On László Krasznahorkai’s “Seiobo There Below”

by Andrea Scrima

The stories in Seiobo There Below, if they can be called stories, begin with a bird, a snow-white heron that stands motionless in the shallow waters of the Kamo River in Kyoto with the world whirling noisily around it. Like the center of a vortex, the eye in a storm of unceasing, clamorous activity, it holds its curved neck still, impervious to the cars and buses and bicycles rushing past on the surrounding banks, an embodiment of grace and fortitude of concentration as it spies the water below and waits for its prey. We’ve only just begun reading this collection, and already László Krasznahorkai’s haunting prose has submerged us in the great panta rhei of life—Heraclitus’s aphorism that everything flows in a state of continuous change.

But the chapters of Seiobo There Below are not really independent stories; rather, they form a precisely composed sequence of illuminated moments that are interconnected in many complex ways. Of these, “Kamo-Hunter” is the only one that does not describe a process of artistic creation, but a bird’s (and by implication the narrator’s) power of focus, the heightened state of awareness necessary to stem itself against the wind and resist the pull of the current to remain perfectly still until the moment arrives to snatch up its prey. And suddenly it’s less a matter of the ceaseless movement of all things, but of absolute composure, a deepest possible being in the present tense, a kind of timelessness in which the moment and eternity conjoin to create a brief flash of transcendence. It is about “one time, immeasurable in its passing, and yet beyond all doubt extant, one time proceeding neither forward nor backwards, but just swirling and moving nowhere.” This, in short, is the nature of the concentration required to create art—and what makes “Kamo-Hunter” such a cogent opening to this novel. Read more »

Thomas Bernhard and the City of Dreams

by Leanne Ogasawara

Arriving in Vienna, we immediately set out for District 14, in the western suburbs of the city. Exhausted after the long journey from Los Angeles, all we wanted to do was get something to eat and crash out in our room. Unfortunately, Viennese architect Otto Wagner’s legendary church was only opened to the public for four hours a week –on Sundays from noon to 4pm. And today was Sunday, so it was now or never!

Completed in 1907, the Kirche am Steinhof is considered to be one of the the most beautiful Art Nouveau churches in the world. Located on top of a wooded hill (Ah, the Vienna Woods!), the church is part of a sprawling psychiatric hospital—once one of the largest in Europe. It is also the place where a dear friend of mine had gone on her first date with the man she fell madly in love with decades ago.

It was an odd spot for a first date. But my friend assured me: It had been perfect–and they were still going strong!

Still, I had never been on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital before. The guard stationed at the front gate inquired if we wanted to see the church: Kirche? We nodded, and he pointed up the hill. There were maybe a dozen old buildings, each set within its own grove of trees, dotting the extensive grounds. The church loomed large above the wooded landscape. Its golden dome–recently renovated– was gleaming in the brilliant sunlight. I could easily understand why the locals called it: limoniberg (the lemon hill).

The hospital grounds were a cheerful place. It was only later that I learned its terrible history. Read more »