THEORIZING LATE MODERNISM
We lived under the shadow of two movements that affected all Europe: modernism and collectivism.
Noel Annan, Our Age
The Problem of Late Modernism
We are not only the "last men of an epoch." . . . We are the first men of a Future that has not materialized. We belong to a "great age" that has not "come off."
Wyndham Lewis, 1937
There is no avant-garde, only those who are left behind.
Motto from art-text by Richard Tipping, 1993
Since the late 1920s, it has become an increasingly central part of the avant-garde's vocation to profess its lack of vocation. The statements of Wyndham Lewis and Richard Tipping, separated by more than fifty years, are a case in point. A similar thought animates both artists, that the avant-garde has failed—that it has never ceased to fail—to deliver on its historical promise to "materialize" an unprecedented future in prophetic works of art. For Lewis, the modernist painter, novelist, and polemical "blaster," this realization was sobering. It became the occasion for stock-taking works like his memoirs of World War I, Blasting and Bombardiering , and his posy-World War II autobiography, Rude Assignment ; it was a spur to rethink past experiences and hunker down to the much bleaker future that had come to pass despite all avant-garde "renewals." For the young Australian postmodernist Tipping, in contrast, the late-twentieth-century dissipation of vanguardist pretenses offers a happy freedom to make art playfully, with little concern for who
might be following him and whither. If no one really knows which way things are going, he suggests, why not just go your own way? (Perhaps not accidentally, some of Tipping's best works are humorously modified road signs.) Lewis stoically bestows an epitaph on the grave of the fallen modernist legend; his postmodernist successor discovers a place—as good as any—to begin to dance.
Conceptions of modernism and the avant-garde, as even a limited survey will suggest, are shaped by factors that go well beyond narrowly aesthetic concerns. These may include, among a welter of other elements, particularities of nationality, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality; questions of political engagement; concrete experiences of wars and other important historical events; developments in technology; and religious beliefs. Moreover, insofar as terms like "modernism" and "avant-garde" are used historically to situate a selection of artists and works within a certain geography and time span, they are subject to the conceptual, narrative, and figural parameters that shape all historical writing. Simply put, as we write the cultural history of the twentieth century, we spin out stories of artists, writers, thinkers, movements, and the works they conjured into life; and we weave these stories into the larger fabric of social and political history. Our historical plots have beginnings, middles, and ends; births and deaths occur; there are fixed settings and spaces of errancy; times of decision and dreamtimes in which the logic of the day seems suspended or deranged. Within these bounds we delineate our heroes and villains, setting them on their fatal paths to perdition or bringing them through narrow escapes from the grips of enchanters with resonant foreign names. Yet all the while our choices as to place and period, our selections of "characters" and of their deeds, are being swayed by a powerful, invisible force field of stories twice- and thrice-told, stories learned far too well and recounted on demand.
Modernism has generated a number of different stories, many of which have become familiar to the point of becoming a kind of academic folk wisdom: modernism is the liberation of formal innovation; the destruction of tradition; the renewal of decadent conventions or habit-encrusted perceptions; the depersonalization of art; the radical subjectivization of art. And so on. Despite the diversity and contradictory nature of opinions about what modernism is (or was), however, the study of modernism has tended to be dominated by one very broad and richly embellished story: its "Book of Genesis," which narrates its creation out of the spirit of revolt against the nineteenth century, whether that age be conceived as bourgeois or socialistic, Victorian or Biedermeier, positivis-
tic or decadent and symbolistic. The grand narrative in the study of modernism has been that of its beginnings: "origins," "rise," "emergence," "genealogy," are key terms in this ever more nuanced account. Granted this point, one may go on to observe how much this center of gravity in traditional modernist studies accords with the ideology of modernist aesthetics as such. From writer-critics like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot to their latter-day heirs in the academy, critics have defined the movement in large part with figurative and evaluafive underpinnings of modernism itself, with the Poundian imperative to "Make It New." In authoritative cultural histories of modernism such as Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin's Wittgenstein's Vienna , Carl Schorske's Fin-de-Siècle Vienna , and Stephen Kern's The Culture of Time and Space and in major studies of literary modernism such as Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era , Marjorie Perloff's The Futurist Moment , and Michael Levinson's The Genealogy of Modernism , the accent has fallen on relatively unitary and "vital" moments of its development. In the continental context, this critical emphasis has meant giving pride of place to the cubist and futurist movements before World War I and to the avant-garde ferment of the twenties. Only recently have scholars begun to address the less coherent fate of modernist culture in 1930s France, while the fascinating cultural history of Vienna after the founding of the republic all but disappears behind the crowd of studies dedicated to the pre-World War I ferment. In the Anglo-American context, the imagist and vorticist movements and the postwar Paris expatriate scene likewise receive a disproportionate amount of critical attention, because they identify clear communities of rebel experimenters working in emerging modes and forms.
In the present study of modernism during the late 1920s and 1930s, I have turned this historiographic telescope the other way round, to focus on modernism from the perspective of its end. I develop my argument in two major parts. The first of these, "Theorizing Late Modernism," sets the literature of these years in its broad cultural and political context while elaborating a revisionary model for understanding modernist writing in this transitional period. The second, "Reading Late Modernism," considers in detail the writings and related works—visual, critical, political, and cultural-polemical—of Wyndham Lewis, Djuna Barnes, and Samuel Beckett, who serve in this book as exemplary late modernist figures. I conclude with a coda chapter on a posthumously published novel by the Anglo-expatriate poet and artist, Mina Loy. Loy's Insel gives a fictionalized account of her experiences working in the early 1930s as a procurer of modern paintings for her son-in-law's
New York gallery. Her narrator's ill-fated adventures with an ineffectual German painter suggest the baneful short-circuiting of the once-energizing connection of modernist literature and modern visual arts. Indeed, in its wider implications, Loy's book registers a trembling of the whole artistic field, from writing to painting to photography and cinema, and the threat these new plate tectonics of culture posed to the social "islands" where modernist poet and painter had together found temporary refuge. The ending of Insel stands as an emblem of the end of an artistic epoch: the seedy painter who never paints and the aging writer who futilely seeks to squeeze some inspiration out of an artist-hero meet for the last time, tacitly agree that their alliance has not panned out, and part ways with a sense of relief.
My concentration on these authors is motivated by two impulses, the first evaluative, the latter strategic. Let me lay down my cards in advance: I seek to make a case for the importance of these authors and works and to elevate their status in the canons of twentieth-century literature as now taught in the American university. Bluntly stated, the majority of the works I discuss in this study are just not read—and not only by the half-mythical "common reader," stunted by the profitable conformism of mass-market publishing and the eviscerated budgets for public libraries, but even by scholars and teachers of modernist literature. I attempt to account historically for the feeble presence of these works in the protocols of our collective reading. But I must add that the conditions that brought these works lame-footed and stuttering into the world are, precisely, historical, and thus part of a past that may be surveyed, criticized, and superseded. It is high time to get on with the task of reading these works and discovering what we have missed by accepting critical bedtime tales as truth and letting our uneasy questions go to sleep.
Beyond this plea for revaluation, however, I also seize on these writings for strategic purposes. They form something of a vanishing point for the perspective lines projected by works in several different artistic fields, as well as by the political and critical discourses current in the late 1920s and 1930s and by diverse popular tendencies of the day. Careful reading of these works, together with the reconstruction of their context, shows the tacit dialogue they conducted with the other arts. It reveals how they sought to bind the restless, disturbing collective energies of recorded music, fashion, advertising, radio, and film; and it exposes to critical view the stigmata where mass politics and urban life left their forceful signatures.
When the history of modernist literature is considered in this way, from the perspective of its latter years, an alternative depiction of modernism becomes possible. At first glance, late modernist writing appears a distinctly self-conscious manifestation of the aging and decline of modernism, in both its institutional and ideological dimensions. More surprising, however, such writing also strongly anticipates future developments, so that without forcing, it might easily fit into a narrative of emergent postmodernism. This problem points to a central paradox of late modernist literature in English: its apparent admixture of decadent and forward-looking elements and its consequent lack of a clearly defined place in the dominant frameworks of twentieth-century criticism. It is as if the phosphorescence of decay had illumined the passageway to a reemergence of innovative writing after modernism. Ultimately, I wish to suggest, the writing of this period has much to teach us about the broader shape of twentieth-century culture, both preceding and following the years between the wars. Yet the double life of this significant body of writing—its linkage forward into postmodernism and backward into modernism—has not, by and large, been accounted for by critics and historians of the period.
The earliest and still one of the best diagnoses of the new literary dispensation that emerged in the 1930s may be found in George Orwell's 1935 review of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and, at greater length, in his extensive essay on Miller and the significance of his work, "Inside the Whale." The review is largely subsumed into the later essay, so I will not discuss its contents in detail. Orwell, however, opens his remarks on Miller with a lurid and extreme image evoking an uncanny automatic mechanism that functions even after death. He is speaking of literature and its ability to face up to or avert its eyes from the perilous condition of the present: "Modern man is rather like a bisected wasp which goes on sucking jam and pretends that the loss of its abdomen does not matter. It is some perception of this fact which brings books like Tropic of Cancer (for there will probably be more and more of them as time goes on) into being."
In 1935 this characterization of "modern man" might have seemed hyperbolic and shrill; by the time "Inside the Whale" appeared in 1940,
with Nazi victories blanketing the map of Europe and British capitulation to the mad Charlie Chaplin emperor in Berlin a very real possibility, it was hard not to concur with Orwell's pessimism, if not his precise diagnosis. In forty pages of brilliant, undeceived examination of the main lines of twentieth-century British writing, Orwell diagnoses the condition of literature in England on the brink of a total war for survival. He reveals the collective psychology underlying the epochal shifts in authorial stance and popular taste from the Georgian decades of A. E. Housman and H. G. Wells, to the modernist revolt of T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, to the "Boy Scout atmosphere of bare knees and community singing" he sensed in the leftish boosterism of W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis, and company—all set against a background of political, military, and human horrors: the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact to divide up Poland between Germany and Russia, the mechanized drone of Stuka dive bombers and Panzer brigades, and the stifled cries of the concentration camps.
