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On Late Style is a book that came out of a very popular graduate seminar called "Last Works/Late Style" that Said taught only once at Columbia in the fall of 1995. It was a subject that had increasing resonance for him, particularly after his diagnosis of leukemia in September 1991. Michael Wood, who was a colleague of Said's at Columbia for 18 years, has written the introduction.
Musicians, composers, writers, playwrights, and even one director are included. Richard Strauss, Ludwig van Beethoven, Arnold Schoenberg, Theodor Adorno, Thomas Mann, Jean Genet, Giuseppe Tomesi di Lampedusa, C.P. Cavafy, Samuel Beckett, Luchino Visconti, and Glenn Gould, as well as Euripides, Benjamin Britten, Mozart, and Shakespeare, who come up in shorter passages, are all discussed.
This book of seven chapters focuses on how the late works of an artist often show no harmony, no evidence of the coming together of a lifetime's work, but are difficult to understand and full of unresolved contradiction. This is in contrast to some instances when the late work completes a lifetime of artistic creation as with Rembrandt, Matisse, Bach, or Wagner. Said points out how Beethoven is a perfect example of this: when he was young, his work was vigorous and, you could say, worked together as a whole, but by the end of his life it had almost the opposite feeling—it had gotten difficult, and no longer felt of a piece. As Said explains, Beethoven's late music was "at the core of what was new in modern music of our time." Since an artist producing late work is often creating well past his moment in time it is easy to see why this work is not appreciated by the society of his contemporaries. Atonal, severe, dissonant, and full of tension, they were often works of genius "ahead of their time."
Said also writes about the opinions of musicians, writers, and filmmakers on each other: Glenn Gould's feelings about Strauss's operas, Beethoven's feelings about Mozart's operas, Proust's influence on Lampedusa's The Leopard, Antonio Gramsci's influence on both Lampedusa and the director Luchino Visconti who made "The Leopard."
This is an important and eagerly awaited work of criticism that should take its place beside Said's Culture and Imperialism.
“These studies . . . buzz with excitement and intelligence and demonstrate what his admirers already knew, the extraordinary range of Said’s intellectual interests.”
—Frank Kermode, London Review of Books
“Brilliant. . . . This gracefully unquiet, probing and wise book [is] Said’s own elegiac masterpiece of late style.”
“Fascinating and stimulating. . . . Said, as with the best writers, is someone you like to spend time with. . . . This book is a fine monument to his life and work.”
—The New Statesman
“His critic’s eye remain[s] original and compelling.”
“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.”