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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Is the second sentence of that post a little off?

Or do I just need coffee?

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.

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

“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”?

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?

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.

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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