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Posts Tagged ‘Edward Said’

On Classicism II: Edward Said’s “On Late Style.”

In Classicism, Edward Said on March 29, 2009 at 9:06 pm

M. Standfast, Kyoto

400000000000000102492_s4Edward Said’s On Late Style is as rich a book as an unfinished work can be.  Published posthumously, On Late Style expands on Theodor Adorno’s concept of “late works.”  Late works are works with fall toward the end of an artist’s career, but not those like The Winter’s Tale or The Tempest which “reflect a special maturity, a new spirit of reconciliation and serenity often expressed in terms of a miraculous transfiguration of common reality” (6), but those like Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis or Lampedusa’s The Leopard–works which, in Adorno’s words are “devoid of sweetness, bitter and spiny, they do not surrender themselves to mere delectation,” or, in Said’s phrasing, are “uncoopted by a higher synthesis: they do not fit any scheme, and they cannot be reconciled or resolved” (12).

Said died in September 2003, before On Late Style was completed.  In the foreward, his wife, Miriam writes of how Said was planning to get to work and get it done: “{In late August} he said to me as we were having breakfast that morning, ‘Today I will write the acknowledgments and preface to Humanism and Democratic Criticism {…} The introduction to From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map I’ll finish by Sunday.  And next week I’ll concentrate on completing On Late Style, which will be finished by December” (vii).  He didn’t make it, and the little quote is a moving reminder that we never know how much time we have left.  But Michael Wood, who arranged the various fragments Said had written on the topic of late style into this nearly seamless finished product, says that he doesn’t believe that Said ever wanted to finish the book: “Or rather, he wanted to finish it but was waiting for a time that would perhaps never have come.  There would have been a time for this book about untimeliness, but this time was always: not quite yet” (xvi-xvii).

What does Adorno, and Said, mean by “late style,” and why would Said perhaps have not wanted to finish his work on this topic?  Again, to understand what the term means we need to understand that late style is not simply synonomous with work accomplished late in life.  Wood puts it this way, the “type of lateness {that Said was interested in} is quite different {…} from the unearthly serenity we find in the last works of Sophocles and Shakespeare.  Oedipus at Colonus, The Tempest, and The Winter Tale are late enough in their way, but they have settled their quarrel with time” (xiii).  In other words, these works are transcendent yet resigned–the author, knowing perhaps that death is coming to claim them, moves to preempt death by surrendering his grasp on reality and moving in the direction of a “higher synthesis,” and in the process attaining “a remarkable holiness and sense of resolution” (6).  Said has nothing against such works at peace with themselves and with time, but these are not his subject.  Lateness here seems to take its raison d’etre from Dylan Thomas; it rages against the dying of the light.  As Said puts it, “Late style is what happens if art does not abdicate its rights in favor of reality” (9) and is “a form of exile” (8).

But if late style finds its power in a righteous rage against resignation, senescence, and serenity, it is at the same time complicit with disintegration and ultimately with death. In other words, an artist can embrace lateness in Said’s conception of the term, but can never be quit of it. Continue Reading

On Classicism Part I: The Trouble with Classicists

In Classicism on March 29, 2009 at 12:47 am

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

3In 1990, Lou Reed and John Cale, formerly of the Velvet Underground, latterly famously not getting along, reunited to make Songs for Drella, a tribute/ musical biography of their first patron, Andy Warhol. Drella is a 15 song cycle which takes the listener through Andy’s life and career, from his early days in Pittsburgh, through success in New York, getting shot, latter-day isolation and and loneliness, and ending with an epitaph. The songs fit loosely together in chronological order. Here is the basic scheme: “Smalltown” sees Andy unhappy in Pittsburgh and dreaming of the big city; “Open House” describes the early days of the factory, when all and sundry stopped by and provided Andy with inspiration; “Style it Takes” gives an overview of some of Andy’s famous works and his working method; “Work” explains the considerable work ethic that underlay Warhol’s success; “Trouble with Classicists,” in what is presumably Andy’s voice, provides a series of opinions about “classicists”, “impressionists”, and “personalities”; “Starlight” appears to consider Andy’s flirtation with Hollywood, or Hollywood’s flirtation with him; “Faces and Names” kicks off the second section of the record and finds Andy in despair, something like a midlife crisis; “Images” details Andy’s philosophy of art and hits back at the critics of his method; “Slip Away,” “It Wasn’t Me,” and “I Believe” represent the nadir of the record in which Andy is warned about the people he associates with, confronts a junkie, and is shot by Valerie Solanis; “Nobody But You” sees Andy bereft of companionship hanging out and paying the price of dinner of a nobody; “A Dream” synthesizes all which has come before and puts Andy’s life into fuller perspective; “Forever Changed” sees Andy’s past slipping away; and “Hello It’s Me” represents Reed’s epitaph and apology to Warhol.

Some of the songs are better than others; specifically, I get comparatively little out of “Starlight,” “It Wasn’t Me” and “Forever Changed,” but every song has its place in the story of Warhol’s life and his influence on Reed and Cale, his circle, New York city, and the art world in general. This post will take up the first five songs as a bridge into a wider discussion of the meaning of “classicism” today. There may or may not be a part two to this post.

“Smalltown” is about leaving Pittsburgh, and introduces us to the fact that Andy was gay:

When you’re growing up in a small town
Bad skin, bad eyes – gay and fatty
People look at you funny
When you’re in a small town

New York is more to his liking, and provides a context for his art to flourish:

Where did Picasso come from
There’s no Michelangelo coming from Pittsburgh

I hate being odd in a small town
If they stare let them stare in New York City

The theme of small town boy (girl) made good in the big city is classic and well worn, of course, but Andy thrives in NYC, and soon “The Factory” is open to all comers (“Open House”):

Come over to 81st street I’m in the apartment above the bar
You know you can’t miss it, it’s across from the subway
and the tacky store with the Mylar scarves

Continue Reading