Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Sean,

Thank you for the comments regarding my Last Samurai response. You seem to have captured and expanded the intent of my argument regarding Algren's dilemma. An expansion that was much needed. Reductive statements usually require such expansions. I agree that Algren always had the warrior virtue of Courage, but he lacked the full virtue of Arete. Skill at arms and courage are only part of the equation, skill at counsel is the other. Algren lacked this aspect for two reasons. First, he was in a subordinate position which prevented him from exercising the virtue (if he had it in the first place). Second, because he did not have a telos toward which to direct his counsel.

This is in a sense what I was hinting at with the Machiavellian. Not only, as you point out, is Algren's use of his courage pragmatic, it also is being used by others to direct classical virtue (Arete) toward an ignoble end (genocide). The Machiavellian conflict is not in Algren's nature per se, rather it is the crisis of someone who only has a part and not the whole of virtue. In The Laws, the Stranger goes to great lengths to show that Courage is only a part of virtue, Algren has courage. Algren lacks many other aspects of virtue at the beginning of the tale and habituates them in his encounter with Samurai honor.

Your opening comment regarding the probable decadence of "actual" Samurai culture brought a smile to my face. While I don't expressly state my opinions regarding this within the piece, my finishing quote from the Hagakure hinted at the disconnect between the movie's Samurai and those of history. With regard to this though, my arguments against the NRO piece stem not from a disagreement with Hibbs about historical accuracy. Rather, they stem from his criticism of American representations versus Japanese representations of historical Japan. His claim was that our representations are a bastardization and bad imitation, while Kurosawa's are authentic. My point was that Kurosawa's representations are not the sole representations of Feudal Japan, nor are they particularly Japanese. After all, when your films are based on King Lear (Ran), Macbeth (Throne of Blood), and Red Harvest (Yojimbo) the nature of the Western/Eastern dialogue already becomes readily apparent. If the quintessential Japanese filmmaker is using Western stories to tell "authentic" Japanese stories than any comments regarding Western bastardization of Japanese ideas seems moot. What seems to be happening is dialogue and not corruption. Especially since both seem to be borrowing the best from the other.

In many ways the encounter with Samurai honor is a re-encounter with Chivalric code. Something the West had abandoned, but may need. Though, like the real world Samurai, real world knights were far from the virtue exhibited by Galahad and Lancelot.
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