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On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain [Format Kindle]

Edward Said

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Timeliness and Lateness

The relationship between bodily condition and aesthetic style seems at first to be a subject so irrelevant and perhaps even trivial by comparison with the momentousness of life, mortality, medical science, and health, as to be quickly dismissed. Nevertheless, my contention is as follows: all of us, by virtue of the simple fact of being conscious, are involved in constantly thinking about and making something of our lives, self-making being one of the bases of history, which according to Ibn Khaldun and Vico, the great founders of the science of history, is essentially the product of human labor.

The important distinction therefore is that between the realm of nature on the one hand and secular human history on the other. The body, its health, its care, composition, functioning, and flourishing, its illnesses and demise, belong to the order of nature; what we understand of that nature, however, how we see and live it in our consciousness, how we create a sense of our life individually and collectively, subjectively as well as socially, how we divide it into periods, belongs roughly speaking to the order of history that when we reflect on it we can recall, analyze, and meditate on, constantly changing its shape in the process. There are all sorts of connections between the two realms, between history and nature, but for now I want to keep them apart and focus only on one of them, history.

Being myself a profoundly secular person, I have for years been studying this self-making process through three great problematics, three great human episodes common to all cultures and traditions, and it is the third of these problematics that I want specifically to discuss in this book. But for purposes of clarity, let me quickly summarize one and two. The first is the whole notion of beginning, the moment of birth and ori- gin, which in the context of history is all the material that goes into thinking about how a given process, its establishment and institution, life, project, and so on, gets started. Thirty years ago I published a book called Beginnings: Intention and Method about how the mind finds it necessary at certain times to retrospectively locate a point of origin for itself as to how things begin in the most elementary sense with birth. In fields like history and the study of culture, memory and retrospec- tion draw us to the onset of important things—for example, the beginnings of industrialization, of scientific medicine, of the romantic period, and so on. Individually, the chronology of discovery is as important for a scientist as it is for someone like Immanuel Kant who reads David Hume for the first time and, he says memorably, is briskly awakened from his dogmatic slumber. In Western literature, the form of the novel is coincidental with the emergence of the bourgeoisie in the late seventeenth century, and this is why, for its first century, the novel is all about birth, possible orphanhood, the discovery of roots, and the creation of a new world, a career, and society. Robinson Crusoe. Tom Jones. Tristram Shandy.

To locate a beginning in retrospective time is to ground a project (such as an experiment, or a governmental commission, or Dickens’s beginning to write Bleak House) in that moment, which is always subject to revision. Beginnings of this sort necessarily involve an intention that either is fulfilled, totally or in part, or is viewed as totally failed, in successive time. And so the second great problematic is about the continuity that occurs after birth, the exfoliation from a beginning: in the time from birth to youth, reproductive generation, maturity. Every culture offers and circulates images of what has been wonderfully called the dialectic of incarnation, or in François Jacob’s phrase, la logique du vivant. Again to give examples from the history of the novel (the Western aesthetic form that offers the largest and most complex image of ourselves that we have), there is the bildungsroman or novel of education, the novel of idealism and disappointment (L’Education sentimentale, Les Illusions perdues), the novel of immaturity and community (like George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which the English critic Gillian Beer has shown was powerfully influenced by what she calls Dar- win’s plots for the patterns of generation that structure this great novel of nineteenth-century British society). Other aesthetic forms, in music and painting, follow similar patterns.

But there are also exceptions, examples of deviation from the overall assumed pattern to human life. One thinks of Gulliver’s Travels, Crime and Punishment, and The Trial, works that seem to break away from the amazingly persistent underlying compact between the notion of the successive ages of man (as in Shakespeare) and aesthetic reflections of and on them. For it bears saying explicitly that both in art and in our general ideas about the passage of human life there is assumed to be a general abiding timeliness, by which I mean that what is appropriate to early life is not appropriate for later stages, and vice versa. You will recall, for example, the stern biblical observation that to everything there is a season and a time, to every purpose under the heaven, a time to be born, and a time to die, and so on: “wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him? . . . All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean.”

