Edward Said as Prose Stylist

I recently was confronted with the absolute revelation of the parallel career of Edward Said, comparative literature professor at New York University and famous analyst of the Arab world, as nothing other than a music critic and musicologist.

His Music at the Limits: Three Decades of Essays and Articles on Music includes an introduction by Daniel Barenboim, but it is Said’s writing and grasp of musicology that is so lucid and expressive, and that makes the book a worthy companion for a life.

Said’s work in musicology has great value, precisely because is imbued with the inherent connections between music and public political life. These connections — whose manifest lack in my own education ultimately drove me away from the music school — can never be explored fully enough.

For writers striving to create structures of clarity and meaning, Said has few competitors.  Even Barenboim’s thoughtful intro feels stuffy and clumsy in comparison, and Said gives Glenn Gould a run for his money in the enlightening musical-cultural analysis, which is saying a great deal.

Here, as a parting gift (could it be anything else?), is a small excerpt from Said’s autobiography which I managed to filch a couple of weeks ago from an airy biblioteque paradise in Uppsala, Sweden:

In early adolescence I was completely in the grip, at once ambiguously pleasant and unpleasant, of time passing as a series of deadlines – an experience that has remained with me every since.  The day’s milestones were set relatively early in that period and have not varied.  Six thirty (or in cases of great pressure six; I still use the phrase “I’ll get up at six to finish this”) was time to get up; seven-thirty started the meter running, at which point I entered the strict regime of hours and half-hours governed by classes, church, private lessons, homework, piano practice, and sports, until bedtime.  This sense of the day divided into periods of appointed labor has never left me, has indeed intensified.  Eleven a.m. still imbues me with a guilty awareness that the morning has passed without enough being accomplished and nine p. still represents ’lateness’, that movement which connotes the end of the day, the hastening need to be thinking about bed, the time beyond which to do work means to do it at the wrong time, fatigue and a sense of having failed all creeping up on one, time slowly getting past its proper period, lateness in fact in all the word’s senses.”

Edward Said, Out of Place: A Memoir, p. 105.  

As a coda, I don’t know what Said thought about beatboxing, but I will try to find out.  Here is one video segment of a recent musical interaction I had with one resident of Berlin by the name of Berlino Beats.  Fortunately I was already in concert black, having done a recital program of Schumann and Brahms earlier in the day.  Video by the intellectually vivacious Wang Yin, a Hegelian Ph.D. candidate from Freie Uni Berlin.  Which makes me wonder — is this the only instance of Sino-German hip-hop exchange in the year of our [  ]  2011?  I think not.  Long live cultural friction — c’est le frisson! 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s