Edward Said – On Late Style

It’s good that Edward Said got far enough with the writing of this book to allow it to be published posthumously. It’s sad, though, that he was not able to finish it himself. The editors spliced together notes, lectures and essays into a book, without having to add any bridging paragraphs or explanations — all the words are Said’s.

But the trouble is that it reads like a bunch of essays and lecture notes spliced together. There’s nothing really tying it all together, apart from the overall theme of ‘lateness’. For Said, this means artists who towards the end of their careers do not bask in their achievements but remain dissatisfied: ‘artistic lateness not as harmony and resolution but as intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction.’ He is interested in artists who find themselves apart from their contemporaries, yet refuse to age gracefully. ‘It is as if having achieved age, they want none of its supposed serenity or maturity, or any of its amiability or official ingratiation. Yet in none of them is mortality denied or evaded, but keeps coming back as the theme of death which undermines, and strangely elevates their uses of language and the asthetic.’

Unfortunately, such passages are few and far between in ‘On Late Style.’ The book is mostly just an essay on Beethoven followed by an essay on Glenn Gould, followed by one on Benjamin Britten. All are interesting in their way, although I suffered from not being familiar with many of the examples he draws on. With a few months more work, they could have been shaped into a book, with a strong theme developed and the relevance of each essay made clear. Sadly that is just what was lacking, and so we are left with a half-formed book, promising much but leaving this reader wanting more.

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