In other words, we assume that the essential health of a human life has a great deal to do with its correspondence to its time, the fitting together of one to the other, and therefore its appropriateness or timeliness. Comedy, for instance, seeks its material in untimely behavior, an old man falling in love with a young woman (May in December), as in Molière and Chaucer, a philosopher acting like a child, a well person feigning illness. But it is also comedy as a form that brings about the restoration of timeliness through the kommos with which the work usually concludes, the marriage of young lovers.

I come finally to the last great problematic, which for obvious personal reasons is my subject here—the last or late period of life, the decay of the body, the onset of ill health or other factors that even in a younger person bring on the possibility of an untimely end. I shall focus on great artists and how near the end of their lives their work and thought acquires a new idiom, what I shall be calling a late style.

Does one grow wiser with age, and are there unique qualities of perception and form that artists acquire as a result of age in the late phase of their career? We meet the accepted notion of age and wisdom in some last works that reflect a special maturity, a new spirit of reconciliation and serenity often expressed in terms of a miraculous transfiguration of common reality. In late plays such as The Tempest or The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare returns to the forms of romance and parable; similarly, in Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, the aged hero is portrayed as having finally attained a remarkable holiness and sense of resolution. Or there is the well-known case of Verdi who, in his final years, produced Othello and Falstaff, works that exude not so much a spirit of wise resignation as a renewed, almost youthful energy that attests to an apotheosis of artistic creativity and power.

Each of us can readily supply evidence of how it is that late works crown a lifetime of aesthetic endeavor. Rembrandt and Matisse, Bach and Wagner. But what of artistic lateness not as harmony and resolution but as intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction? What if age and ill health don’t produce the serenity of “ripeness is all”? This is the case with Ibsen, whose final works, especially When We Dead Awaken, tear apart the career and the artist’s craft and reopen the questions of meaning, success, and progress that the artist’s late period is supposed to move beyond. Far from resolution, then, Ibsen’s last plays suggest an angry and disturbed artist for whom the medium of drama provides an occasion to stir up more anxiety, tamper irrevocably with the possibility of closure, and leave the audience more perplexed and unsettled than before.

It is this second type of lateness as a factor of style that I find deeply interesting. I’d like to explore the experience of late style that involves a nonharmonious, nonserene tension, and above all, a sort of deliberately unproductive productiveness going against. . . .

Adorno used the phrase “late style” most memorably in an essay fragment entitled “Spätstil Beethovens,” dated 1937 and included in a 1964 collection of musical essays, Moments musicaux, then again in Essays on Music, a posthumously published (1993) book on Beethoven. For Adorno, far more than for anyone who has spoken of Beethoven’s last works, those compositions that belong to what is known as the composer’s third period (the last five piano sonatas, the Ninth Symphony, the Missa Solemnis, the last six string quartets, the seventeen bagatelles for piano) constitute an event in the history of modern culture: a moment when the artist who is fully in command of his medium nevertheless abandons communication with the established social order of which he is a part and achieves a contradictory, alienated relationship with it. His late works constitute a form of exile. One of Adorno’s most extraordinary essays, included in the same collection with the late-style fragment, is on the Missa Solemnis, which he calls an alienated masterpiece (verfremdetes Hauptwerk) by virtue of its difficulty, its archaisms, and i...

Revue de presse

“Edward W. Said was himself an example of ‘the virtuoso as intellectual,’ as he has referred to Glenn Gould. Strauss, Beethoven, Schoenberg, Mann, Genet, Adorno, Lampedusa, Visconti, and Gramsci are all in this brilliant book—a profound statement of Said’s humanity, which I can only find encouraging as I face the inevitable predicament of the late stage of my own life.”

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  • Format : Format Kindle
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  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 208 pages
  • Editeur : Bloomsbury Paperbacks; Édition : 1 (8 juillet 2014)
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  • Langue : Anglais
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Amazon.com: 4.0 étoiles sur 5  3 commentaires
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Penetrating Meditations on Lateness 25 août 2011
Par A Certain Bibliophile - Publié sur Amazon.com
Edward Said, perhaps best known for "Orientalism," one of the most-recognized and important contributions to post-colonial studies, wrote the essays in "On Late Style" shortly before his death. The sense of "lateness" - of mortality, of obsolescence - permeates them, and they cover everything from the music of Strauss, Mozart, and Beethoven, to the political activism of Jean Genet, to "Il Gattopardo" (as envisioned by both Lampedusa and Visconti). In many ways, this is Said's last conversation with Theodor Adorno, whose presence deeply informs his criticism in many of these essays.

