There’s No Knowing Whom We are Even Talking About

‘There was formerly a king who had three daughters – that is, he would have had three, if he had one more, but some how or other the eldest never was born. She was extremely handsome, had a great deal of wit, and spoke French in perfection, as all the authors of that age  affirm, and yet none of them pretend that she ever existed.’

Horace Walpole, ‘The King and his Three Daughters’, Hieroglyphic Tales.

There was a red-haired man who had no eyes or ears. Neither did he have any hair, so he was called red-haired theoretically. He couldn’t speak, since he didn’t have a mouth. Neither did he have a nose. He didn’t even have any arms or legs. He had no stomach and he had no back and he had no spine and he had no innards whatsoever. He had nothing at all! Therefore there’s no knowing whom we are even talking about. In fact it’s better that we don’t say any more about him.

Daniil Kharms, ‘The Red-Haired Man’.

When I lived in Naples there was always a beggar woman at the gate of my palace, to whom I would toss some coins before climbing into my carriage. One day, surprised at never being thanked, I looked at the beggar woman. Now, as I looked at her, I saw that what I had taken for  a beggar woman was a wooden case painted green which contained some red earth and a few half-rotten bananas…

Max Jacob, ‘The Beggar Woman of Naples’, translated by John Ashberry.


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