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Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

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Tale of Genji

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


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  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
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    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
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    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
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The Last Samurai: A Good Samurai Will Parry the Blow

I was out of action for half of last week, but I’m hoping to finish up The Last Samurai today and get together some concluding thoughts on the book in short order. In advance of that, here’s something that I can’t quite reconcile: I’m struck by the fact that Ludo compares declaring a man is his father to an elegant samurai cutting down a man with one awe-inspiring blow of his sword.

It’s funny, because in the first few iterations of this little game Ludo is playing, this oddness of this comparison didn’t register. But then it hit me, and now that I’ve seen it, this thought is coloring all the scenes where Ludo engages with prospective fathers. Where did Ludo get this idea that making a man his father is killing him?

This thought keys into another thought that I’ve been resisting since I started reading The Last Samurai: that one should have seen Seven Samurai to read this book. I generally don’t like to insist on the necessity of extra-textual materials to understanding a book, but given the centrality of this scene to Ludo’s understanding of life, one begins to believe that the scene should be apprehended as Ludo would have seen it. There might also be some value in knowing how this scene relates to other key scenes that are repeatedly evoked in The Last Samurai (e.g. the scene in which the samurai poses as a monk to kill the thief), as these scenes are quite clearly part of the “language” Ludo uses to comprehend the world.

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  1. The Last Samurai: Cultural Literacy and Other Grown-Up Things Now that we're into the meat of this book, I think it's time to talk about a theme I've been tracking for a while and...
  2. The Last Samurai: Fathers and Reasons I've been thinking a lot about the story of Hugh Carey this week, which comprises roughly the last half of this week's reading. I like...
  3. The Last Samurai References and Annotations Thread: Week 2 Here's the spot for any extra-textual matter you've seen referenced in pages 85 - 186 of The Last Samurai and want to share with everyone....
  4. The Last Samurai References and Annotations Thread: Week 3 Last Samurai-ers--you know what to do. And here's a thought that occurred to me from last week's section. . . . continue reading, and add...
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7 comments to The Last Samurai: A Good Samurai Will Parry the Blow

  • Is the second sentence of that post a little off?

    Or do I just need coffee?

  • Padraic

    It is an odd comparison at first, but isn’t the point that the one true Samurai (his ideal father) will not be cut down by the news? That’s the piano player, the last (or seventh) Samurai, he who parries the blow. The first six are struck down in one way or another.

  • Neil Griffin

    I’m getting Seven Samurai in the mail today. A little too late, unfortunately.

  • David C

    “Where did Ludo get this idea that making a man his father is killing him?” Perhaps Ludo feels that he has, in a way, killed his mother. Consider what she does for a living, the mind-numbing work of copying god-awful texts–shoveling cultural snow as Murakami puts it. Perhaps even worse than killing her, Ludo’s existence prevents her from killing herself, forcing her to labor away at those mundane words. Is it better to live X years or X years plus y years of copying “Goldfish Breeders Daily”?

  • David C

    I don’t mean to suggest Sibylla should kill herself because her life is mundane. But why is a person of her intelligence doing what she does for a living? Is her sudden silence as narrator a form of suicide? Or character-cide?

  • tom

    ON TRANSLATIONS

    The blog over at The Paris Review has an interesting post by Thessaly La Force (October 14th) in which we can read an exchange between Scott and Natasha Wimmer. At stake is the translation of the title of an essay by Roberto Bolano, entitled: La traduccion en un yunque. Ms. Wimmer translates this title: Translation is a testing ground. Scott expresses the shock of a gentle surprise at this translation, which, literally, would give: “Translation is an anvil.” The translator tries to parry the blow.

    The scene between Ludo and Kenzo is highlighted by a reprise of the dialogue between Mifune, who wants in, and the other Samurai. The translations in English and in French (the only two I have been able to consult) remind the reader that one of the major cognitive claims of Ludo’s mom is that Japanese is usually translated as penguin. (Natasha Wimmer tranlates Bolano’s title into penguin). Yai Kisama becomes Hey you,in English, and Hé toi in French. Fuzakeruma is what a nerve! in English, and quel culot in French. This passage, in which Ludo is laughing, as is Kenzo, at the perfectly concealed and delicious profanity that they are exchaning like kids on a playground, is one of the most moving passages in the book. Translation is an anvil, on which translators’ heads can be shaped to serve.

  • tom

    CARE OF THE SELF

    We can read letters between Seneca and Lucilius that have incredible resonance today. They talk about what I have been calling cultic behavior. Reading and writing as daily exercise, as techniques for the fostering of a self, for taking care of the self or soul, as techniques for increasing and honing the powers of attention and concentration necessary for its survival.

    Samurai can be drunken good for nothings, pretentious profiteers, or feckless fuckers. This is why samurai have to be sceened; it’s why Kurosawa is a peerless screener.

    I believe that a proper screening of the Samurai tradition yields concrete results in the tasks of 1) controlling one’s drives and 2) helping younger people, and old but not yet adult people, to achieve a self they can be proud of. This is obviously Ludo’s overweeing concern: to adopt someone who will not betray his confidence or disappoint his expectation. Someone who will be able to take up the slack left by his mother with her more and more foreign agenda, and with the steadily accruing signs that she won’t be able to make it alone. (Is there someone out there who still thinks she can make it alone?)

    In this sense of the term, we are all engaged in programs of adult education and re-education: we all have a vested interest in reform facilities: learning languages, learning how to wield the arms of contemporary life, and how to react, deal with, and turn impossibly desperate situations around.

    This is why the question of care, in medical, educational and philosophical circles has attained such a place of prominence, above all in the USA, in France, in Germany and in Japan. We must take care of ourselves — the self needs nurturing, are, vigilant defense and aggressive tactics to uproot it when it has turned into a stump. This ought to have been the interface between author and reading/writing public during the time elapsed if not invested by our reading group. It wasn’t exactly that.

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