I must acknowledge from the outset the problem of inclusion that any such term as "late modernism" entails. Like its parent concepts "modernism" and "postmodernism," the notion of "late modernism" suffers from two notable difficulties. First is the problem of defining its chronological boundaries. Period terms tend to suggest, even when this assumption is not made explicit, an essential correspondence between the "spirit of the age" (or, for the historical materialist, the social history of a period) and representative works of art. Modernist works are, in this view, synecdoches of "the modern age"; postmodernist works likewise express the "postmodern condition." But when exactly, skeptics often ask, do these begin and end? And why can we find works that seem "postmodern" in the "modern" age or even earlier? The second problem is related but of even greater practical consequence for the critic: the problem of selection. What is included by the category, and what is left out? On what basis does the critic select a "representative" canon of "late modernist" works?
The selection of a representative canon, I would argue, can never be unassailable, given the selectiveness that haunts even the most careful and detailed exposition of a period. Moreover, as I have already remarked, I am quite consciously engaging in a labor of critical advocacy, of "making the case" for a body of works, and in that sense, also of trying to establish a canon for which "late modernism" would be a legitimate and illuminating critical and historical designation. Canons may be either consciously shaped or unconsciously adopted; with respect to the surprisingly stable canon of modernist authors and works, I seek to tip the balance toward a knowing partiality. In turn, my readers will have to judge whether they find compelling the reasons I offer for preferring a "bad new" modernist canon, stood up on still-tottering feet, over a "good old" one, squatly resting on a plinth of tacit beliefs and received ideas. Lest, however, my attempt to define a distinct late modernist mode and to heighten divisions within the broad field of modernist art and literature appear a mere critical coup-de-main , I will make my claims as clear and explicit as possible.
First, the writers I discuss as representative late modernists are directly linked only by loose affiliation. They shared certain common influences, read and published in some of the same or similar journals, and had some friends and associates in common. They do not, however, represent a "movement" in the sense of having self-consciously formulated goals
and formal organization to implement those goals. Here, it is useful to remember that terms like "modernism," "late modernism," "postmodernism," and so on, are the tools of the historians, professional assigners of labels not always chosen by the original participants. As C. Barry Chabot remarks on the provenance of the term "modernism": " 'Modernism' is not a term equivalent to 'Imagism,' 'Futurism,' 'Surrealism,' 'Vorticism' and the like, which refer to specific schools or movements; instead, it is the term invoked to suggest what such particular and divergent programs have in common. It is a period concept ; and its use involves the claim that in the end, and whatever their obvious difference, the individual energies of the time possess enough family resemblances that it makes sense to refer to them collectively." "Late modernism," like "modernism," refers to a significant set of family resemblances between writers during a certain period of time. It is a construction of the work of analysis, which allows these resemblances to be disclosed and judged. As a historical category, it stands and falls on the persuasiveness with which it helps bring these resemblances to light.
Second, as already suggested, literary modernism has a number of divergent tendencies. As Chabot aptly notes, literary modernism "possesses nothing comparable to the Seagram Building" (34), a clear-cut monument of the modernist aesthetic in architecture. To speak of a late modernist reaction to modernism, then, requires the prior establishment of just what modernism the late modernists were attacking. In my interpretive chapters, I seek first to discover the process by which the individual writers came to break with modernism as they conceived it. Each had a different position within the broad circles of Anglo-American modernism; each understood "modernism" in somewhat different but nonetheless related ways. I consider the particularity of their reactions to their own individual conception of modernism but with an eye toward the "family resemblances" they share with other late modernists.
Third, I attempt to reveal how the responses of late modernists to modernism, individually inflected as they were, were decisively shaped by common biographical and contextual factors. These commonalities account for the clustering of late modernist works within a limited number of years and justify the use of a periodizing term. Moreover, they legitimate a central aspect of my interpretive procedure: the reading of formal and figurative characteristics as indices of the author's relation to his or her context.
Fourth, the late modernist response to modernism is inseparable from its emergence as a historically codified phenomenon. Modernism had to
have aged, had to have become in a way "historical," had to have entered into a certain stage of canonization, for the kind of writing I discuss to be possible. By the twenties a canon of modernist authors and evaluative judgments about their works had begun to find general acceptance among critics and even among the general reading public. Joseph Conrad, for example, writes in his 1920 preface to Under Western Eyes (published originally in 1911) how the book was a failure with the English public when it first appeared, because of the modernist "detachment" of its narration. He received his "reward," he notes, only six years later, when the events in Russia created a context for his work to be understood and positively reevaluated. Not just from Conrad, however, but also from Henry James, Ford Madox Ford, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf, among others, a positive and broadly accepted image of the "modern novel" in English emerged at this time. Late modernist fiction can, in fact, be understood as a reaction to a nascent canon of modernist writers and the aesthetic they represented. Late modernism makes self-conscious the limits of this model of modernism, centered on what Nicholls calls discursive mastery, and hence forecloses it as a dominant tendency. This sense of bringing modernism to a close reveals itself, allegorically, in the authors' different handling of literary form and in their works' less unified but more direct response to the historical currents in which they were written and read.
Fifth, this allegorical significance is available largely in retrospect, to the critic and historian. From a latter-day perspective, individual works of late modernist fiction can be interpreted as allegories of the end of modernism. While no single work exhaustively defines this historical phase of modernist writing, each represents a radiant fragment of the whole. Moreover, as allegories of the end of modernism, works of late modernism can be interpreted as anticipations of a time after modernism, literally "postmodernism." Understood as fragments of a future to be fulfilled, they can be, and often have been, crucial influences on later writers.