Late Style(s): The Ageism of the
Singular
Michael and Linda Hutcheon
Order of Discussion:
• “late style” and its history
• creativity in later life
• individual vs. generalized concepts
of “late style”
Early History of “Late Style”:
Plato, Republic, 329c
Cicero, Cato maior de senectute, 9.28
Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccelenti pittori,
scultori, ed architettori (1568)
Roger de Piles, Abrégé de la vie des peintres
(1699).
Later History of “Late Style”:
20th century
(Simmel, Brinckmann, Adorno)
deriving from
18th and 19th century (Goethe, Schelling, Fichte)
-------------------------------------------------------------(cultural analogy)
Winckelmann, Geschichte der Kunst des
Altertums (1756–62)
From: Anthony Edward Barone, “Richard Wagner’s Parsifal and the
Hermeneutics of Late Style” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1996)
Two contrasting narratives develop over time:
• Organicist, teleological
narrative
– peak and decline
(i.e., dynamism of youth
vs.
obsolescence of age)
• Redemptivist narrative
– apotheosis
– transcendence with age
19th to 20th centuries:
Romantic view:
-youth as time of growth, creativity
-age as time of decline, obsolescence

-1950s gerontology:
-social disengagement theory
-stigmatizing “script of decline”
19th to 20th centuries:
Romantic:
-youth as time of growth, creativity
-age as time of decline, obsolescence

-1950s gerontology:
-social disengagement theory
-stigmatizing “script of decline”
The composers we are studying:
• Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Parsifal (1882)
• Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Falstaff (1893)
• Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Capriccio (1943); Vier letzte Lieder (1948-9)
• Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Death in Venice (1973)
• Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
Saint François d’Assise (1983)
“Late Style” (in English)
Spätstil
(late style)
+
Altersstil
(old age style)
One definition of what comes with age:
“…[a] sense of isolation, a feeling of holy
rage, developing into…..transcendental
pessimism; a mistrust of reason, a belief
in instinct.”
Kenneth Clark, The Artist Grows Older
(Rede Lecture 1970)
“…[a] sense of isolation, a feeling of holy
rage, developing into…..transcendental
pessimism; a mistrust of reason, a belief in
instinct.”
Kenneth Clark, The Artist Grows Older
(Rede Lecture 1970)
THE CONTRASTING VIEW: with age come
-serenity, resignation, contemplation,
enhanced powers of intellect and
understanding, accumulated knowledge
and experience
MODELS OF LATE STYLE
CONTINUITY
(with previous work)
+ve = mastery,
summation, constant
aesthetic
-ve = incapable of
innovation
RUPTURE
(with previous work)
+ve = liberating renewal
-ve = past one’s prime
Or, both continuity and rupture:
“ … a logical extension and
development of the career and a
supplementary breaking out into
a new style.”
Gordon McMullan, Shakespeare and the Idea
of Late Writing: Authorship in the Proximity of
Death
Critics’ aesthetic values determine
what is valued:
e.g., Georg Simmel
e.g., Theodor Adorno
-wholeness, coherence,
synthesis

-time of reappraisal,
summary, consolidation
-fragmentation,
dissonance

-lack (impossibility) of
reconciliation
Late style as a critical construct:
“ … a construct, ideological,
rhetorical and heuristic, a function
not of life or of art but of the
practice of reading or appreciating
certain texts within a set of
predetermined parameters.”
Gordon McMullan, Shakespeare and the Idea of
Late Writing: Authorship in the Proximity of Death

Late Style(s) - Late-Life Creativity and the `new old age`