Off the edge

Frank Kermode

  • Musical Elaborations by Edward Said
    Chatto, 128 pp, £20.00, October 1991, ISBN 0 7011 3809 2

The Wellek Library Lectures at the University of California, Irvine, are meant to be about Critical Theory, and up to now they have, for good or ill, been faithful (in their fashion) to that intention: but it was an enlivening idea to ask Edward Said to talk about music as well, or instead. Said is a good enough pianist to understand what the professionals are up to. He knows a great deal more about music than most amateurs, and argues persuasively that it should not be left entirely to the rigorous mercies of the musicologists. The result is this very interesting, excited, crammed little book, in which admirable and questionable propositions jostle one another so bewilderingly that it isn’t always easy to know exactly where one is, or what might come next, rather as in a late Beethoven quartet.

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