On Late Style

jenks

thread death
A number of different strands have come together recently:

The new Dylan album
Glenn Gould documentary on Sunday where he talked about the last Bach pieces
Roth's recent novels
The late Rembrandts in the National Gallery which i have mentioned here before

and now Said's work of the same name reviewed in the LRB.

Obviously it can be seen as pretty arbitrary dividing an artist's work up into sections but i do think there is something in this idea of soemone rallying for one last hurrah where they stare death in the face and report back from the edge of the abyss to the rest of us.

Or is this Romantic nonsense?

I haven't read what Adorno has to say on this but i know that Said's starting point are the late Beethoven pieces which i only have a fleeting knowledge of. I think the idea is that at this last point an artistic breakthrough is made in extremis.

any thoughts?
 

John Doe

Well-known member
WB Yeats' late poems are superb too - not only for 'Why Should Old Men Not Be Mad' (a sentiment that Roth, I think, echoes) but also in 'Sailing To Byzantium' when he describes the willed retreat into art and reflection prompted by the decay and withering of the body.

I love the poem so much I've indulged myself and pasted it here. I think it sums up the relationship of the mature artist to time, the body, mortality and form beautifully:

THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
 

bruno

est malade
funny because a while back i was trying to explain the respective merits of the idiot and the brothers karamazov to someone, something along the lines of the latter having more of a 'shimmer' to it, not as intense as the former but more proportioned, ultimately more memorable (to me) in its sparks of light. this was said in spanish but that was the basic idea. a few days later i watched a rerun of heidi (the 70s animation), and there is a poignant sequence where she asks her grandfather why is it that when the sun sets everything takes on such wonderful colours, and why it is so brief (cue lacrimose closeups of her eyes). he replies something along the lines that it is because the sun keeps the best for last, which is a beautiful idea too.

i used to place first things above last things but there were always exceptions. in music, for example, coltrane's crescent shone more brightly to me than a love supreme and what came after because you could almost feel him at a turning point, the music shimmered that way. not completely abstract, not iconoclastic, just taking what he knew to paint the freest picture imaginable with it.
 

jenks

thread death
I think that is one of the loveliest posts I have read here.

I also thought about Bill Evans and his last late flowering recently.

De Kooning as well possibly?
 

Rambler

Awanturnik
Aren't there two aspects to this, which are difficult to tease apart.

One is that there's something in the style of an artist that changes as they get older and approach the end of their life.

And the second is that knowing that something is a late work, we interpret it through a different set of parameters.

Pieces like Messiaen's 'Visions of the beyond' (not quite the last thing he wrote, but the last thing of importance) and Grisey's 'Four Songs for Crossing the Threshold' suddenly take on a huge resonance because they do seem to be some sort of Last Rite, even though in Grisey's case especially they almost certainly weren't intended to be.

This sort of interpretation isn't a bad thing, necessarily. But for whatever reasons, 'late works' makes for a beter story in many cases than 'early works', so the former tends to get revered more. In pop, though, I think it's the other way around - a sudden explosion out of nowhere makes a better story than 'that difficult 10th album', so early works maybe get higher esteem.

Just some thoughts....

By coincidence my eye wandered over the Said book in the library the other day. I might give it a read.
 

Freakaholic

not just an addiction
When I read the words "rallying for one last hurrah where they stare death in the face and report back from the edge of the abyss to the rest of us," or just think of someone that went back and wrote the last chapter of their musical career late in life, I immediately think of Johnny Cash, and his American Recordings series.

Defintely different from his entire career, and it seems he was reporting from "the edge of the abyss". His voice was edgier and more frail, but sounded in a way more ful of wisdom and more heartfelt. The music is very "wrap it all up in the final chapter" and at the same time, puts his whole career in a different light.

Are there others whos "late styles" could change the enduring perception of their long careers? I havent heard Dylan's album, but I doubt it will change perceptions of his career.

Or am i just too young to be fully affected by Cash's early works?
 

jenks

thread death
Aren't there two aspects to this, which are difficult to tease apart.

One is that there's something in the style of an artist that changes as they get older and approach the end of their life.

And the second is that knowing that something is a late work, we interpret it through a different set of parameters.



This sort of interpretation isn't a bad thing, necessarily. But for whatever reasons, 'late works' makes for a beter story in many cases than 'early works', so the former tends to get revered more. In pop, though, I think it's the other way around - a sudden explosion out of nowhere makes a better story than 'that difficult 10th album', so early works maybe get higher esteem.

.
I think this is the problem - i remember years ago reading Berger's Ways of Seeing where he showed the effect of adding the caption 'this was the last picture painted Van Gogh painted before he killed himself' to a painting.

The same could be said of the reverence placed on Ariel by Plath.

I suppose the idea that the onrush of old age and death does allow for throwing all care to the wind and plunging ahead - little concern for convention or whatever. I suppose someone like Goya really fits the bill. In a way the genre can no longer remain the same afterwards.
 

version

Who loves ya, baby?
I've been wanting to read Burroughs' later stuff for a while, particularly The Western Lands.
 

luka

Well-known member
Staff member
jh prynne has being nuts over lockdown speaking of late style. hes put out about 5 pamphlets.
 

version

Who loves ya, baby?
Is there anyone who's generally considered to have been at their best during their late period?
 

I'm not the first to point it out but recent Scorsese has certainly been a strong argument for the existence/legitimacy of Late Style. Silence is a film made by a man who has spent a significant amount of time mulling over the conflict between his Catholic faith and the symbolic/literal corruption of the institution. The Irishman is probably a bit more obvious in its facing death and trying to scrabble for something transcendent in the mess of a passively violent life, and coming up empty (compared to the bittersweet resilience at the end of Silence).

Not sure how it'll bear out what with his goofier Netflix/YouTube output as of late but Lynch with Twin Peaks: The Return also very much working in this mould. The show couldn't help but have a certain resonance from the sheer number of its cast who passed away between production and broadcast, but he/Frost/everyone else involved leant into the melancholy of passing time, regret, grieving over lost futures and the inability to reclaim said futures etc. Also interesting visually compared to a lot of his other work; again feels like something of a "culmination," which I can't remember if Said includes in his definition...
 

Leo

Well-known member
dunno. the nytimes called the album "equal parts death-haunted and cantankerous", gotta love a guy who honestly doesn't give two shits about pleasing anyone other than himself. respect.
 
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