The historical panorama that Orwell sets out with such unforgiving concision serves to foreground the peculiar homelessness of Miller's work in this history. Miller, quite simply, doesn't fit in the big picture of his times. Out of frank disbelief, Miller avoids the progressive commitments of the Edwardians and the communist enthusiasms of the Auden generation; neither, however, does he exhibit, modernist-style, any faith in the power of carefully crafted, difficult art to redeem the squalid realities of his subproletarian existence. If these large-scale tendencies of attitude and taste had once been, for better or worse, conditions of possibility for an enduring English literature, Miller, in contrast, heralds an altogether different future in which literature as such is endangered by a world much too much with it. Miller's work, Orwell writes, "is a demonstration of the impossibility of any major literature until the world has shaken itself into its new shape." For Orwell, Miller is more than just a writer; he is the unlaureled proseist of middle-class unemployment, the pulverization of professional society in train from the late 1920s on—the collective désoeuvrement of the middle strata, not just in the sense that the heirs of the Edwardian bourgeoisie were without jobs, but also, more fundamentally, that they were bereft of vocation, of any calling in which they might sincerely believe. Miller writes neither to praise collective idleness nor to ally himself rhetorically with the gravediggers of a dying culture, signing on to a future utopia of labor and endeavoring to bury it. It is in this "neither-nor" that Orwell detects a new tone, and identifies in it the endgame of modern individualistic cul-
ture, with the late modernist torso gyrating mechanically while the head no longer serves to guide it and no limb propels it on.
Unfortunately, few critics have developed in a systematic manner Orwell's essayistically formulated insight. Among contemporary scholars of modernist culture, the architectural historian Charles Jencks has made a compelling case for employing the notion of late modernism in critical discussions of twentieth-century architecture and, by extension, the other arts as well. Jencks designates as "late modernist" the persistence in architectural practice of an avant-garde moralism, utopianism, and purist style after the classic period of International-style architectural modernism (1920-1960). "Late modern" architecture, Jencks argues, coexists with the postmodernism that emerges in the 1960s. By comparison to either modernism or late modernism, postmodernist architecture is pluralist and populist in its ethos, intentionally addressing different "taste cultures" from the general public to elite, knowledgeable constituencies, capable of appreciating inside jokes and learned references. Postmodernist architects are unashamedly historicist in their use of ornament and ironic allusion to earlier buildings, which may be freely drawn from for figural and structural ideas. More generally, post-modern architecture abandons the central concern of modern architects with the autonomy of form and its exhaustive display of function. The modernist supercategory "form-equals-function" yields to a diversified concern with meaning, sensuality, and context; symbolism, allegory, and narrative return as major artistic resources. In contrast, late modernism represents a kind of exasperated heightening of the logic of modernist architecture itself. Architectural late modernism is, Jencks writes, "pragmatic and technocratic in its social ideology and from about 1960 takes many of the stylistic ideas and values of modernism to an extreme in order to resuscitate a dull (or clichéd) language" (15).
Two aspects of Jencks's argument are useful for my considerations of late modernist literature. First, he emphasizes the overlap and coexistence of late modernism and postmodernism. These are not successive stages but rather alternative responses to the legacy of modernism and its possible continuation. Second, he recognizes that these terms cannot be defined simply as a matter of style, for they also embrace aspects of social ideology and artistic ethos as well. As Jencks remarks, "To call a late modernist a postmodernist is tantamount to calling a Protestant a Catholic because they both practice a Christian religion" (16). And if the Thirty-Something Year War that followed on the schisming of modernism has left the artistic field razed and the scattered troops looting
whatever they came across in their retreat, Jencks's point still stands. The choices for artists working in the wake of modernism had real stakes, and these stakes have not been sufficiently recognized in the rush to postmodernism: art's relation to the past, its address to a public, and its stance toward the society and politics of the day. On this, I cannot express my agreement with Jencks too strongly. The extension of Jencks's arguments to literature, however, is limited by his specific concentration on architecture, which has a distinct stylistic and institutional history. Architectural modernism had its first heave with the socialist urbanism of the late 1920s and 1930s and its second wind with the urban development after World War II, whereas literary modernism peaked much earlier and, free of any strong ties to economic and political institutions, much more feebly. Hence, one should expect that "late modernist" literature would have an analogously different historical shape than that of architecture. In contrast with different building forms, differences in literary architectonics have few direct social effects; hence, questions of ethos and social vision have a less direct translation into formal considerations than in architecture. Moreover, no "postmodernist" complement existed at the moment that late modernist literature made its first appearance-as I am arguing, around 1926. Instead, this emergent literature appears in tandem with a still developing corpus of high modernism. James Joyce's Finnegans Wake , Virginia Woolf's The Waves and Between the Acts , Ezra Pound's Cantos , Aldous Huxley's Eyeless in Gaza , and other monuments of high modernism share the field with a new generation of late modernist works.
Fredric Jameson, in his celebrated writings on postmodernism, acknowledges the need for an intermediary concept to characterize the cultural products of the "transition" between modernism and postmodernism, although he leaves the task of theorizing this interim largely to others. Somewhat grudgingly, he admits that "we should probably . . . make some place . . . for what Charles Jencks has come to call 'late modernism'—the last survivals of a properly modernist view of art and the world after the great political and economic break of the Depression, where, under Stalinism or the Popular Front, Hitler or the New Deal, some new conception of social realism achieves the status of momentary cultural dominance by way of collective anxiety and world war." As exemplary "late modernists" in literature, Jameson mentions Vladimir Nabokov, Samuel Beckett, Charles Olson, and Louis Zukofsky, "who had the misfortune to span two eras and the luck to find a time capsule of isolation or exile in which to spin out unseasonable
forms" (305). The concept of late modernism was, indeed, already implicit in Jameson's earlier study of Wyndham Lewis, whose "prophetic assault on the very conventions of the emergent modernism" presaged the "contemporary poststructuralist aesthetic, which signals the dissolution of the modernist paradigm." He goes on to note that "Lewis cannot be fully assimilated to the contemporary textual aesthetic without anachronism" (or as Jameson might now write, it would be ahistor-ical to call Lewis "postmodernist"). Nevertheless, Lewis's out-of-phase relation to modernism, his anachronistic "kinship with us" (20), constitutes a central focus of Jameson's study. In my own account as well, Lewis—as cultural critic, painter, and novelist—plays a crucial role in the late modernist breakup and reconfiguration of earlier "high" modernism.
Examining modern and postmodern modes of irony in Horizons of Assent , Alan Wilde offers a more elaborated description of late modernism than Jameson's. His conception has two major elements. First, it represents a welcome attempt to break down the overly schematic opposition of modernism and postmodernism in literary history. To "do justice" to the "jagged course of literary history," Wilde feels the need for a third term: "Late modernism interposes a space of transition, a necessary bridge between more spacious and self-conscious experimental movements [i.e., modernism and postmodernism—T.M.]." Second, through close reading of works by Christopher Isherwood and Ivy Compton-Burnett, Wilde contrasts the qualifies of irony that characterize modernist and late modernist fiction. Modernist irony, Wilde argues, helps bring to life a richly inclusive and interconnected fictional world as a symbolic compensation for the chaos and impoverishment of modern life. The modernist work registers these modern social realities deeply even in its negative relation to them; its formal and stylistic difficulties testify to the strains suffered in keeping the world at bay. In contrast, late modernist irony engages with social realities less profoundly and offers no embracing vision in which the contradictions of modern life would be resolved. The late modernist text, no doubt, turns to the reader a more reserved and diplomatic face than that of the fractious modernist monster. But monsters also have their poignance, and sweetness and clarity are dearly bought: high modernism's "generosity and breadth—its desire to restore significance to a broken world" (119)—are abandoned in the late modernist work as so much useless baggage.
In his study Postmodernist Fiction , Brian McHale makes an analogous attempt to find a place for works that are caught in the no-man's-
land between the camps of modernist and postmodernist fiction. Like Wilde, he seeks both to account for historical change and transition in the modes of writing and to identify distinct stylistic and formal characteristics of these transitional works. He distinguishes modernist and postmodernist fictions in terms of their overall "set" toward reality. Modernist fiction, McHale suggests, is predominantly "epistemological" in nature: it seeks, despite the confusing webs of psychic, perceptual, and social facts, to disclose a coherent, knowable world. Postmodernist fiction, in contrast, functions differently. Relinquishing the modernist quest to know "the" world, it invents possible worlds; post-modernist fiction is, in McHale's terms, ontological , world-making, rather than world-disclosing. Between these two possibilities, McHale posits a third mode, which unsettles the opposition between the epistemological and ontological dominants. He identifies this possibility, notably, with Samuel Beckett's post-World War II trilogy (as well as Alain Robbe-Grillet's nouveau roman ): "Here, we might say, modernist poetics begins to hemorrhage , to leak away—though not fatally, since it is still (barely) possible to recuperate these internal contradictions by invoking the model of the 'unreliable narrator,' thus stabilizing the projected world and reasserting the epistemological dominant of the text." Such works, which McHale designates "limit-modernist" texts, are marked precisely by their oscillation between the dominant features of modernist and postmodernist fiction.
All three critics make important contributions to formulating a poetics of late modernism. Jameson's imperative to historicize the moments of literary change; Wilde's choice of the 1930s as the point of departure for late modernism; and McHale's excellent description of the formal workings of late modernist texts have strongly influenced the model I develop. Yet for each, late modernism amounts to little more than a peripheral issue, a bit of detail work on the capacious but drafty house of fiction built by Modernism, Postmodernism, and Co.
