Edward Said’s posthumous book on “lateness,” in art and criticism

Paul Griffiths in Bookforum:

Griffiths1_037542105x_1In considering here how the work of writers and composers comes to change as their lives near an end, Edward Said has little to say about the abandoned fragment—the achievement cut off by death, as Mozart’s Requiem was. Yet that is precisely the condition of the present book, which, as the author’s widow, Mariam Said, explains in the foreword, was left far from complete when Said died, in 2003. While incorporating material written long before (as Said seems to have intended), this volume comes to us as a last work, drafted by one who knew his time was limited. It therefore exemplifies its own subject matter, manifesting some of the qualities Said discerns in “late style,” including penetration and breadth of reference, and yet, inevitably, leaving much in outline or unstated.

Said’s reflection starts out from the notion of timeliness in human doings, and so of how certain things become possible, or available, in later years. One of time’s gifts is widely held to be wisdom, but Said is attracted much more by lateness “as intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction.” The wise elders—Shakespeare, Verdi, Rembrandt, Matisse, Bach, Wagner—are saluted, then dismissed. Kept for later and longer scrutiny are those who, like ancient trees, grew ever more gnarled.

More here.  [Thanks to Andrew N. Rubin.]

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