qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

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Late and Great?

Book Review: On Late Style, by Edward Said
This is deceptively readable, in the sense that it is easy to pass through the pages, suddenly realising that you have little grasp of what is being said. I think it's Said's style of using words sparingly, so that each one is heavyweight in meaning. To some extent this reminds me of Bertrand Russell: when I read his ABC of Relativity (a year or two before studying relativity at university), I just didn't get it at all. It certainly wasn't an ABC of anything, it felt all dressed up in its own self-importance. I wonder whether I should try Russell again sometime.

Though there may be a similarity in the leanness of the writing, there is no suggestion of inflated importance here. Most of Said's topics are musical: Beethoven, Richard Strauss, Mozart, Gould, Britten. That probably helps my reading of the book quite a lot; the section on Genet was less interesting, though the piece on the two Italians, novelist Lampedusa and filmmaker Visconti were surprisingly accessible.

His theme is of "lateness" as anachronism (mainly in a nostalgic, backward-looking sense) and self-doubt. There are perhaps more positive ways of considering late style: for Beethoven in particular, I think, there was a "devil-may-care" attitude in his approach to some later works (especially the late string quartets): as a successful composer, he could do what he wanted to, able to distance himself from popular tastes of the time. There is no discussion of artists without a distinctive late style, which might help form some of his arguments. This book was Said's last, incomplete at his death in 2003. As such, it is not surprising that there is no particularly conclusive chapter to draw his thoughts together, but nevertheless it functions as a well-researched collection of thoughtful essays.
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