2012年10月22日 星期一

ON LATE STYLE (Edward Said), Exact Imagination, Late Work...

Exact Imagination, Late Work

On Adorno's Aesthetics


Most English-language writing on Theodor Adorno has attempted to place him in various contexts and to differentiate him from other thinkers. Such work, while important, marks our failure to appropriate Adorno's ideas imaginatively. In Exact Imagination, Late Work, Nicholsen proposes such an appropriation through a focus on the centrality of the aesthetic dimension in Adorno.Adorno uses the term "exact imagination" to mark the conjunction of knowledge, subjective experience, and aesthetic form. Exact imagination, as distinct from creative imagination, thus describes a form of nondiscursive rationality. According to Adorno, exact imagination discovers or produces truth by reconfiguring the material at hand; thus, knowledge is inseparable from the configurational form imagination gives it. "Late work" is characterized by the disjunction of subjectivity and objectivity. In its attempt to grasp late phenomena, Adorno's oeuvre itself takes on the form of late work.Exact imagination and late work mark the bounds of Nicholsen's exploration. The five interlocked essays, based on material from Adorno's "aesthetic writings," take up such issues as subjective aesthetic experience, the historicity of artworks and our experience of them, Adorno's conception of language, the nature of configurational or constellational form in Adorno's work, and the relation between the artwork, aesthetic experience, and philosophy. A subtext is the unraveling of Adorno's use of the ideas of his colleague Walter Benjamin. Nicholsen's essays themselves can be perceived as a constellation of their own around the central issue of the inseparability of form in its aesthetic dimension and nondiscursive rationality.

About the Authors

Shierry Weber Nicholsen teaches environmental philosophy and psychology in Antioch University Seattle’s M.A. Program on Environment and Community and is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice in Seattle. She has translated several works by Theodor Adorno and Jürgen Habermas.


"Nicholsen's Exact Imagination, Late Work is the distilled, reflected product of countless hours alongside, and deeply within, Adorno's languages. Her brilliant achievement here is to have demonstrated the emphatic intimacy between Adorno's aesthetics and his compositions." Tom Huhn , College of Letters and Philosophy Department, Wesleyan University

醫學進步讓作家老當益壯。有待探究的是,年歲增長對作家的筆力是否造成影響。著名文化評論家薩依德未完成的遺著《論晚期風格》(On Late Style)就在探討作家與音樂家晚年的作品,他直指藝術家晚年作品未必是智慧與識見累積的精華,通常會出現「固執、困境和無法化解的矛盾」,甚至缺乏「協調感」。

'On Late Style,' by Edward W. Said

Twilight of His Idols

Ruby Washington/The New York Times
Edward Said during an interview in July 1998.

