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. During Yamamoto’s interview from last week’s section, he mentions how the African community whose music he tried to listen to “would play a piece of music with six of seven rhythms all at once.” [166] That seems to be a dead-on reference to Seven Samurai, how the film is spinning out seven (or eight, or nine) different rhythms all in counterpoint to each other.

Or you could look at it in terms of the multiple narratives DeWitt is overlaying here.

And of course, that’s just a couple of the ways this could be applied to the book.

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An annotation.

I have noted another small tidbit that, along with so many others, makes this novel so rewarding. There are quite a few indications on the weather in London, but there are two that are, perhaps, most significant than all the rest.

The first one occurs almost at the end of the first section, a few pages before the interlude. In my edition, on page 70:

“The wind is howling. A cold rain is falling. The brown paper window pane is flapping in the fierce rain and wind.”

I wouldn’t want to read too much into this kick off of the final part of the first section. It made me think of “All Along the Watchtower” but that’s probably nothing but a personal, or maybe generational association.

But then along comes something else, a repetition of sorts, that all but demands to be “read” if by reading we mean coming up with something to say about something that “strikes” us, retains our attention, stops the forward progress of reading for plot: something silly, unusual, vaguely significant at first but resistant to meaning. It’s located in chapter 7 of the second section. Chapter 7 is entitled “The End of the Line.” Sib is getting things ready for Ludo’s birthday, and indeed many things are coming to a close here, especially a lot of tension, anger and frustration all along the Circle Line:

“A soft rain is falling. The brown paper window pane is fluttering in the air.”

You can’t help but feel a bridge springing up between this two indications about the weather and the atmosphere inside. Kurosawa is famous for his “wipes”: weather patterns as reflections of characters’ moods. In the space of a hundred pages, Sib seems calmer, more confident than during the rain and wind “atmosphere” of the first section, where more often than not the general feeling was that she was in over her head. The brown paper window pane puts her in the same socio-economic straits (down and out, with a lot of despair to handle) as the farmers in The Seven Samurai. But now at least, it’s no longer flapping but fluttering. Fluttering is more peaceful than flapping, or at the very least more like hovering or hanging in suspense than the flapping which makes you worry that the whole thing is going to come undone.

David Foster Wallace does something like this, collapsing the two moments into one, with his use of “billowing” in Infinite Jest.

I was born in the windy city. Maybe that’s why I’m making a mountain out of this mole hill!

Prose is sometimes so close to poetry as to be indistinguishable from it. I think this is one of those times. It makes you wonder how many times this sort of thing comes off, in other novels, as well as it does in this one.

Coming in late this week, but I wanted to note the somewhat amazing fact that The Eskimo Book of Knowledge (p. 242 and following) is a real book by George Binney, published by Hudson’s Bay Company in 1931. On Google Books, you can read an excerpt from the book’s introduction and some historical context for the publication.

While searching for that, I discovered that someone has put together another annotation of references in this novel:

I am not sure that I correctly understood the Eskimo Book of Knowledge passage. What I read, perhaps mistakenly, was that the young boy is heroically about to obtain help from the Eskimo for the injured trapper, furthered by his few words of Inuit. But ironically having learnt words by rote from “The Eskimo Book of Knowledge” and without understanding their meaning or impact ends up insulting the potential saviours with tragic result. An example of learning a language but not communicating?

Is this how other readers took this passage?

Geoff, I read that passage as Ludo’s imagining of how it would go if he (or anyone) actually tried to communicate with the Inuit based on the not-so-helpful phrases provided in the book.

So, basically how you read it, except that the boy and the injured man don’t really exist in the world of the novel, they are just characters Ludo is imagining as he tries to learn yet another language that may help him when his world traveler father takes him along on his journeys.

The Latin American Mixtape

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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