The "unseasonable forms" spun out by late modernist writers, however, signify more than just patchwork in the otherwise unbroken facade of literary history. Untimely phenomena like late modernist fiction represent breaking points, points of nonsynchronism, in the broad narrative of twentieth-century cultural history. They embody the force of the exception within what might be called "the negative invariance of history," its tendency to conserve institutions and processes in the midst of historical change. Accordingly, the works of late modernist literature should not be viewed simply as cultural curiosities salvaged from time,
aesthetic souvenirs that exert their unsettling fascination by reviving an already moribund modernism. Rather, they mark the lines of right artists took where an obstacle, the oft-mentioned "impasse" of modernism, interrupted progress on established paths. Facing an unexpected stop, late modernists took a detour into the political regions that high modernism had managed to view from the distance of a closed car, as part of a moving panorama of forms and colors. The cultural products of this period both are and are not "of the moment." Precisely in their unfimeliness, their lack of symmetry and formal balance, they retain the power to transport their readers and critics "out of bounds"—to an "elsewhere" of writing from which the period can be surveyed, from which its legitimacy as a whole might be called into question.
Late modernist writing was not particularly successful in either critical or commercial terms, and each work tended toward formal singularity, as if the author had hit a dead end and had to begin again. In content, too, these works reflected a closure of the horizon of the future: they are permeated with a foreboding of decline and fall, of radical contingency and absurd death. Thus John Hawkes, in his statement for a 1962 forum, "Fiction Today," characterized Djuna Barnes as an exemplar for the contemporary writer of "experimental fiction," a path-breaker whose work bears signs of her passage through the funereal spaces of modernism's demise:
Like the poet, the experimental fiction writer . . . enters his created world . . . with something more than confidence and something less than concern over the presence of worms in the mouth. Like the poem, the experimental fiction is an exclamation of psychic materials which come to the writer all readily distorted, prefigured in that nightly inner schism between the rational and the absurd. And the relationship between the sprightly destructive poem and the experimental novel is not an alliance but merely the sharing of a birthmark: they come from the same place and are equally disfigured from the start.
Late modernists like Barnes, Hawkes suggests, carry the signs of death on their faces, the disfigured countenances they show to their post-modern successors. Paradoxically, however, these very signs of disfigu-ration charge their work with its contemporaneity, its ability to speak to the writers of the present day.
The backward-turned glance by which one may read and interpret such funereal signs is what Walter Benjamin described in his Trauer-spiel and Baudelaire studies as an "allegorical optic." The allegorical optic seeks its truth in the mortified ruin of the work (or here, in the
undoing of a whole literary movement and aesthetic). It is a critical gaze that shatters the unity of the object at hand into fragments: "In the field of allegorical intuition the image is a fragment, a rune. Its beauty as a symbol evaporates when the light of divine learning falls upon it. The false appearance of totality is extinguished. For the eidos disappears, the simile ceases to exist, and the cosmos it contained shrivels up. The dry rebuses which remain contain an insight, which is still available to the confused investigator." Yet this optic, which I apply to the works of late modernism, seeing in them splinter-products of a shattered "classic" modernism, replicates the late modernist's already belated relation to high modernism as ruin. Late modernist writers were divested, by political and economic forces, of the cultural "cosmos"—the modernist "myth," in its most encompassing sense—in which the singular works of high modernism seemed components of an aesthetically transfigured world. In the empty spaces left by high modernism's dissolution, late modernists reassembled fragments into disfigured likenesses of modernist masterpieces: the unlovely allegories of a world's end.
In such works the vectors of despair and utopia, the compulsion to decline and the impulse to renewal, are not just related; they are practically indistinguishable. As Benjamin writes, "This is the essence of melancholy immersion: that its ultimate objects, in which it believes it can most fully secure for itself that which is vile, turn into allegories, and that these allegories fill out and deny the void in which they are represented, just as, ultimately, the intention does not faithfully rest in the contemplation of bones, but faithlessly leaps forward to the idea of resurrection" (232-233). Sinking themselves faithlessly into a present devoid of future, into a movement grinding to a halt and an aesthetic on the threshold of dissolution, the writers of late modernism prepared themselves, without hope, to pass over to the far side of the end.
In 1930, under the title "Crisis of the Novel," Benjamin reviewed Alfred Döblin's recently published novel Berlin Alexanderplatz . Before turning to his more specific comments on Döblin's urban epic, he offers general remarks on the state of the European modern novel at the end of the 1920s. Benjamin suggests that there are two equally authoritative but antithetical strains of modernist novel. Together they constitute the extremes of a schismed field of modernist narrative, and
the tension between the two models is the clearest index of the crisis to which his title refers.
The first tendency is represented by André Gide's The Counterfeiters and finds its theoretical expression in the same author's "Journal of The Counterfeiters. " Gide advances there his idea of the roman put (pure novel), in which no element would be extraneous and in which the main idea expressed would be the process of the novel's composition itself. Character, plot, theme, dialogue, and even reading would all be immanent to the single thread of the writing:
I should like events never to be related directly by the author, but instead exposed (and several times from different vantages) by those actors who will be influenced by those events. In their account of the action I should like the events to appear slightly warped; the reader will take a sort of interest from the mere fact of having to reconstruct. . . .
Thus the whole story of the counterfeiters is to be discovered only in a gradual way through the conversations, by which all the characters will portray themselves at the same time.
Gide's highly involuted, unified, self-referential composition stands in stark contrast to the second tendency, which Benjamin sees exemplified and theorized by Döblin. Benjamin (following Döblin's own essay "The Construction of the Epic Work") calls this second tendency "epic"; its main characteristics are its orientation toward everyday speech and the use of montage techniques to open the literary work to an array of extraliterary contents. If Gide's subtle hand is discernible over all his materials, all the more so as he retreats from direct author-ial address, then Döblin's authorial presence is nearly eclipsed by the heterogeneous materials he assembles. "So thick is this montaging," Benjamin writes, "the author has difficulty getting a word in among it" (233).
In delineating two extreme tendencies in modernist fiction—the first marked by purity, formal mastery, and orientation toward unique interiorized experience; the second, by heterogeneity of materials, montage techniques, and orientation toward everyday life and speech—Benjamin clearly intended to map out a field of possibilities for the modern novel. At the same time, however, his essay has a precise historical aim: to identify the marked tendency toward polarized extremes that was characteristic of the period. It was not one or the other that was the most significant historical symptom; it was their tense coexistence. Precisely this had come to the fore and called for critical analysis. Benjamin emphasized that historical features of both past and present become visible
only at specific moments and in specific situations. The 1930s, with its extreme tension and conflicts, was just such a "horizon of legibility" for modernism, a "late modernist" moment in which stock of the overall shape of modernism could be taken.
Benjamin's distinction between two poles of novelistic writing bears a marked similarity to Peter Nicholls's recent, more general consideration of the "divergences" internal to both modernist and postmodernist writing. Nicholls bases his discussion on Jean-Francois Lyotard's concepts of "discourse" and "figure." In Discours, figure , Lyotard argues that discourse, conceived by structuralists as a closed and self-referential grid of linguistic differences, always opens out onto a space and time incommensurable with the linguistic system. This otherness, language's "depth element," disrupts the systematicity of discourse and transgresses its generic forms. Lyotard calls the disruptive otherness within discourse the "figural." Nicholls adopts these two notions, opposed but also mutually imbricated, to define two interrelated poles of modernism, depending on whether the element of discursive mastery or figural disruption predominates.
Like Benjamin, Nicholls seeks to corrrelate compositional and generic features of texts with their social meanings, to discern how the form of works and their historical situation coincide or clash. Notably, Nicholls attempts to distinguish between Anglo-American and continental modernisms on the basis of these tendentially different relations to signification. Anglo-American modernism, with its "stress on technique as mastery," assumes that "non-signifying effects must be seen to be won from the effort of signification (from the 'combat of arrangement,' in Pound's phrase)" (10). In contrast, Nicholls suggests that a continental modernism like German expressionism tends toward the "figural" dominant, which mobilizes "a non-semiotic dimension which subverts the order of discourse" (12). "Here," he writes, " 'good form' seems always about to mutate into its opposite, to yield something which the structure cannot contain or speak" (12).
Nicholls's notion of this internal divergence in modernism is highly suggestive and has implications far beyond the scope of his arguments. For example, it suggests a basis for the different qualities of modernism as manifest in the various literary genres. The choice of genre is inseparable from the tendency toward discursive mastery or figural transgression of discourse. The novel, with its sedimented history, its well-codified conventions, and its strong ties to narrative forms, would seem by nature to tend toward an aesthetic of discursive mastery. The "main-
stream" of European high modernist fiction—Proust, Gide, Mann, Hesse, Svevo, Broch, Musil, Joyce, Woolf (and others) —focused on the problem of mastering a chaotic modernity by means of formal techniques: ironic detachment; highly mediated and multiperspectival narration; narrative involution and self-referentiality; stylistic ostentation; use of large-scale symbolic forms; dramatization of states of consciousness, including the author's own. In contrast, the disruptive effects of the figural tend to appear most evidently in genres other than the novel: in avant-garde poetry like that of William Carlos Williams; in the invented or wholly reinvented genres employed by Gertrude Stein (her "portraits," "tender buttons," "geographies," "operas," and "plays"); in the unstable mixtures of critical discourse, prose poetry, and narration characteristic of surrealist antinovels like André Breton's Nadja and Louis Aragon's Paris Peasant ; or in the aphoristic "thought-pictures" of Walter Benjamin's One-Way Street and Ernst Bloch's Traces .
