late 1930s, Kharms, who had co-founded the left-leaning Oberiu literary group in 1927 with his close friend Aleksandr Vvedensky (1900-1941) and poet Nikolay Zabolotsky (1903-1958), found that he could neither perform nor publish his formally experimental, socially provocative work for adults, so he took to writing children's books, which worked out until he crossed an imaginary line of provocation in 1937. During the last decade or so of his life, he wrote a number of absurdist prose works, which he kept hidden from the authorities' view, and which were not published until the period of the Krushchev "thaw" in the 1960s. Many of his short prose pieces are ironic to the point of absurdity in theme and thrust, and include moments of meaningless violence, reflective, I would venture, of the increasingly brutal, totalitarian society he found himself in during the inter-war period. Ironically, the Party figures and censors could brook little overt irony or absurdity as each increased, in real, material terms.

Here is "Sonnet"--from the collection Incidents (c. 1930)--which is anything but.


A surprising thing happened to me: I suddenly forgot which comes first -- 7 or 8.
I went off to the neighbours and asked them what they thought on the subject.
Just imagine their and my surprise when they suddenly discovered that they too couldn't recall how to count: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 they remembered, but they'd forgotten what followed.
We all went to the overpriced food shop, the Gastronom on the corner of Znamenskaya and Basseynaya street, and put our quandary to the cashier. The cashier smiled sadly, pulled a small hammer out of her mouth and, twitching her nose a bit, said -- I should think seven comes after eight whenever eight comes after seven.
We thanked the cashier and joyfully ran out of the shop. But then, having thought about the cashier's words, we got depressed again, since her words seemed to us to be devoid of any sense.
What were we to do? We went to the Summer Garden and started counting the trees there. But, getting as far as 6, we stopped and began to argue: in the opinion of some, 7 came next, and in the opinion of others -- 8.
We would have argued for ages, but fortunately then some child fell off a park bench and broke both his jaw-bones. This distracted us from our argument.
And then we dispersed homewards.

Copyright © 1930, 2007, Daniil Kharms, translation by Serge Winitzki.


  1. John,
    As I sit working on music analysis for some deceptively simple work, this Daniil Kharms poem makes absolute sense to me, and I love the detail of the small hammer in the clerk's mouth. My sympathies to the St. Louis Cardinals family and fans, how sad. I'm still shaking my head over Halberstam. Re: Jamaica, I'm waiting to hear what might be in the works regarding the recent attack. It's quite frightening that, as a Rod 2.0 reader commented, with all the social and economic issues concerning Jamaica that many citizens and leaders are going the way of deflective social conservativism in order maintain an oversimplified sense of national order and agency. But look! What's that unsightly bait and switch in my own national backyard...?! Hmm...

  2. Audiologo, that's so cool that the Kharms makes sense to you. It does to me as well, even though his aim is to be as absurd as possible. The more I read his work the more I understand why he ended up writing children's literature.

    Halberstam, very sad. The Cardinals' pitcher's death appears to be far more complicated, but still tragic.

    Jamaica: you're right, and the various societal crises that country faces, around its economy, employment, its social mores, how masculinity relates to all of these, and so on, does appear to be transferred and displaced (I cannot remember the Freudian term) into a particular kind of social conservatism (because from what I can tell, gender roles vis-a-vis Jamaican working-class and middle-class women are not so restrictive) that casts homosexuality, particularly when it is "visible," and transgenderism as as a threat. Many of the traditional discourses of pollution, disease, danger, etc., of overt harm to the Jamaican national body, appear to pop up in these mob scenes. It's as if folks are trying to beat and destroy the thing that threatens, by its very presence, to undo the nation. It's really out of control, but it's also a legacy of British rule. Just note that wherever the British ruled, those countries have some of the most restrictive laws against homosexuality.