Going Against

Frank Kermode

  • On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain by Edward Said
    Bloomsbury, 176 pp, £16.99, April 2006, ISBN 0 07 475836 5
  • Late Thoughts: Reflections on Artists and Composers at Work edited by Karen Painter and Thomas Crow
    Getty, 235 pp, $40.00, August 2006, ISBN 0 89236 813 6

The odd thing is that most of the contributors to these books doubt whether it is possible to offer a clear and distinct idea of the subject under discussion. Indeed, Karen Painter, one of the editors of the Getty volume, says right out that ‘late style does not exist in any real sense.’ But she and her colleagues continue to search for distinguishing marks of lateness in the work of major artists in their last years, to ask whether they give evidence of failing powers, such as might in the ordinary course of things be expected: senescence; illness; the decay of the senses; the certainty that death, always feared at a distance but now in the room, is taking a hand. Will these afflictions be reflected in a style markedly different from those they used in the periods of early promise and full maturity?

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