I want to underscore, moreover, that this dual aspect of modernist writing is not just a retrospective fantasy of literary theorists, critics, and historians. Indeed, as a way of thinking about modernist writing, it adopts and sharpens to a critical schema the less systematic views of modernist writers themselves about their artistic field and their role in it. This self-understanding can be detected in Joyce's lingering doubt, recounted approvingly to Richard Ellmann by Samuel Beckett, that he "may have oversystematized Ulysses ." Similarly, in a letter from the summer of 1930 to his friend Thomas MacGreevy, Beckett would remark of Marcel Proust, "He is so absolutely the master of his own form that he becomes its slave as often as not." Both remarks show Beckett thinking about his high modernist predecessors and zeroing in on the fissile point of the high modernist work, the tension between global form and molecular detail. In a more far-reaching example, we can gauge the breadth of modernism's artistic field by juxtaposing two extremes: Eliot's famous essay "Ulysses, Order, and Myth," published in The Dial in November 1923, and Beckett's diary entry from January 1937, a text that amounts to an implicit commentary on the whole project of a modernism crowned by its masterpieces Ulysses and The Waste Land . Eliot predicts the end of the novel as a literary genre on grounds that the age demands a stricter form and finds in Ulysses the lineaments of that rigor. As Eliot adumbrates it, Joyce's "mythical method" is a technique of disciplining and unifying the anarchic, senseless whirl of splinters that characterizes contemporary history. Beckett, in contrast, writes: "I am not interested in a 'unification' of the historical chaos any
more than I am in the 'clarification' of the individual chaos, and still less in the anthropomorphisation of the inhuman necessities that provoke the chaos. What I want is the straws, flotsam, etc., names, dates, births and deaths, because that is all I can know." Eliot's appeal to myth is at once epistemological and religio-political. It offers the possibility of aesthetically mastering a plethora of desacralized, fragmented facts, turning them into singular works of art; in turn, it also conjures the formal authority by which these facts may be selected, shaped, and reinvested with sacred meaning. By contrast, Beckett's antimythic, pessimistic positivism, which heightens the ineluctability of facts precisely in their multitudinous facticity, forecloses in advance any such aesthetic putschism in life, literature, or politics. It matters little in this context whether Eliot's characterization of Ulysses accurately describes either Joyce's intention or the functioning of the text itself, or whether Beck-ett could relinquish formal mastery so totally in his strategic celebration of the smithereen. I take Eliot's and Beckett's antithetical views as ideal types, marking out a field, and as striking signs of the underground historical passage being negotiated—in letters, notebooks, conversations, unpublished works—throughout the years between the world wars, a long labor of cultural transformation largely hidden until the whole development surfaced one day to stay.
If these historical considerations are taken together with Nicholls's claim that Anglo-American modernism decidedly tended toward an aesthetic of formal mastery centered on the novel, they lay the basis for both a formal and a historical understanding of late modernist writing. Late modernism was, in the first instance, a reaction to a certain type of modernist fiction dominated by an aesthetics of formal mastery, and it drew on a marginalized "figural" tendency within modernism as the instrument of its attack on high modernist fiction. It is crucial here to underscore the term "tendency," for late modernist writing is not defined by a rigidly defined set of formal features, as if suddenly at the turn of 1927 all poets began writing sonnets of thirteen lines. Indeed, late modernist writers energetically sought to deflate the category of form as a criterion for judging literary works. For the latter-day reader, their works reveal how contingent was the modernist buildup of form and formal mastery, crucially important to the advances of a small, prestigious group of writers and critics, but by no means coextensive with the field of modernism as such—particularly when one began to consider writers outside the canonized mainstream for political reasons, as was Wyndham Lewis; for reasons of gender and sexuality, as were Djuna
Barnes and Mina Loy; and for national reasons, as was Beckett. If modernist poetics are a mesh of interrelated statements, evaluations, and judgments, then late modernist writing is the product of the pressure of historical circumstances on that mesh, which threatens to fray or break at its weakest points. Late modernism does indeed deform and change the shape and function of that network; yet it also heightens latent strains within it. Like a red-headed child in a family of blonds, the recessive traits of this body of works reveal what lay hidden in modernism's genetic past all along—an unassimilated heritage of the continental avant-gardes; a pariahed corpus of works tainted with satirical, documentary, or argumentative elements; the unsung and often unpublished works of founding modernist women like Gertrude Stein and Mina Loy.
In their struggle against what they perceived as the apotheosis of form in earlier modernism, late modernist writers conjured the disrupfive, deforming spell of laughter. They developed a repertoire of means for unsettling the signs of formal craft that testified to the modernist writer's discursive mastery. Through a variety of satiric and parodic strategies, they weakened the formal cohesion of the modernist novel and sought to deflate its symbolic resources, reducing literary figures at points to a bald literalness or assimilating them to the degraded forms of extraliterary discourse. They represent a world in free fall, offering vertiginously deranged commentary as word, body, and thing fly apart with a ridiculous lack of grace. Three snapshots of this hilarious descent:
"I am so terribly glad you like me—I like you very much!"
The delicious confession because of the exciting crudity of words thrills him, it has the sanctity of a pact that a kiss alone could properly seal and he pauses in confusion; then big burning Gretchen he yodels on putting into clumsy brazen words all the sentimental secrecies coveted by the Fausts with jammy and milky appetites in the dark ages of simplicity.
She had a beaked head and the body, small, feeble, and ferocious, that somehow made one associate her with Judy; they did not go together. Only severed could any part of her have been called "right." . . . Her body suffered from its fare, laughter and crumbs, abuse and indulgence. But put out a hand to touch her, and her head moved perceptibly with the broken arc of two instincts, recoil and advance, so that the head rocked timidly and aggressively at the same moment, giving her a slightly shuddering and expectant rhythm.
Then Watt said, Obscure keys may open simple locks, but simple keys obscure locks never. But Watt had hardly said this when he regretted having done so. But then it was too late, the words were said and could never
be forgotten, never undone. But a little later he regretted them less. And a little later he did not regret them at all. And a little later they pleased him again, no less than when they had first sounded, so gentle, so cajoling, in his skull. And then again a little later he regretted them again, most bitterly. And so on.
The object of derision here is so closely intertwined with the order and choice of words used to enact the ridicule that they merge in a single rhythm of phrasing just below the threshold of laughter. As I will suggest in my next chapter, these texts dramatize a particularly violent discombobulation of body and thought, a mirthless comedy of bodily discomposure. They hover at an unstable point between one extreme, the author's capture of laughter and reduction of it to literary representations, and the other, its liberation once more from the text through the reader's laughter. Through such means, too, late modernist works dramatized the comic fragility of modernist attempts to contain contingency and violence aesthetically, through literary form. Within the late modernist novel, the formal "lapses" bound to laughter allowed expression of those negative forces of the age that could not be coaxed into any admirable design of words: its violence, madness, absurd contingencies, and sudden deaths.
Late modernist writing thus coheres as a distinctive literary "type" within the historical development of modernist literature, serving as an index of a new dispensation, a growing skepticism about modernist sensibility and craft as means of managing the turbulent forces of the day. Viewed from the narrow perspective of literary form, late modernist writing weakens the relatively strong symbolic forms still evident in high modernist texts. It reopens the modernist enclosure of form onto the work's social and political environs, facilitating its more direct, polemical engagement with topical and popular discourses. From the point of view of the external context, it also registers the ways in which intense social, political, and economic pressures of the period increasingly threatened the efficacy of high modernist form. These converging historical vectors are powerfully evident in the literary texts of those authors on whom the second part of this study focuses, authors who wrote their primary works of fiction after the modernist "boom" of the early twenties. Emerging in Lewis's The Apes of God and The Childer-mass , in Barnes's Ryder and Nightwood , and in Beckett's More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy , late modernist fiction took a detour from the high modernist road and consciously struck out on the byways and footpaths where the modernist movement had begun to stray.
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.
In the preceding pages, I have attempted to define why the works of the later 1920s and 1930s deserve a second, more systematic look by readers and scholars of modern writing. I have also made the case for reopening the conceptual pigeonholes into which we have been encour-
aged to put twentieth-century writing, housing in separate chambers the caged eagle of modernism and the spangled parakeet of postmodernism. But if late modernism is no more than a passageway between these two cages, which otherwise remain closed worlds, it still has relatively little to offer readers of today, outside specialists in the field.
Peter Bürger, however, has argued that the very relevance of the arts in the contemporary world is at stake in understanding the fate of modernism: "One could . . . claim that all relevant art today defines itself in relation to modernism. If this is so, then a theory of contemporary aesthetics has the task of conceptualizing a dialectical continuation of modernism." By rethinking in this book the aesthetics of modernism and the question of its relevance in light of its undeniable historical "decline," I seek to rise to Bürger's provoking challenge. I place late modernist writing in the early-twentieth-century context of shifting hierarchies within the arts, intensive development of the mass media, and traumatic events of social and political history—historical trends that were incipient for high modernist writers, yet not so ineluctably part of the "weather" as they would become during the 1930s. These developments opened new fault lines in both individual and collective experience, splits that today we have reinhabited but hardly repaired; late modernists laid the foundations for this dangerous way of dwelling. Taking their stand upon the shifting seismic plates of European society between two catastrophic wars, late modernist writers confronted no less an issue than the survival of individual selves in a world of technological culture, mass politics, and shock experience, both on the battlefield and in the cities of the intervening peace.
As I will show, these writers perceived as a general state of affairs a kind of all-pervasive, collective, and incurable shell-shock, from which all suffer and which need not have trench experience as its precondition (though for many, of course, it did). Everyone, they suggest, has a bit of the automaton about him or her; it follows from the conditions of history within which we must make our selves, our lives, our cities. The distinction between the vital and the mechanical had become less sharp in the interwar years; the world of things had never seemed more animated, while the question "Does life live?" lost its apparent nonsensicality for masses of people. Yet the late modernist writers also discovered the ethical ground of their work in a seeming imperfection in the process: the arrested state of this movement toward the efficient robot, the failure to complete this mechanization of the body through to its end, the comical inability of humans to consummate the man-machine.
This ethical impulse was inseparable from a kind of bitter comedy. Laughter, itself a kind of spasmodic automatism only marginally distinct from the laughable mechanism of our embodied existence, can help serve to convince us that a self, however minimal, is still there. Rideo ergo sum . The self confirms itself in laughter, persists in the interval between automatism and its comic reflex. It is within this inescapable comedy that all are compelled to play—this condition in which, as Wyndham Lewis put it, "everyone should be laughed at or else no one should— that both solidarity and difference must find their future ground. These literary works of late modernism represent the initial, tentative steps in its exploration. Accordingly, in the chapter that follows, I attempt to provide readers with a broad topographical map of this terrain, this "riant spaciousness," before passing on to examine in detail some of its specific zones and features in the latter half of the book.
The End of Modernism
Rationalization, Spectacle, and Laughter
The First World War, as writers, historians, and other scholars of culture have persuaded us, marked a radical divide in the experience of millions of Europeans, altering forever how they saw themselves, their fellow men and women, and the forms of collective power at once frighteningly remote and dangerously proximate to the most intimate dimensions of life. Many of the crucial changes brought about by the war impose themselves on the eye, from the large-scale corporate reorganization of the economy and the state to meet the needs of reconstruction, to highly personal shifts in the relations of the sexes and corresponding ideas of masculinity and femininity. Less evident, and hence less well documented, however, is the intricate rhythm with which these changes interacted, reinforcing and canceling one another in sudden volumes and voids over the entire period from the armistice until the full-scale return to war with Dunkirk and the London Blitz. The influence of the war, much more fluid and fieldlike than is often appreciated, by no means touched only on the traumatized participants in the war effort, nor did it last only through the years of reconstruction, when the home economies and institutions sought to absorb the turbulent force of weary, embittered, shell-shocked armies, whether victorious or defeated.
In focusing on the role of trench warfare in shaping "modern memory," Paul Fussell's classic study of war writing brought to light the Great War's subjective logic: the tragic lag in culture that sent young men to war armed with late Victorian conceptions and brought them
back into a peacetime society with a psychic armor, thrown up in the trenches, permanently raised. For extreme cases like the trench poet Ivor Gurney, history had lost all boundaries. It was all war, everywhere; he died in 1937 in a mental asylum, convinced that the fighting was still going on outside. Late modernism, however, lies both a step back from and a step beyond such extremity, in the tributary channels by which memories and experiences of the war were transmitted from participants to readers and from generation to generation. The passages back to this collective catastrophe are more devious, often interrupted and difficult to retrace. But one key late modernist writer has left a broken but still discernible trail connecting late modernism to its generarive matrix in the years of war: Wyndham Lewis. For Lewis, the Great War retained its dreadful echo well into the 1930s, when the rising tensions between European nations had once again made mass slaughter present to the imagination of intellectuals and populace alike. It is thus with Lewis's war memoirs, Blasting and Bombardiering , published only two years before Hitler's invasion of Poland, that I begin.
In the introduction to Blasting and Bombardiering (1937), Lewis divides the twentieth century into three historical "segments"—the War, the Post-War, and the post-Post-War: "The War is such a tremendous landmark that locally it imposes itself upon our computations of time like the birth of Christ. We say 'pre-war' and 'post-war,' rather as we say B.C. or A.D . . . . I find a good way of dating after the War is to take the General Strike, 1926, as the next milestone. Then began a period of a new complexion. It was no longer 'post-war.' We needn't call it anything. It's just the period we're living in today." As we later discover, this periodization reflects Lewis's own career, which he takes to be exemplary. As a painter and as the explosive charge behind the journal Blast , Lewis was central to the pre-World War I avant-garde. Yet the war and its aftermath, he suggests, opened a hiatus in his career. Lewis had gained public notoriety for his vorticist paintings, for Blast , and for his debut novel Tarr (first version, 1918). But after Tarr , he writes, "I buried myself. I disinterred myself in 1926, the year of the General Strike—but as a philosopher and critic. This was considered very confusing." Similarly, despite early successes, Lewis's work as a novelist would really only take off after this period of "hibernation," which was of decisive importance for his later career.
Although in many ways idiosyncratic, Lewis could in one crucial respect claim to represent a broader current. Older in years and artistic tenure than many writers starting out in the 1920s, Lewis, like them, nonetheless had to begin his career (over) in the changed circumstances of the "postwar?' Lewis's colleagues like Joyce and Eliot (both noncombatants in World War I), whom he had initially outstripped in artistic initiative, had in the early twenties rapidly achieved worldwide fame as the avatars of a new age in literature. Their works became a standard against which others, whether for or against modernist writing, defined themselves. Lewis, who never gained anything like their notoriety, considered himself artistically at least their equal and in many respects their superior. Yet he too found himself, much to his displeasure, in the ranks of those writing in the shadow of Ulysses and The Waste Land .
The war and its immediate literary aftermath gave contemporaries the strong impression of a historical turning point, which they interpreted in a number of contradictory ways. In England, for example, widely accepted historicocultural myths emerged: "the old men" who had wantonly sacrificed the younger generation to hold on to power in the boardroom and bedroom; the tragic "death of old England" (a pastoral fox-hunting preserve, laid waste by modernity); and a fatal decline attributed to "the missing generation" of frontline soldiers, England's best-and-brightest having been (allegedly) killed off in the trenches. The young Americans who came to Europe tended to see the postwar condition more positively than their English counterparts: a liberation from the strictures of puritanical America and the discovery of community, fun, sexual freedom, abundant drink, and literary fame on the Continent. In either case, however, the five years after the end of the war formed a historical parenthesis of sorts, beyond which, as Lewis put it, a "period of a new complexion began." Those writers who wished to extend the modernist legacy beyond this point indeed re-created it in the image of illustrious forbears, following their example and competing with their achievements. Yet by the late twenties, they had also come to realize that the modernist's goal of a "legendary translation of external life" (Baudelaire) faced peculiar challenges that their forerunners had not experienced.
As the twenties passed, postwar modernists became increasingly aware of the difference between themselves and their now-famous predecessors. The early period of modernism, from about 1910 to 1918, had been especially characterized by two polar extremes. On the one hand, some modernist writers strongly asserted the autonomy of art
from social norms. The value of works lay in formal originality, which in turn was an index of the individual author's craft, vision, awareness, and labor. On the other hand, the first, heady phase of avant-garde activity had burst onto the scene with cubism, futurism, expressionism, vorticism, and early dadaism. For all their differences, which they heightened in combat with one another, these groups shared their collective orientation, which in some cases even evolved into a kind of anonymity for individual artists and writers. It is only to the specialist's eye that the differences between the analytic cubist works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque appear; likewise, the dadaists relished the polemical negation of individual style in their use of ready-made materials and chance.
The tremendous energy of modernism's first phase lay not only in the turbulent force of individual movements and voices but also in the tense interplay between different components of its field, the thrilling sense of a powerful, all-sided development of the arts. The more the combat within the modernist field escalated, so it seemed, the more productive the arts would become. This fortuitous convergence of forces, however, had serious limits. The enormous heave forward in the arts had been contingent on the rapid transnational communication of ideas and personnel in the years before World War I and on the vigorous assimilation of new technologies and scientific theories in popularized, triumphalist ways. The ritualized belligerence of prewar modernism was rendered more earnest, however, by the bloody national conflict that engulfed Europe. By the immediate postwar years, the movement had already begun to show signs of drift, neoclassical reaction, and nationalist or provincialist obstacles to new ideas. A cunning dialectic had seized the process of stylistic innovation, confronting the writer with historical limits and threatening to exhaust modernism's dynamic from within. At the same time, external events impinged on the arts and their practitioners.
Following World War I, modernism's resistance to integration by extra-artistic institutions eroded from two sides. Modernist artists were actively challenged by the politicized avant-gardes (i.e., dada, surrealism, Russian constructivism) and also by new forms of culture with direct social utility (modern typography and design, photojournalism, cinema, jazz and revue culture, etc.). An emblematic encounter is the Berlin dadaists' blisteringly sarcastic attack on the painter Oskar Kokoschka, who had complained that machine-gun fire during the Spartacist uprising in Berlin had damaged a painting gallery. With their
radical politics and skepticism about anything but a throwaway culture, the Berlin dadaists could almost welcome the machine gunning of painting and certainly rated a few lost paintings very low against a lost revolution. Both trends—the politicization of the avant-gardes and the devaluation of the traditional arts—impelled artists to rethink their practice and reinvent the functions, forms, and contexts of artworks. The political avant-gardes noisily asserted the duty of artists to intervene—as artistic producers, not private citizens—in social life, while the new media took on a centrality that even the most popular artist had never imagined. Modernism's radical autonomy appeared increasingly fragile, increasingly difficult to sustain, in the face of these new historical pressures.
Even if modernists could disdain or ignore these trends, however, they were faced with another difficulty: a slackening of the critical tension between modernist art forms and modern society. Modernism itself had found a certain scurrilous success, or at least some of its representatives, more or less worthy of the rifle, had achieved popular notoriety. The high calling of art that the modernists professed to follow had fallen prey to fashion and proven susceptible to banalization and vulgarizing imitation. Wyndham Lewis bitterly satirized the "apes of god" playing at bohemian existence, buying up fashionably humble studios in the artists' quarters at prices far beyond the means of struggling artists. Others, like Djuna Barnes, resorted to stealth and travel to maintain their distinction:
Djuna Barnes, author of Ryder , returned to Montparnasse for a glimpse and fled to Vienna. . . .
"Montparnasse," she said, "has ceased to exist. There is nothing left but a big crowd."
As the fashion took hold, the cafés of Paris became more crowded with tourists seeking a look at the "lost generation" than with the writers and artists who ostensibly made up the spectacle. The myth of modernism regarded itself in public, while the authentic item conducted its business elsewhere, often in obscurity and poverty.
As these writers discovered, however, such efforts to preserve a creative island from the vulgar could succeed all too well. Fashion was fickle, but isolation had drawbacks as well—and might last indefinitely. Late modernist writers were forced to come to terms with this predicament, not merely as the given context in which they worked, but indeed as the conscious point of departure for their art. The detached stance and styl-
istic rigor of later modernist writing continued to put the crowd at a distance. Yet the heroism of this gesture, common to modernist writers from Baudelaire to Joyce, had become grimly farcical, as it revealed a social automatism controlling the artist presumably its master.
