Krasznahorkai has said that his literary hero is Kafka.
A page of text by Krasznahorkai undoubtedly has an alarming aspect. Commas and semicolons abound but full stops are rare, as are paragraphs.
Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai
The relentless, almost maniacal quality of page upon page of uninterrupted print reflects the insistent quality of the narrative, in which frantic internal monologue hints at imminent revelations both banal and abysmal. The Melancholy of Resistance concerns the appearance in a provincial Hungarian town of a mysterious travelling circus, whose only attraction is a vast preserved whale.
In War and War , written while Krasznahorkai was staying in New York with the poet Allen Ginsberg, a middle-aged Hungarian archivist discovers a manuscript of, he believes, transcendent significance. Krasznahorkai has lived in both Japan and China, and their landscapes and artistic sensibility haunt this fiction, beautifully translated by Ottilie Mulzet.
In every narrative, a gaze predominates.
Book review: Seiobo There Below
It might be the sun-bedazzled eyes of a visitor to the Acropolis who cannot see the wonder he has come to admire, or the burning eyes of a mysterious, shabby visitor to a Romanian artistic colony who secretly works on a subterranean vision of hell. She writes on books for the New Statesman. In one story, a team of conservators in modern-day Tokyo stand before the disassembled parts of an ancient Buddha, " So it is with the chapters of Seiobo — discrete, enthralling, partial, but pointing to the whole.
And Krasznahorkai emphasises this connectedness by numbering each chapter according to the Fibonacci sequence — the series where each number is the sum of the two which precede it. Beauty is an emissary of the eternal, a fleeting visitor born of restless desire, which nevertheless embodies peace.
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He names this spirit Seiobo , after a Japanese goddess. In this he invokes something like a Supreme Fiction — " As with Satantango , his remarkable debut, published almost 30 years ago but only translated in , the prose here has an unrelenting urgency, as though written under threat of extinction. Everything seems to be written in one breath, as if it were his last.
It is a deep, enfolding process, clause upon clause, like recursive waves, overlapping in a huge, unparagraphed sprawl. One chapter, a dense rumination on the ruined fortress of Alhambra, is written in a single sentence, a curling line, spiralling further and further inwards across 23 pages, ornamented with long, digressive flourishes.
Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai and Music & Literature Issue 2
Yet this book is not simply the free-floating fancies of a mystic or romantic aesthete. It is extensively researched, richly detailed, precise in its historical evocations, and committed to examining reality, even to the point of its disintegration.
And it is also, believe it or not, a very funny book. We travel with the hard-drinking assistants of Perugino, discover a Noh master who meditates while on the toilet, and meet an elderly attendant at the Louvre whose answer to every inquiry is "Praxiteles". What is left to us of that which is holy? Only fragments, fugitive signs that point to an unbearable loss.
To understand beauty, to know it, is to encounter desolation. Death is one face of truth. But there is another, and this book is written in its shadow.