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 the story a great deal, but the way it relates to the rest of The Last Samurai remains elusive.
There clearly are some links. Carey’s story of a search for a lost, silent tribe resonates quite obviously with that of Yamamoto the musician, from around page 166. As Yamamoto, Carey is a genius who is drawn far from civilization for his own obscure reasons. Also like Yamamoto, there’s a young boy to be saved, and things all turn out differently from what Carey first imagines.
Everything I’ve just described can be thought of as the story’s second part, with its first part being the story of the education of Carey and his friend, Raymond Decker, at Oxford. Quite different from the second part, this first is about the constraints that the typical structured education puts on genius: in order for Decker to pass his exams, Carey must goad him into not thinking so hard by making him play chess rapidly, thereby getting used to not looking for deep answers to questions. Decker’s problem is that he always tries to answer his exam questions as though they are serious questions, instead of tools to get him to demonstrate knowledge in a given line of inquiry.
Insomuch as its about anything, the whole of Carey’s story seems to be about a genius’s attempts to define his own reality. At one point int he story Carey reflects, “I can’t go back . . . What shall I do?”  This seems to be the question confronting geniuses again and again in The Last Samurai: convinced that they do not fit into the ready-made categories given by their family, school, society, etc, they seek to get outside them. You can see that in a very limited sort of example–as with Sibylla’s mother, who simply wants to leave her home situation and study music at Juilliard–or in a much more maximalist way, as with Carey, who attempts to leave human society altogether.
Carey’s story also throws young Ludo’s ambitions, or lack thereof, into relief. Immediately after finding out that Carey attended Oxford at the age of 15 (“if I get in at 15 people will always say He got into Oxford when he was 15″ ), Ludo wants to go at 11 (the youngest possible age for him). Similarly, both Carey’s and Decker’s stories demonstrate the essential pointlessness of learning something for any reason other than that you find it important to know. As such, it again raises the question of just why Ludo wants to be studying things like the mathematics of aerodynamics, which he does near the middle of this week’s section despite the fact that he finds it “practically impossible.” 
But, at any rate, I’ve gotten almost 500 words into this post without one saying the word father, so I feel like I’m burying the lede: in this section Ludo has two very unsatisfactory meetings with two potential fathers: “Liberace,” who is unmasked as the middlebrow travel writer Val Peters, and Carey. The former is identified by Sibylla as the man in question, but Ludo seems to raise the possibility that Carey might be his father, as he and Sibylla knew each other not too far from when Ludo was conceived.
I thought the meeting between Ludo and each man was very well handled–in each case Ludo gets something very different from both what he wants and what he thinks he’s going to get. I particularly liked the brief section after Ludo meets Peters: he tries to teach himself aerodynamics, but his thoughts are consistently impeded by the memory of his brief exchange with Peters, who never actually learns that Ludo is his son [314-5]. That section bespeaks of powerful emotions without ever describing them as such.
Another observation: I’ve finally accepted that, though Sibylla swears many times that it is a masterpiece of cinema, she only seems to ever watch one section of Seven Samurai. I wonder if that’s because this section (about a search for fathers and mastery of technique) makes a powerful impression on Ludo, and thus is the only part that he ever records in his journal; or rather is it in fact an exchange the Sibylla watches obsessively for her own reasons?
And lastly, since this section once again references the painting Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus (image above), I thought this gloss was interesting, as it essentially turns it into a parable about genius overcoming obstacles:
He had been himself shut up by one-eyed people, in a cave ‘darkened by laurels’ (getting no good, but only evil, from all the fame of the great of long ago) — he had seen his companions eaten in the cave by the one-eyed people — (many a painter of good promise had fallen by Turner’s side in those early toils of his); at last, when his own time had like to have come, he thrust the rugged pine-trunk — all ablaze — (rough nature, and the light of it) — into the faces of the one-eyed people, left them tearing their hair in the cloud-banks . . . and got away to open sea as the dawn broke over the Enchanted Islands. [13.136-137] — Landow, Aesthetic and Critical Theories
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