A Soviet-era, Polish-born, Ukrainian-raised writer named Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky was the subject of a short profile and review over at The Nation last week. The article focuses on one of Krzhizhanovsky’s stories called “Quadraturin” (which you can read in full online).
The basic gist is that a man named Sutulin, a “Soviet city dweller” who owns an impossibly cramped apartment, is convinced by a stranger who comes to his door one day to “take a free sample of an experimental substance that is supposed to make rooms bigger.” This “substance” is Quadraturin.
“Sutulin begins to apply the Quadraturin to his walls,” The Nation explains, “as the instructions on the tube advise, but he accidentally spills the entire contents of the tube on his floor.”
He wakes up the next morning in a “faintly familiar, large, but ungainly room,” where his furniture looks awkward and the angles of the walls are uneven. He enjoys the novel pleasure of strolling from one end of his room to the other, but he must enjoy it in secret, for like other citizens he is legally allotted only ninety-seven square feet of living space, and owning more than his share could mean losing his apartment.
After he stands there for a moment, in awe of his apartment’s new, slightly bulbous dimensionality, he begins “rearranging the furniture to fit the new space,” as Krzhizhanovsky himself puts it.
But nothing worked: the abbreviated rug, when moved back beside the bed, exposed worn, bare floorboards; the table and the stool, pushed by habit against the head of the bed, had disencumbered an empty corner latticed with cobwebs and littered with shreds and tatters, once artfully masked by the corner’s own crowdedness and the shadow of the table. With a triumphant, but slightly frightened smile, Sutulin went all round his new, practically squared square, scrutinizing every detail. He noted with displeasure that the room had grown more in some places than in others: an external corner, the angle of which was now obtuse, had made the wall askew; Quadraturin, apparently, did not work as well on internal corners; carefully as Sutulin had applied the essence, the experiment had produced somewhat uneven results.
Sensing that something has gone horribly wrong and that he might soon face the wrath of his building superintendent, he “realizes he has to buy curtains to hide his apartment from the eyes of passers-by.”
And “it only gets worse from there,” The Nation adds: “every time Sutulin leaves the room, he returns to find that his apartment has grown still bigger.”
He realizes that he forgot to apply Quadraturin to the ceiling, so his apartment is only growing outward, not upward, the dimensions increasingly oppressive even as the room becomes larger. It outgrows its electric circuitry and Sutulin is trapped in the darkness. “He knew that there, behind his back, the dead, Quadraturinized space with its black corners was still spreading.”
It’s an amazing image—I’m particularly struck by the idea of a space outgrowing its electric circuitry, like a body grown so monstrous it leaves behind its old nerves.
(Spotted via @PD_Smith).