Through the new array of modernist literary techniques, Fredric Jameson has argued, the fractured experience of individual subjects in the age of imperialism could be transformed into the building blocks of formally dazzling works of art. Yet by transfiguring the private world in this way, such works serve to evade the historical or political situation that lies beyond the rarefied zones of inner feeling and thought: "The perfected poetic apparatus of high modernism represses History just as successfully as the perfected narrative apparatus of high realism did the random heterogeneity of the as yet uncentered subject. At that point, however, the political, no longer visible in the high modernist texts, any more than in the everyday world of bourgeois life, and relentlessly driven underground by accumulated reification, has at last become a genuine Unconscious." Jameson contrasts this radical repression of history with the still-"leaky" forms of the protomodernist romancier Joseph Conrad. In Conrad's works, he argues, history juts through the very literary forms meant to hold the world of aggravated political struggle at bay. Late modernism, two decades later, once again loosens the modernist dominance of form and allows a more fluid, dialogic relation with the immediate historical context. It accomplished this unbind-ing of the work at the cost of abandoning the modernist gold standard: form as the universal currency in which aesthetic value could be measured and circulated.
Writing politically committed literature represented one obvious and, to many, attractive way for writers to break out of their evident predicament. For a brief but fascinating period, writers as diverse as W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis, George Orwell, and Rex Warner (only to mention major British writers) found ways of holding in tension political and literary demands. They allowed these often-contradictory strains to play themselves out in challenging, enduring works of poetry and fiction. Yet despite the general sense of the thirties as a highly politicized decade, many other important writers of the period could not and did not link their writing to the vicissitudes of political engagement. Retrospectively, and especially from the perspective of the postcommunist present, it is necessary to reexamine without prejudice our ideas about this "noncommittal" stance, and above all, as itself being a kind of political choice. It is possible to see in the
late modernists' "choice not to choose" something other than the simple dichotomy of engagement versus escapism. In a preface to his belated war chronicle/epic poem In Parenthesis , which appeared alongside Wyndham Lewis's war memoir Blasting and Bombardiering in 1937, the Welsh poet David Jones explicates his title as a rebus of his deep perplexity about where to stand as a writer in the postwar world. Jones explains that he called his book In Parenthesis because it was written "in a kind of space between—I don't know between quite what—but as you turn aside to do something." Jones's title is also significant, "because for us amateur soldiers (and especially for the writer, who was not only amateur, but grotesquely incompetent, a knocker-over of piles, a parade's despair) the war was a parenthesis . . . and also because our curious type of existence here is altogether in parenthesis." Jones's sense of being betwixt and between two catastrophically opposed camps, massed for battle, captures something of a mood shared to a greater or lesser extent by many writers of these years.
Late modernist writers in no way ignored their social context; in fact, they were deeply troubled by their inability to keep it at a manageable distance. Their literary structures tottered uneasily between vexed acknowledgment and anxious disavowal of social facts, suggesting that their relation to history was far more complex than that of simple "repression." Indeed, if we wanted to carry out the psychic metaphor of Jameson's "political unconscious," which presupposes that narrative forms efficaciously limit the impact of history on literature, for late modernism we would have to speak of a failure to repress, a failure of the forms to contain the turbulent historical energies that sweep through late modernist works. These works are perforated and torn by their relation to history, which is here occulted beneath a dense textual tangle and there exposed in transparent allusion and bald polemic. These writers recognized the demands that the "external" world made on the "homemade" world of their art, yet they lent little credence to the current politico-aesthetic responses. This lack of credible options, however, left them all the more aware of their nakedness before the social facts. Reflecting on their own practice, they discerned in the evolution of modern writing disturbing changes in the ways in which literature was produced and read. Yet unable to formulate any radical alternative to the modernist legacy within which they continued to work, they labored to tunnel through it, undermining and leaving it behind in a painstaking pursuit of literary "failure"—isolated, furtive, and uncertain of allies.
The decade following World War I saw an unprecedented rationalization of social life in Europe and the United States, the subordination of previously distinct spheres to impersonal or collective aims. The systematic and active organization of society by the state, a process greatly intensified by the need to mobilize human and material resources for the war and again by the economic crisis of 1929, was experienced by many artists as an encroachment on their authenticity and autonomy, a devaluation of their individual experience. Their apparent loss of priority called for a response, for a renegotiated connection of experience and value, for new ways of creating artworks and of living the artist's life.
Just after the war, in his well-known address "Science as Vocation," Max Weber confronted the radicalized students' demands for "community" and "personality" and drew the implications for German intellectual life of the American-style rationalization of the university currently in train. Understood in the context of cultural trends extending beyond the university, his penultimate paragraph sounds peculiarly like a manifesto for high modernism, a refocusing of values on the personal experience and awareness of an individual thinker, obeying "the demon who holds the fibers of his very life":
The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the 'disenchantment of the world? Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations. It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental, nor is it accidental that today only within the smallest and intimate circles, in personal human situations, in pianissimo , that something is pulsating that corresponds to the prophetic pneuma , which in former times swept through the great communities like a firebrand, welding them together. If we attempt to force and to "invent" a monumental style in art, such miserable monstrosities are produced as the many monuments of the last twenty years. If one tries intellectually to construe new religions without a new and genuine prophecy, then, in an inner sense, something similar will result, but with still worse effects. An academic prophecy, finally, will create only fanatical sects but never a genuine community.
The whole modernist gambit is here in nuce . Weber's ideal producer of culture turns toward the intimate and private as an appropriate—indeed, as the sole appropriate—response to the present social situation, displacing politics onto questions of technique and commitment to
one's calling. He rejects any "inauthentic" dialogue of the artist with public trends and projects a merely possible community, now necessarily highly restricted, which would grow out of the "authentic" relation of artist or thinker to his own work in progress.
One common tendency among modernist artists was indeed to accept social rationalization as fate. Shortly before he acceded to the directorship of the Bauhaus in 1930, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe concluded an address to the Werkbund in Vienna with the following remarks:
The new age is a fact; it exists independently of whether we say "yes" or "no" to it.
But it is neither better nor worse than any other age. It is purely an established fact and intrinsically indifferent to values. . . .
Let us accept as a fact the changed economic and social conditions.
All these things take their preordained and value-blind course.
Mies goes on to argue that the problem of values thus becomes crucial and that artists must strive to set new values. Yet in pursuing this goal, in seeking an adequate response to the cold facts of social rationalization, many artists drew different conclusions than did Weber. Whereas Weber set up the lonely researcher as hero, these artists attempted to relate their work positively to the rationalization process, thus shifting attention away from individual, subjective experience in favor of precise production and representation of objects . This general orientation toward the object embraced such different projects as the pedagogy and design work of the Bauhaus, the architecture of Le Corbusier, the broad efforts of Soviet constructivism and productivism, and the Neue Sachlichkeit movement in Germany after the stabilization in the mid-1920s. A 1923 collaboration between the Russian theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold and the artist Lyubov Popova, The Earth in Turmoil , can serve here as an emblematic, if somewhat hyperbolic, example. Popova's stage setting incorporated a number of real objects as props, including "a coffin, a red pall, a small machine gun, bicycles, weapons, a field kitchen, 3 field telephones, one camp bed, one field pack, one large table, maps, z typewriters, z aeroplanes." Cinematic technology, with its means to render objects in motion with photographic exactitude, also played a notable role in the staging. Popova employed a three-dimensional screen, a film projector, a film camera, films, slides, and Vertov's landmark film, Kino Pravda . This engagement with real mechanical objects and new media technologies, however, was charac-
teristic not just of constructivist theater but of all major spheres of constructivist culture, ranging from reportage literature to industrial design to graphic art. Sergei Tretiakov, one of the strongest advocates of "factographic" reportage and the fusion of book and newspaper as a new collective art form, went so far as to call for a new type of literature about objects, "biographies of things": "Books like Wood, Cereal, Iron, Flax, Cotton, Paper, Locomotive, Business have not yet been written. We need them." In architecture and design-oriented art outside Soviet Russia, the object-sphere was granted similar privilege; here too, likewise, photographic and other reproduction processes were incorporated into artistic production. Unlike their Soviet counterparts, most of these movements assumed some form of capitalism as the social frame for their work. Nevertheless, they substituted function for expression and affirmed an ethics of work and technique, giving a generally social-democratic and industrial cast to their activities. The Bauhaus director Lázló Moholy-Nagy—the modernist in machinist's overalls, the artist as engineer—embodied this heroic affirmation of system over self, this shift from artworks by individual artists into the collective production and consumption of designed objects.
At the same time, however, industrial design and other economically lucrative art practices were conduits for aesthetic concerns into the experience of everyday spaces and things. The special place of "art" as an independent domain in society became ever more restricted, as traditional modes of art no longer held the monopoly on aesthetic pleasure. Beauty was now as close as the stylized coffee cup on the breakfast table, or the streamlined table and chair in which one sat to have that coffee. At once the material of the senses and, when industrially produced, also the tangible embodiment of utility and technicity, the world of objects seemed to offer a space in which contradictory demands for rationality and individual experience might be brought to a higher harmony.
For writers—in contrast to designers, graphic artists, architects, typographers, and photographers—the opportunities to intervene directly in the industrial economy or in political life were much more limited, confined for the most part to party propaganda or film work. We can detect in the proclamations of the surrealist leader André Breton during the 1930s a desperate desire to circumvent the more compromised choices while still connecting surrealist activity to the world of politics and of "the object." Whereas previously surrealism had concentrated its efforts on opening up new states of vision, consciousness, and
sensibility, Breton declared in his 1934 address "What Is Surrealism?" that it was now engaged with the serious task of changing "the object":
I should like to draw your attention to the fact that its most recent advance is producing a fundamental crisis of the object . . . . Only the very close examination of the many recent speculations to which the object has publicly given rise (the oneiric object, the object functioning symbolically, the real and virtual object, the moving but silent object, the phantom object, the found object, etc.) can give one a proper grasp of the experiments that surrealism is engaged in now.
Yet while this desire to intervene in the world of objects gave rise to some fascinating writing, like Breton's essay-novels Nadja and L'Amour Fou , much of surrealism's artistic practice nonetheless responds in a merely "lyrical" vein to major shifts in the social life of objects:
I for my part believe today in the possibility and the great interest of the experiment that consists of incorporating objects, ordinary or not, within a poem, or more exactly of composing a poem in which visual elements take their place between the words without ever duplicating them. It seems to me that the reader-spectator may receive quite a novel sensation, one that is exceptionally disturbing and complex, as a result of the play of words with these elements, nameable or not.
The lameness of Breton's justification for his "poèmes-objets," his appeal to their shocking novelty and the sensations they evoke in the reader-spectator, suggests that this aestheticizing response was largely retrograde. As Henri Lefebvre observes about the surrealists, "Their purely verbal metamorphosis, anamorphosis or anaphorization of the relationship between 'subjects' (people) and things (the realm of everyday life) overloaded meaning—and changed nothing." In his practice of the "poem-object," Breton quite simply failed to draw any radical conclusions from those social tendencies that had trained his attention on "the object" in the first place. While these works transgress the traditional boundaries between the visual and discursive arts, they were in fact vastly outstripped by similar transgressions in industrially produced objects of consumption, publicity, or mass culture from this period (a situation not lost on Marcel Duchamp already two decades earlier, or on Breton's contemporary and admirer, Walter Benjamin).
Franco Moretti has noted the crisis literature faced in the new force field of culture that emerged with undeniable intensity in the 1920s and 1930s: "At the beginning of this century what is probably the most exemplary artistic form of bourgeois civilization—written literature—
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has passed into an unarrestable decline: what at one time had been its specific function has now moved and transformed itself into a constellation of cultural practices, rendering the existence of an activity exclusively devoted to this end almost superfluous." Insofar as literature had a marginal place in the new economy of media and artistic practices, the historian Manfredo Tafuri is correct in arguing that "literature and art as means of recovering Totality and of transferring it to the new historic subject by election . . . were part of a design that took place in the rear guard of capitalist development." In the narrow apartment left for literature in the new tower-block of the arts, one main task was proceeding apace: charting the process of the subject's disappearance, discovering its place "as an 'imperfect machine' in a social universe in
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which the only consistent behavior is that of pure silence." Orwell similarly argued that contemporary literature's sole chance at honesty lay in its facing up to the fact that literature had become impossible in the present age: "From now onwards the all-important fact for the creative writer is going to be that this is not a writer's world. That does not mean that he cannot help to bring the new society into being, but he can take no part in the process as a writer . For as a writer he is a liberal, and what is happening is the destruction of liberalism." Orwell posed
the writer with a stark choice of two undesirable positions: the autism of being permanently removed from any effective participation in modern life, or the mutism of not being able to practice the free craft of writing. Lewis too captured the impossible paradox of this position with the last line of his satiric novel The Childermass . In the spirit world of the wartime dead, Pullman tells his comrade Satters: "Pick your feet up. If you must go nowhere, step out."
A crucial locus of rationalization, and the foremost instance of the "system of objects," both impersonal and intensely stimulating, was the metropolis . I utilize this term in a specific sense, derived from Georg Simmel's fundamental essay "Metropolis and Mental Life" (1903). In Simmel's view, the metropolis is not just a big city. It is a big city in which bigness has taken on a functional character, in which the intricacy of functional interconnections within the city has generated a new sort of agency or subject. Simmel writes: "A man does not end with the boundaries of his body or the vicinity that he immediately fills with his activity, but only with the sum of effects that extend from him in time and space: so 'too a city consists first in the totality of its effects that extend beyond its immediacy." Not merely its physical presence, thus, but its effective character, defines the metropolis. And for Simmel, one of the most important domains in which this effective character can be detected is in the psychic life of city dwellers: a modification of the nervous organism in accordance with the objectivized Geist of big city life.
Simmel's concept of metropolis, as Massimo Cacciari notes, thus presupposes the unsettling of individual subjectivity, a development that has often been considered typically "modern" (in Jürgen Habermas's terms, modernization is "the subordination of life-worlds under system's imperatives" ). Restating Simmel's view in the language of Marx and Weber, Cacciari writes: "The metropolis is . . . the phase, or the problem , of the rationalization of all social relations, which follows that of the rationalization of relations of production. . . . When the Geist abandons the simple and direct relations of production, it no longer creates the city but the Metropolis. It is the Geist , not the individual, that of necessity inhabits the Metropolis."
The great capitals of modernity—Berlin, Paris, Vienna, London, New York, and, newly, Los Angeles—with their passion and misery, their dispossession of individuals and promise of collective fulfillment, their technological rationality and social atavism, their embodiment of history and remorseless "forgetting" of the events that transpired in them, seemed to exemplify the condition that confronted the later modernist.
This condition was, however, rarely accessible in any fully thematized or transparent way to the writer. The diagnostic role and its modulation into the prophetic was, as Lewis's Rend Harding (Self-Condemned ) or Barnes's Matthew O'Connor (Ryder and Nightwood ) would testify, a dubious and potentially self-condemning part to have to play. As consciousness took collective shape in the metropolis, and individual subjectivity was triumphantly pulverized, it became increasingly difficult for authors to achieve some sort of synoptic vision, to discover some place from which to narrate the whole.
While accepting a certain inevitability to the erosion of individual subjectivity, later modernist writers viewed it with considerable ambivalence, verging at times on despair. Indeed, they doubted that the process of metropolitanization could give rise to a stable, abstractly rational, collective subject. The consummate rationalization of culture in the present form of the metropolis was for them an unrealizable utopia: the process held within its dynamics its own limit, an inextinguishable trace of irrationality that would expand precisely with the progress of the ratio . The Austrian novelist Hermann Broch summed up the pessimism of many of his contemporaries when he wrote: "The highly developed rationality of modern metropolitan culture does not at all mitigate the human twilight, rather it intensifies it. The accepted ratio becomes a mere means for the satisfaction of drives and thus is robbed of its content as knowledge of the whole." In the form of the metropolis, rationality had embarked on a journey to the end of the night, reducing the individual subject to (in Beckett's words) "a peristalsis of light, worming its way into the dark."
This irrational subjective residue was a kind of "accursed share" left over by the structures of social rationality. Affective and experiential as well as material and social elements were excluded from the functional, technical integration of social space, then shunted into a shadow existence in the social unconscious. Again, the surrealists were particularly self-conscious in strategically revaluing this debris of the social system as a protest against the values of work, technicity, and mechanical efficiency. Indeed, as lean Baudrillard suggests, the surrealist image is hardly thinkable without its complementary opposite, the functional object of industrial design: "The Surrealist object emerges at the same epoch as the functional object, as its derision and transgression. Although they are overtly dys- or para-functional, these phantasmatic objects nevertheless presuppose . . . the advent of functionality as the universal moral law of the object, and the advent of this object itself,
separated, autonomous and dedicated to the transparency of its function." The events of the late twenties and thirties, of course, provided late modernist writers with ample evidence of the undiminished force of this residue in social life. In the marked escalation of social conflict and political violence, a violence that ultimately gained institutional legitimacy in the National Socialist and other fascist regimes, they witnessed a veritable irruption of collective irrationality concentrated in the cities.
In Minima Moralia , reflections written in exile during World War II, Theodor Adorno attempted to comprehend what had come to pass in twenty years. In one section, he described the fate of modernism's drive to produce the new. No longer confined to the autonomous sphere of art, the dynamic of modernism had, in Adorno's view, emerged as a general social principle. It had been taken up extra-aesthetically in large-scale social dynamics like warfare, in which the arms race compelled an accelerated pace of technological innovation. Likewise, previously extra-aesthetic social spheres like labor and politics were now shaped by aesthetic demands for beauty, intensity, and newness.
Adorno situated the problem of modernism within the category of the "New," which dictates a perpetual renewal of its object while at the same time remaining essentially indeterminate, indifferent to the concrete content that may temporarily fulfill it. For Adorno, this ambiguous status of newness gives aesthetic modernism, which adopts novelty as a primary source of value, its compulsive character: "Baudelaire's poetry . . . is full of those lightning flashes seen by a closed eye that has received a blow. As phantasmagoric as these lights is the idea of newness itself. What flashes thus, while serene contemplation now attains merely the socially pre-formed plaster-cast of things, is itself repetition. The new, sought for its own sake,. . . petrified into a conceptual scheme, becomes in its sudden apparition a compulsive return of the old, not unlike that in traumatic neuroses."
Adorno refers to an increasingly general, collective search for newness, which realizes in unanticipated ways the aesthetic-political goal of the early avant-garde to "democratize perception" (Mina Loy) and open art out into social life. He suggests that tendencies already present in Baudelaire's and Richard Wagner's publicistic activities have, at this late date, come to fruition. "Today," he writes, "the appeal to newness,
of no matter what kind . . . has become universal. . . . The decomposition of the subject is consummated in his self-abandonment to an ever-changing sameness."
Implied in Adorno's formula is a historiographic hypothesis: the new war (World War II), precisely in its newness, is a recurrence brought about by the persistence of the trauma of the old one. The manifest "newness" of the present conflict, Adorno suggests, depends on a traumatic destruction of experience that allows the same to recur as if it were really new:
Just as the war lacks continuity, history, an "epic" element, but seems rather to start anew from the beginning in each phase, so it will leave behind no permanent, unconsciously preserved image in the memory. Everywhere, with each explosion, it has breached the barrier against stimuli beneath which experience . . . forms. . . . But nothing, perhaps, is more ominous for the future than the fact that, quite literally, these things will soon be past thinking on, for each trauma of the returning combatants, each shock not inwardly absorbed, is a ferment of future destruction.
