The best essay in this posthumous collection of odds and ends by the late Edward Said concerns Lampedusa, author of The Leopard. Comparing that novel with Visconti’s film, Said illuminates both works by the light of his subject, which is the notion of lateness. Lampedusa and Visconti were aristocrats who understood the disappearing world of The Leopard from within, but they represented that world in very different ways, conditioned not only by their distinctive circumstances, but by the media in which they worked. Lampedusa’s sense of lateness derived from being the last of his line, Visconti’s from being a (sort of) Marxist who saw the decadence of the European aristocracy as one more stage in the final convulsions of capitalism. Said describes beautifully the differences between them, probing the opportunities and constraints of their chosen media. Sensitive to the aristocratic nostalgia which affects both men, he brings a light touch to bear on the personal circumstances which shaped their work. This is criticism of a high order, lucid and generous.
There are similar moments elsewhere in this short book – the fine last paragraph of an essay on Genet, for example – but sadly they are little more than moments. While the principle of de mortuis nil nisi bonum must prompt reviewers to restraint, it has to be said that