Published: July 16, 2006

What artist does not yearn, some day, to possess a "late style"? A late style would reflect a life of learning, the wisdom that comes from experience, the sadness that comes from wisdom and a mastery of craft that has nothing left to prove. It might recapitulate a life's themes, reflect on questions answered and allude to others beyond understanding.
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Music and Literature Against the Grain.
By Edward W. Said.
176 pp. Pantheon Books. $25.
But even if that kind of culminating style is not granted to an artist, observers want to discern it. We want to be reassured that there really is something progressive about human understanding. We want to feel that in a final confrontation with mortality, something profound takes place. When the end is near, we want there to be a sign of this in the work itself, some proof of accumulated insight.
Perhaps an impulse like this was also behind Edward Said's interest in late style during the years before his death in 2003. Near the beginning of his career Said wrote "Beginnings: Intention and Method" (1975), a study of origins and our need to imagine or construct them. Why not, then, conclude with studying the achievement of endings?
The subject takes on a particularly poignant cast in view of the diagnosis of leukemia Said received in 1991. "For obvious personal reasons," he writes, his subject became "the last or late period of life, the decay of the body, the onset of ill health." Said taught a course on late style at Columbia in the early 1990's and gave three lectures on the subject in London in 1993, which form the backbone of this book.
But in exploring late style, Said isn't really interested in lateness that brings wisdom, harmony and serenity. That would require closure, and Said, following French critical theory, believed that scholarly enterprises (like the Orientalist studies of the Middle East he examined in his 1978 book, "Orientalism") were acts of power that exerted imperial control, colonizing their subjects. Such control, he believed, had to be opposed. So Said is not interested in lateness as a reflection of hard-earned knowledge; he is interested in lateness as opposition, lateness that displays "intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction."
But what kind of late style is that? How is it different from youthful rebellion? When does this kind of lateness reflect accumulated experience, and when does it reflect a refusal to reconsider? And, turning to the book at hand, how is late style represented in these particular figures? Does it really describe the late creations of both Beethoven and Jean Genet? Or of Mozart and the novelist Lampedusa, the poet Cavafy and the pianist Glenn Gould?
It may be unfair to demand coherent synthesis, not only because Said prefers "unresolved contradiction," but also because this volume, left unfinished, was in fact compiled by the critic Michael Wood. But at first, one believes Said might really pull it off, if only because of the supple intelligence he brings to bear in the first essays. Their subject is music — late Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Mozart's "Così Fan Tutte." Their patron saint is Theodor Adorno, the Frankfurt School thinker who discerned in abstract sound the dialectical battles of philosophical concepts. For Adorno, Beethoven's late style — with its mixture of filigree and bombast, of exquisite meditation and explosive analysis, its restless range and imposing grandeur — dramatized something profound about its creator's uneasy relationship to his world.
Beethoven is to Adorno as Adorno is to Said: a touchstone. Said's explication of Adorno's ideas about Beethoven is among the best available in English. His discussion of late Strauss's "defiant" conservative stance is equally elegant. And his essay on Mozart's "Così" is subtly revealing: here is an opera in which the characters seemingly have no past, and live in a closed world in which even the music turns on itself in self-referential imitation — a universe of moral bleakness and exquisite beauty.
Said finds these works representative of late style, though his description is more suggestive of a sense of belatedness: an artist believes that the tradition has been exhausted; its weight cannot be overcome, so it is struggled against, without hope of resolution. Strauss's music spins a tonal cocoon of 18th-century allusions, insulated from the 20th-century German inferno. Beethoven leaves behind a musical track record of unrelenting confrontations. "Così" tests the limits of the moral and rational order of the Enlightenment. Said's idea is that these "late" creators are twilight figures, like Aschenbach in Mann's "Death in Venice," each dissociated in some way from his world. They display, he argues, a sense of "exile" — a central theme in Said's critical allegories.
But the reason we care about these works is not that they express irreconcilable contradictions or exile. Rather, each constructs an alternative universe in which something is actually being understood about our world: some things are rejected, some are accepted, some are greeted with horror, some with resignation. Beethoven's late music, for example, embraces incongruities because — we are convinced — that is precisely what it means to see the world whole. There is accumulated knowledge here: recognition and reconciliation, not just "intransigence" or "unresolved contradiction."
One part of Said seems to recognize this. Another part twists analysis to fit his pre-formed idea. This is evident, for example, in an essay about Genet that touches on one of Said's own passions as an advocate for the Palestinians. (Said's career included a stint on the Palestinian National Council — the ruling body of the P.L.O. — from 1977 to 1991.) Here, Said recalls meeting Genet in Lebanon in the early 1970's. He describes Genet's "fierce antinomianism," his devotion to the "other," and his support for the Palestinians. Genet was, Said writes, a "titanic artist and personality" who had "intuited the scope and drama of what we were living though in Lebanon, Palestine and elsewhere," and in whose writing "revolt, passion, death and regeneration are linked." Genet's "lateness" was in his refusal to be reconciled to the perquisites of dominant powers.
But read one of the essays Said praises — Genet's account of the killings of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982 — and one sees not a titanic visionary in "late style" but an aging romantic straining for urgency. Genet, in response to the massacre, invokes his memories of Palestinian guerrillas in 1970: "The lightness of footsteps barely touching the earth, the sparkle in the eyes, the openness of relationships not only between the fedayeen but also between them and their leaders. Under the trees, everything, everyone was aquiver, laughing, filled with wonder at this life."
"I defend the Palestinians wholeheartedly and automatically," Genet writes, "They are in the right because I love them." He recalls the brotherly kisses they bestowed on a fellow guerrilla in Jordan in 1970: "The one they embraced would be leaving that night, cross the Jordan River to plant bombs in Palestine and often would not return."
But wouldn't a "late style" have some sense of irony about this romanticization of violence? Or some notion about precisely what these light, sparkling, open figures were intending? Wouldn't it require being more attuned to the precise character of the contradictions so warmly embraced? Doesn't late style require some scrupulous self-reflection, some sense of how earlier perceptions might themselves require revisiting and revising? Wouldn't something similar have even helped Said's own late style?
Late style, Said suggests, expresses a sense of being out of place and time: it is a rejection of what is being offered. But listen to Beethoven or Strauss or Gould: the music is more like a discovery of place. That place is different from where one started; it may not even be what was once expected or desired. But it is there, in resignation and fulfillment, that late works take their stand, where even exile meets its end.

Edward Rothstein is cultural critic at large for The New York Times. He is the author of "Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics."