Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Memories of the Future [wr. 1925-30], trans. Joanne Turnbull (NYRB Classics, 2009).
What Deleuze and Guattari write on the “absolute deterritorialization” of Kafka’s tales of metamorphosis also applies to Krzhizhanovsky:
[T]o stake out the path of escape in all its positivity, to cross a threshold, to reach a continuum of intensities that are valuable only in themselves, to find a world of pure intensities where all forms come undone. . . .
—Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (U Minnesota P, 1986) 13
He wrote out of a life that’s “not-life, a gap in existence,” viz (from The Barnes & Noble Review [12 Oct. 2009]):
The youngest of five siblings born to Polish Catholic parents in Kiev, Krzhizhanovsky (1887-1950) was a precocious youngster who found his way to Kant and Shakespeare. According to translator Joanne Turnbull’s introduction, it appears he used the Englishman as a hedge against the philosopher from Königsberg who spurred the author’s sense of metaphysical crisis. “Before [reading Kant] it had all seemed so simple: things cast shadows. But now it turned out that shadows cast things, or perhaps things didn’t exist at all. . . . [He] erased the fine line between ‘I’ and ‘not I.'” With Shakespeare, conversely, he took refuge in “a friend who could protect me from the metaphysical delusion.” Krzhizhanovsky’s restless narrative experimentation built on this enlightenment of his youth—to the detriment of his later attempts to secure a livelihood under Stalin’s regime.
The stories he produced between 1926 and 1930, from which the selections in the present volume—a new translation by Joanne Turnbull—are taken, bustle with humor, paradoxes, and aporias. Their philosophical enchantments call to mind the phrase, “fairytales for dialecticians,” which Walter Benjamin applied reverently to Kafka’s oeuvre. (Krzhizhanovsky did not encounter it until 1939.) Unsurprisingly, Gorky and the rest of the minders of socialist realism dismissed his fiction as extraneous to the needs of the literary marketplace. “A spy for European culture in the Bolshevik night” was how one critic summarized his outré status in what could be called a backhanded insult. Krzhizhanovsky absorbed these snubs, using them as kindling for his work.
His work is the stuff of nightmares—or, rather, dreams bodied forth, as he wrote: “A dream is the only instance when we apprehend our thoughts as external facts.”