| Goya, Self-portrait with Dr Arrieta
Edward Said was sixty-eight years old when he died of leukemia on September 25, 2003. During the last five years of his life, in the shadow of his illness, Said was working on four books. (His essays, lectures and interviews of this period have made up five other books.) His death prevented the writing of the preface and acknowledgments to the otherwise complete Humanism and Democratic Criticism, and the introduction to From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map. But he did complete, and publish in 1999, his memoir, Out of Place ' a 'subjective account' of his formative years in the Arab world, and of his subsequent life and career in America. For Said, Out of Place is 'a record of an essentially lost or forgotten world', the writing of which was interlaced with his own chemotherapy and his mother's last illness and death.
Throughout this last phase ' and going back to even earlier, to the Eighties ' Said's reading, lectures, articles and conversation showed a deepening preoccupation with 'great artists', and how 'near the end of their lives their work and thought acquire a new idiom'. Said calls this idiom 'a late style'. He borrows the phrase from Theodor Adorno's 1937 essay on late style (Sp'tstil) in Beethoven's last works: the Ninth, Missa Solemnis, the last string quartets and the bagatelles for piano. For a critic whose first major work, Beginnings, was about how literary narratives invent their points of origin, the posthumous 'finishing' of Said's On Late Style (Bloomsbury, '16.99) by Michael Wood, a colleague and friend, from several sets of published and unpublished material, evokes its own sense of an ending ' unabashedly magisterial, yet elegiac, melancholy, mortal. Throughout the book, Said responds ' with an intellectual rigour entirely devoid of sentimentality ' to both the power of late works and their ability to confront, without lament, the pity of things.
Said's memoir does not simply mourn an 'irrecoverable time'. It also explores and elaborates the consequences ' emotional, intellectual and political ' of the 'overriding sensation' that he always had regarding his own life: 'of always being out of place'. Said locates the beginnings of 'primal instability' in his mother ' in the richly confusing mix of English and Arabic that she used when speaking to her children, in the mingling of Palestinian and Orthodox Christian in her lineage, and most of all, in the son's lifelong, intimate wrestle with his mother's 'sovereign ego'. He remembers the shreds of Arabic in her endearments and tyrannies as 'a part of her infinitely maternal atmosphere, which in moments of great stress I found myself yearning for in the softly uttered phrase 'ya mama', an atmosphere dreamily seductive then suddenly snatched away, promising something in the end never given'.
Here, and in the many other passages anatomizing the complex memories of his mother, Said's writing is profoundly allusive. And this allusiveness becomes part of the dramatic substance, the parallels and paradoxes, of the elegized life, and of memory itself. The corridors of time that open out from Said's text reach not only into his own early years in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Cairo, across the ravages and catastrophes of painfully located and dislocated histories, but they also invoke another history of Romantic and Modernist literature, music and philosophy that is essentially European ' a history that might be regarded, from a theoretical perspective now attributed to Said himself, as belonging to the Arab world's imperial Other. More than twenty years after the writing of Orientalism, that earlier notion of Otherness becomes more complicated, and impossible to reduce to politicized binaries, as Said conducts, with a different kind of personal urgency, an archaeology of his own subjectivity which leaves academic theory and affiliations far behind. Or they are taken up into more immediate existential concerns, getting organically transformed in the process.
The 'infinitely maternal atmosphere' emanating from Mrs Said ' so full of seduction, yearning and misgivings ' is inevitably fused with, and retrospectively constituted by, her son's intimate knowledge of Wagner, Freud and Proust. Kundry kissing Parsifal into remembering his dead mother's kiss in Act II of Parsifal (Wagner's last, and stupendously 'late', opera), in all its musical, dramatic and psychological complexity, becomes the labyrinthine Family Romance around the mother's goodnight kiss in the 'Overture' to the first volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time. For Said, this confluence of Wagner and Proust is vital. It structures the way he remembers and writes about his mother in Out of Place. Thus, within the 'private self' and its inner life of 'beautiful, interrelated parts', Cairo and Combray, Beirut and Bayreuth become increasingly difficult to polarize. But more importantly for his critical work on late style, the confluence of Proust, Wagner and personal memory creates the echoes and parallels ' Baudelaire would call them 'correspondences' ' among the apparently distinct structures of music, literature and lived time.
Adorno's work on late Beethoven, and the figure of Adorno himself, form the core of Said's book. Scholars of music will perhaps find his use of Adorno too uncritical, compared to the acute critiques of Adorno's philosophy of music by Charles Rosen and Michael Spitzer. But Said's engagement with this impossibly difficult, 'unashamedly mandarin' and 'unwaveringly Eurocentric' Marxist half-Jew is one of empathy and resonance, dispensing with academic caution in a sort of inspired and terminal nonchalance. What he describes, echoing Lear, as Adorno's 'unaccommodated stubbornness' is thus made a central feature of late style itself, as Adorno becomes, in Said's writings, more an embodiment than a theorist of late style.
In Adorno, artistic lateness does not take the form of 'harmony and resolution', but of 'intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction'. With his 'continuous familiarity with great works, great masters, and great ideas', he joins Said in a veritable banquet of the intellect and senses ' Beethoven, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg, Mann, Lampedusa, Visconti, Glenn Gould ' that begins to resemble that defiantly opulent feast at the end of Mozart's Don Giovanni. This is a tragically self-conscious intellectual hedonism, which can only be interrupted by death in its stoniest and most forbidding form.
Both Adorno and Said, it must be recalled, were musicians manqu'. They reflected on and wrote about music because they gave up trying to compose or perform to the standards set by themselves and their musical masters. Critical or philosophical thinking and writing about music, or using such work to write about literature, takes the place, therefore, of composition and performance in their lives, about both of which they had far more than merely rudimentary knowledge. Said's formulations on late style emerge from this pregnant, but strangely disabling space between writing and music. It is both a faultline and an interface, mixing pleasure and incapacity, participation and alienation. So music becomes for Adorno and Said ' as it did for Roland Barthes and Claude L'vi-Strauss ' much more than passively sensuous listening. It is a vital form of intellectual activity, a mode of reflection in solitude profoundly energizing their own realms of thought.
The failure to 'make' music has thus enriched Western philosophy and theory, particularly structuralism and post-structuralism, just as, in film-makers like Ray, Bergman and Visconti, it has moulded the deepest structures of their art created in another medium. L'vi-Strauss's 1977 lectures, Myth and Meaning, are a brilliantly lucid exposition of structuralism founded entirely on the homologies between Western music and mythology ' 'two sisters, begotten by language, who had drawn apart'. To become a composer or an 'orchestra leader' is what L'vi-Strauss had dreamt of as a child, only to realize that there was 'something lacking' in his brain. So he became a structural anthropologist instead: 'If I wasn't able to compose with sounds, perhaps I would be able to do it with meanings.'
On Late Style, like the earlier Musical Elaborations, is one of the last fruits of this European tradition of musical failure compensated by related intellectual productivity of a highly original order. Said's book is thus full of a melancholy sense of exile from true musical creation and performance. Hence, as I will show in the following part, the figure of Adorno leads naturally to that of the pianist, Glenn Gould, and then, just as naturally, to J.S. Bach. In Bach, more than in anybody else, music becomes, in the words of Borges, 'that mysterious form of time' which inspires, while appearing to frustrate, 'new kinds of thinking'.