In the preceding discussion I have attempted to depict the complex web of factors that contribute to the emergence of late modernism near the end of the 1920s. I have also developed such key theoretical concepts as generalized mimetism, self-reflexive laughter, and the weakening of symbolic form in late modernist works of literature. In conclusion, I wish to offer a more general description of late modernist writing, in the form of a taxonomy of basic features. Although each of the authors I treat gives a personal inflection to the elements of the model I am defining, and while the different texts of a given author manifest these elements to a greater or lesser extent, I identify seven major areas of continuity between them:
1) Late modernist works present a deauthenticated world in which subject and object, figure and ground, character and setting are only weakly counterposed or even partly intermingled. The different works may employ a greater or lesser degree of reference to "social reality," that is, may be more or less "mimetic" in the traditional sense. Yet whether they represent "realistically" a world where spectacle and simulacra predominate and characters are near-puppets of external forces (as in Lewis's The Revenge for Love ) or they construct a phantom heterotopia from the start (Lewis's TheChildermass ), they are character-
ized by a disruption of stable differences and thus disclose the emergence of what I have called "generalized mimetism."
2) Both externally (in terms of the author's identification with an artistic or other social community) and internally (in terms of the author's narrative perspective as evident in literary texts), late modernism is decisively marked by a minimal "positionality" of the author-ial subject. That is to say, these texts bear the marks of an author without determinate social, moral, political, and even narrative location: isolated, in drift, and unstably positioned with respect to the work. This minimal positionality stands in distinction to more traditional modes of satire, which depend on a stable basis in ethical norms or knowledge or custom, both for the satirist and for the projected audience of the satire; it also differs from the strong orchestrating role of earlier modernist authorship. The late modernist may assume neither a stable ground of values nor any commonality with an audience, nor even a subjective ground of form, beyond an anthropological minimum.
3) This "anthropological minimum" is what Lewis called "nonhuman, nonpersonal" laughter, what Beckett calls "mirthless laughter," and what I have analyzed and generalized as "self-reflexive laughter." This laughter, functioning to preserve and shore up—to "stiffen"—a subjectivity at risk of dissolution, constitutes the telos and minimum basis of formal unity for the late modernist work.
4) Following from this latter point, late modernism—in distinction to both traditional literary form and the formal principles animating earlier modernism—exhibits a major loosening of symbolic unity. Aimed at provoking self-reflexive laughter, late modernist works employ a special type of de-formed "spatial" form. This form resembles what Bakhtin calls "reduced laughter" and Kristeva calls "riant spaciousness"—a rhetorical, textual, and formal structure that occasions laughter. Such a mode of spatiality characterizes the mechanically disarticulated space of Lewis's "puppets"; the wobbly oscillations, semicircular peregrinations, and sudden disequilibrations of Beckett's tramps and clowns; and the bizarre mannerisms and tics of Barnes's "performers." Following Kristeva, I would characterize this spatiality as an irruption of a presymbolic, figural "chora" (a mobile order, rhythmically articulated) into symbolic form—a general "shaking loose" of fictional space and time into a disaggregated "choral" shape.
5) Considered thematically rather than formally, "riant spaciousness" also accentuates the fragility and permeability of the human body and
its uneasy fit within the spaces around it. To put it otherwise, late modernism is marked by a predominance of grotesque bodies, motivated by the goal of provoking self-reflexive laughter.
6) One type of grotesque representation occupies a special thematic place in late modernism and should be separately mentioned: an obsessive depiction of pure corporeal automatism. Images of tics, fits, convulsions, involuntary eruptions, and more arcane phenomena like the bizarre ailments plaguing Beckett's characters or the example of "pleural shock" discussed above abound in late modernism as instances of "limit-experience." They stand as figures of an unthinkable and unrepresentable threshold: a pure laughter in which all subjectivity has been extinguished. Self-reflexive laughter may never cross or even reach this threshold, but it stands always in relation to it, as if in the field of its thanatopic magnetism.
7) Late modernism, finally, presents an image of subjectivity "at play" in the face of its own extinction. It prepares the literary ground for the anthropological "endgame" Beckett would betray to the world in the 1950s—the theatricalized gestures of the Western subject, rehearsing its final abdication. Yet unlike, perhaps, the late writings of Beckett and other canonical instances of postmodernism, late modernism maintains a tenuous hold in the borderland of "mirthless laughter": a mortifying jolt that may yet work to stiffen and preserve.