I began reading Edward Said's On Late Style (one of my Books of the Week this week, alongside Amorgos by Nikos Gatsos) at the weekend. The book, nicely reviewed by Paul Griffiths in the latest BookForum, was left unfinished when Said died of leukaemia, aged 67, back in September 2003. With the help of his wife Mariam and the literary critics Richard Poirier and Michael Wood (who, as one would expect from such an excellent writer, provides a useful, short introduction) the work has been constructed and looks to be a fitting last book by a key intellectual figure of the last few decades.
The first essay in the book is an engagement with Adorno's work on late Beethoven. Indeed, Adorno haunts this work. Whilst On Late Style is being billed as Said's last book of literary criticism it is every bit as much a book of musicology.
Edward Said looks at a selection of essays, poems, novels, films, and operas to determine what late style may explain about the evolution of the creative life. He discusses how the approaching death of an artist can make its way “with anachronism and anomaly” into his work, as was the case in the late work of Thomas Mann, Richard Strauss, Jean Genet, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and C. P. Cavafy. Said examines Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Genet’s Le captif amoureux and Les paravents, Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Visconti’s film of Lampedusa’s The Leopard, Euripides’ The Bacchae and Iphigenia at Aulis, and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, among other works.