Whereas Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance is a profound and hilarious whole, Seiobo There Below is a profound and melancholic collection of vignettes. Each of the 17 short fiction pieces (numbered on the Contents page according to the Fibonacci sequence*) captures the inexpressible numinosity of artistic creation, the quality that lies just beyond our ken. Krasznahorkai contemplates the ineffable in a heron’s stillness, the impossibility of comprehending the Acropolis, the ritualistic carving of a theatre mask, the never-resting practise of Noh, the magnificence of the Venus de Milo. A man’s insanity becomes manifest upon a viewing of Rublev’s Troika (or is it a copy?):-
“…and he also saw how in the middle of the big painting, and to the right, the colours were somewhat faded; then there was the staircase again, but now it was winding downward, and the gold leaf on the pictures gleamed, but what disturbed him the very most was that in between all of these simultaneous pictures flashing again and again were the three angels, as they bent their heads to one side, or more precisely, as the middle one and the one on the right bent their heads toward the one on the left, who bowed his head toward them, then all three of the angels looked at him, but just for a second, because almost immediately they disappeared only the colors remained, the luminous blue and crimson of their cloaks – of course not just any old luminous blue or any old crimson, if these were even blues or crimsons at all, he wasn’t even sure of that, and not even sure that it was even colors that he had seen, he wasn’t certain of anything at all, because they just flared up and then flashed away, but in such a way that the other pictures were flaring up and flashing away at the same time, with such speed in his head…”
The expression of an ancient statue of the Buddha restored in the most minute details is more than the sum of its parts –
“…the only problem is that when Master Fujimori stands behind the back of the young restorer and leans forward above his shoulder to examine the head and the two eyes, the words choke in his throat; the eyes, that is, really are finished, there can be no doubt to an expert, as Fujimori is himself, that his subordinate spoke correctly, the restoration of the two eyes is complete; it is, however, difficult to say exactly how this can be known, yet in any event, it is sufficient merely to look at the head of the Buddha affixed to Koinomi’s worktable, the diadems are still not screwed back into place, as someone else at another table is stabilizing their surface; it is enough to cast one glance to know perfectly that Koinomi is speaking the truth – the gaze is exactly what it should be, as it might have been originally in that year, sometime around 1367, when an unknown artist sought out by the Zengen-ji or recommended to them carved it; someone standing near the back formulates this thought in a muted voice when, at Koinomi’s announcement, everyone gathers around Koinomi and the workshop director: the gaze has ‘returned’ and everyone is visibly in agreement; indeed, captivated, they stare at this gaze, this look that ascends from below the two half-closed eyes, the gaze of this looking…”
The best pieces are those concerning Japanese rituals. Krasznahorkai (being himself a master of meticulous detail) depicts the ponderous attention to minute details of half-understood traditions in looping, glittering streams of breathless prose. Krasznahorkai does not wear his learning lightly. The stories can be difficult to read, replete as they are with the knowledge of painting, sculpting, and theatre that the author must have researched to the quantum level.
Stellar.[We had to look up “Fibonacci sequence” – each number is the sum of the two preceding ones, starting from 0 and 1 – Ed.]
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