The book begins by reading around lateness as an aspect of chronological development - as synonymous with maturity - and opens the concept up as something that can realize "intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction," instead of the facile harmony and resolution that seeks the end of all tension. Said claims that late style refuses to reconcile what is impossible to reconcile, and that this reconciliation is oftentimes just a refusal to accept difference. It "grasps the difficulty of what cannot be grasped and then goes forth to try anyway." Musicologist Rose Subotnik says of the late work of Beethoven, no doubt with his Missa Solemnis or the Ninth Symphony in mind, "no synthesis is conceivable [but is in effect] the remains of a synthesis, the vestige of an individual human subject sorely aware of its wholeness, and consequently the survival, that has eluded it forever." It is this idea of lateness - which is quite distinct from, but not completely unrelated to, mortality and death - which Said puts to critical use in these wonderful essays.

While I think that everything in the book is worth reading, a few essays especially jumped out as being worthy of attention. In "Return to the Eighteenth Century," Said sets out to carve a middle path between two radically different opinions on the late operas of Richard Strauss. Adorno's rejection and derision of them is total, saying that he "intended to master music without submitting to its discipline" and that "his ego ideal is now fully identified with the Freudian genital-character who is uninhibitedly out for his own pleasure." Compare this with Glenn Gould's hagiographic characterization of Strauss as "more than the greatest man of music of our times." In one of the most convincing arguments made in the book, Said argues against Adorno's accusation of Strauss being a Beidermeier relic, and that he went a long way in countering Wagner's theatrical idiom of "history as a grand system to which everyone and every small narrative is subject," becoming the "keeper of the art of our fathers."

The most compelling and readable essay in the collection is "On Jean Genet," an autobiographical account of Said's two encounters with Genet during the early 1970s. The second of these, which took place in Beirut, allowed Said to learn about Genet's role in Palestinian activism, which was passionate and total. Through a reading of "Les Paravents," Said argues that because of Genet's lifelong marginality as a thief, prisoner, and homosexual, that he was able to sympathize with Palestinians without the Western rose-colored glasses of Orientalism.

I recommend this for anyone, especially those seriously interested in classical music. For Said admirers who have only known him as a literary critic, these essays open up whole new vistas by displaying the full panoply of his concerns and academic interests. While I have the suspicion that many musicologists would disagree with his characterizations of, for example, Mozart and late Beethoven and perhaps Strauss, these are nevertheless well-wrought essays constructed with lapidary reasoning. These essays are all the more poignant because Said knew that he was in the last stages of his fight with leukemia as they were being written. Readers who admire Said for his clear presentation of sometimes very opaque ideas will not be disappointed with this collection.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Five Stars 25 octobre 2014
Par DDP - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
a wonderful book that covers literature music and film.....a great writer who tackles culture in a learned way!!!
28 internautes sur 47 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Late Style Said 18 juin 2007
Par Charlus - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Edward Said's writings never aim to make the obvious observation but instead seek to discover underlying strands of ideas that buoy up the work at hand and reveal subterranean layers of meaning. When he accomplishes this, his writings brim with the enthusiasm of a new discovery or the pleasure of understanding a familiar work in an unfamiliar way.

The cost to the reader not infrequently consists of wading through thickets of inpenetrable prose, prose that needs be hacked at to decipher the meaning intended. This necessity may be exacerbated in this collection by the fact that it was left unfinished and unpolished at his death. Nonetheless, skill in reading Theory and the jargon that attends it is required to comprehend, not to say appreciate, much of the early chapters. Happily much of this falls away as the book proceeds and many pearls are revealed undisguised and in fascinating verbal settings.

I continued to have difficulties with much of the entire enterprise: to wit, are Mozart's late operas really "late style" considering the man died so young? Surely they became "late style" by way of premature mortality alone. Extrapolating late style from one book wonders such as Di Lampedusa also stretches the point.

And yet incomplete, impenetrable and, as always, arguable Said, paradoxical as it sounds, remains more intellectually stimulating than most comparable critics, and still repays the effort it takes to read him.
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