O.E. læt “occurring after the customary or expected time,” originally “slow, sluggish,” from P.Gmc. *latas (cf. O.N. latr “sluggish, lazy,” M.Du., O.S. lat, Ger. laß “idle, weary,” Goth. lats “weary, sluggish, lazy,” latjan “to hinder”), from PIE base *lad- “slow, weary” (cf. L. lassus “faint, weary, languid, exhausted,” Gk. ledein “to be weary”)
i.e. when speaking of artists or their work, late in the life of the author or their oeuvre, and thus
- resigned, i.e. mature and wise (and thus, perhaps, closed—see 2)
- alienated and open, i.e. resisting harmony, cohesion and completeness
(#1 to a degree preserves the etymological sense of weariness [and perhaps a sense of post-ness, i.e. post- the artist’s “classical” period; this is a Romantic/expressivist reading]; #2 does not, except in that it describes the art of an exhausted age [this is a Hegelian/historicist reading].)
i.e. according to Said in On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain (2006), a late literary work is characterised by “intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction” (see also Adorno’s “Late Style in Beethoven” in Essays on Music, on which Said draws, and his “Adorno as Lateness Itself” in Adorno: A Critical Reader)
Nietzsche describes literary lateness as a kind of epigonal superstition (epigonus L successor); in “The Uses and Abuses of History for Life” (1874) he writes,
You can interpret the past only on the basis of the highest power of the present. . . . [O]nly the man who builds the future has a right to judge the past. In order to look ahead, set yourselves an important goal, and at the same time control that voluptuous analytical drive with which you now lay waste the present and render almost impossible all tranquillity, all peaceful growth and maturing. Draw around yourself the fence of a large and extensive hope, an optimistic striving. Create in yourselves a picture to which the future is to correspond, and forget the myth that you are epigones.
Colonies certainly came late in the imperial evolutionary scale—and fit #2 better than #1: they’re alienated both from the wise local indigenes and metropolitan masters—for this reason, they are to a degree, open (for better or worse).
1618, “overtaken by night [!],” from be- + late; sense of “coming past due” is from 1670
i.e. coming after—and, as a result, ambivalent to—earlier, overshadowing (prior, larger) presences who pervade the later author’s work, a.k.a. “precursors” (Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence ), and thus diminished (-), or narrow and stringent (+); the term need not be exclusively literary
Colonies can be seen as cultural “laggards” (benighted even?), adopting metropolitan innovations belatedly and thus inherently provincial (cf. Wystan Curnow, “High Culture in a Small Province,” in Wystan Curnow (ed.), Essays on New Zealand Literature [Auckland: Heinemann Educational Books, 1973] 155-71).
[Online Etymology Dictionary; A New Handbook of Literary Terms]