Adorno adapts for his social-psychological reflections the model of consciousness that Sigmund Freud developed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle , a model explicitly designed to explain the compulsive repetition of traumatic dreams among shell-shocked veterans of World War I. Adorno implies that the entre-deux-guerres period is, in a sense, one long bout of war neurosis, in which the effects of trauma have proliferated in a general contagion. Whether or not this is acceptable as social analysis, Adorno's intuition was shared by many writers and thinkers of the period, that the traumas of the 1920s and 1930s, which culminated in World War II, were somehow an immanent unfolding of an original, unassimilable disaster, the Great War.  Wyndham Lewis, for instance, expressed this view with epigrammatic concision: "The Great War is a magnet, the 'post-war' its magnetic field."
Adorno's diagnosis of a kind of collective shell shock or, more generally, a pervasive neurasthenia in the face of a runaway modernity, is of the greatest interest for understanding the emergence of late modernism after 1926. Explicit in the extensive theoretical writings of Wyndham Lewis and the occasional criticism of Djuna Barnes and Samuel Beckett, as well as implicit in the fictional works of all three authors, is the vision of a general depersonalization and deauthentication of life in modern society.  Everyday life, in their view, was being increasingly penetrated by mimetic practices—role-playing, contagious imitation, "rhythmic"
forms of association, anthropomorphic "animation" of the object-world, ritualized behavior—previously confined to well-defined spheres in religious ritual, theater, and the arts. Such generalized mimetism was at once an involuntary process for individuals, a compulsory lowering of the threshold of difference between subjects and objects, their unconscious assimilation to an objective environment—and a social phenomenon consciously manipulable for political and commercial ends (for the art , as Lewis's book title put it, of"being ruled"). Late modernism, as it emerged in the late twenties and thirties, both reflected and reflected critically upon this loss of a stable, authentic social ground.
As might be expected, given his commitment to theoretical and political thinking, Lewis explored this process most explicitly and extensively. Already in his essay from 1925, The Dithyrambic Spectator , and his 1926 treatise, The Art of Being Ruled , Lewis had advanced his privileged image for the mimetic contamination of subject and object: the bringing of spectators onto the stage. This image, as Lewis employs it, is not so much a metaphor as the focal pivot of a broad social panorama: the influx of "life" into the theatrical spectacle signifies reflexively the outflow of "theater" into political, cultural, and sexual life. The boundaries of art dissolve in ritualized, aestheticized social practices: "Very rapidly the banks of spectators turn into a great assembly of 'amateurs' once more. Then it is that the phase left out by Miss [Jane] Harrison occurs: that namely in which a collective 'play' is engaged in, in which no 'real' or 'practical' issues are involved." In The Art of Being Ruled , Lewis opens his chapter entitled "The Disappearance of the Spectator" with a question: "Should there be 'players' and 'livers,' art and life, or only one thing?" He goes on to make the political and aesthetic parameters of this question abundantly clear: "The new theater of Russia aims at emphasizing a collective personality rather than an individual one, at expressing masses not men. . . . So we see the simultaneous disappearance of the author and of the actor , to all intents and purposes" (AOBR , 158). Lewis's discussion of these changes drew heavily on recent works of cultural reportage about the Soviet Union, among others, Michael Farbman's After Lenin (1924), Huntly Carter's The New Theatre and Cinema of Soviet Russia (1925), and René Fü1üp-Miller's evocatively illustrated and compendious study, The Mind and Face of Bolshevism (1926). Lewis views this perilous breakdown of distinction—between subject and object, between spectator and spectacle, between producer and consumer—and the subsumption of art into everyday life as expressed integrally in both social revolution (Lewis criticizes
communism and fascism on this point) and the revolutionary aesthetics of the avant-garde.
The centrality of this analysis to Lewis's overall critique of modernism cannot be overestimated: it informs in equal part his expostulations against his modernist colleagues in "The Revolutionary Simpleton" section of Time and Western Man and his criticisms of surrealism in The Diabolical Principle , his polemic against transition's Joyce-affiliated editors. By 1934, the date of Lewis's second major blast against a number of key modernists, Men Without Art , his sense of a rupture with a previous order and a concomitant derealization of social life had become all the more radical:
An artist who is not a mere entertainer and money-maker, or self-advertising gossip-star, must today be penetrated by a sense of the great discontinuity of our destiny. At every moment he is compelled to be aware of that different scene . . . behind all that has been familiar for so long to all the nations of the Aryan World. Nothing but a sort of Facade is left standing . . . before which fustian property (labelled The Past , a cheap parody of Ancien Régime , with feudal keeps in the middle distance), the Gossip-column Class bask in enormous splashy spot-lights of publicity. It is what is behind the Facade that alone can be of any interest in such a pantomime.
Ultimately, Lewis concludes that this flattening of the present into a scenario, with the past as its stage properties, is the beginning of generalized "play": "it is the end of history, and the beginning of historical pageant and play. But we are all compelled, to some extent, to enter into the spirit of the comedy—that is the humble message of this book." (MWA , 165).
I want to suggest here (and later demonstrate in greater detail) that a similar vision of a nascent "society of the spectacle" animates the literary thinking of Barnes and Beckett. In their fiction, the social analysis remains more immanent, embedded in formal and imagistic aspects rather than being discursively manifest. But in their scattered criticism of this period, even Barnes and Beckett reveal a concern with the contemporary "derealization" of reality, its progressive replacement with simulacra and spectacles. Thus, in an article in the December 1929 Theatre Guild , Barnes dons a prophetic mask to pose the question, "Why Actors?" Barnes implies that theater is a general, even anthropological, condition and that "we are all"—the author included—"compelled to enter into the spirit of the comedy" (Lewis). She writes: "Because I am a holy man . . . I have seen many sorrowful things. Men wanting to be Napoleon, and women wanting to be Helen of Troy, and little children
wanting to be policemen. Therefore this passion in the human heart to be something it is not, is no secret to me, yet it troubles me, for I am not sure if it is true aspiration or a terrible and unholy criticism of the Most High, and this I must know, for I myself have wanted to be other than I am." Beckett, in keeping with his early philosophical concerns, gives this derealization of reality an ontological and epistemological spin. In his survey "Recent Irish Poetry" he thus speaks of "the breakdown of the object, whether current, historical, mythical or spook," and a "breakdown of the subject," while in a review of the Irish playwright Sean O'Casey he refers to a "dramatic dehiscence, mind and world come asunder in irreparable dissociation."
Beckctt's "dramatic dehiscence" and Lewis's "disappearance of the spectator" point to a shared sense that their contemporary reality—both subjective and objective—was somehow becoming "less real." Both testify to a blurring of sharp boundaries between subject and object; and both register the diffuse feeling of disorientation that pervaded the inner and outer words in which the modern subject moved. The outer world—of crowded streets, of department stores, of movie houses, of political rallies—had taken on fantastic, aestheticized shapes once found only in dreams, paintings, or fiction. The inner life, in contrast, had appropriated the object-world in which people lived and moved, now taking the shape of a city street, later of a shop window, then perhaps of a cinema or a fascist parade. It is in response to this new configuration of self and its boundaries that late modernism finds its contextual and affective basis. For once the stable line between subject and object began to lose its sharpness, thickening and breaking apart in complex rhythms, a whole series of precepts central to earlier modernism had to be rethought. The heroic subjectivity of the innovating artist; the organic convergence of form and content in a symbolic unity set down by the artist on paper, on canvas, in stone; the exhibition of stylistic mastery as a criterion of value; the belief in an underlying mythic or aesthetic order to history; and the possibility of redeeming tradition through its transfiguration into art—all these basic tenets of modernism's aesthetic ideology were put in doubt by the object's new dispensation, at least for those artists willing to extend their uneasy intuitions to their practice.
Since I have argued for the historically situated nature of late modernism, it is appropriate to approach a definition by considering a work of the period in question. In his 1934 book Men Without Art , Wyndham Lewis offers an extended explanation and justification of his own writing as defined against several of his contemporaries. It is this text, then, that will provide my point of departure for a more specific depiction of late modernism's physiognomic traits.
Lewis begins his exposition by noting the problem of his own situation as an artist: "I am a satirist. . . . But I am not a moralist. . . . [I]t is these two facts, taken together, which constitute my particular difficulty" (MWA, 87). Lewis notes that traditionally the satirist needed the moral sanction of the community to do what he does: launch satirical attacks and provoke laughter. Yet Lewis believes that shared moral values have evaporated and feels no moral solidarity with others. He is forced, under these circumstances, to consider the possibility of "nonethical satire," " 'satire' for its own sake," to justify his own case.
What is notable in Lewis's discussion is his intense self-consciousness about his own lack of determinate social location. As an artist, his identification with a community, the Rebel Arts group or the vorticists or even the "men of 1914," was a thing of the past. His attacks on his former colleagues in Time and Western Man and on the Sitwell and Blooms-bury coteries in The Apes of God had severed whatever links remained. He was no less clear about the impossibility of his "situation" in the political domain, to which, in fact, his views on "nonethical satire" represented a practical response (as did, in another vein, his ambivalent embrace of fascism). Thus, in his 1937 autobiography, Blasting and Bombardiering , Lewis wrote: "Nineteen-thirty-seven is a grand year. We are all in the melting pot. I resist the process of melting so have a very lively time of it. I know if I let myself melt I should get mixed up with all sorts of people I would sooner be dead than mixed into. But that's the only sense in which I'm conservative. It's myself I want to conserve. I wouldn't lift a finger to conserve any 'conservative' institution. I think they ought to be liquidated without any exception at all." Lewis's nonethical satire is written by an authorial subject in extremis: one revolutionary enough to wish all existing institutions liquidated but without solidarity with any collective or community; one threatened with extinction and hence dedicated foremost to self-preservation.
The identity of such a threatened subject is guaranteed, in the last instance, by its discreteness and self-continuity—qualities symbolized above all by the integrity of the individual body. As Lewis's chapter "The Piecemealing of the Personality" in The Art of Being Ruled suggests, he thus conceives the primary threat to the subject to be dismemberment (a thinly metaphorical fate that Lewis often renders literal in his fictional works, through scenes of decapitation and other bodily violence): "Continuity, in the individual as in the race, is the diagnostic of a civilized condition. If you can break this personal continuity in an individual, you can break him . For he is that continuity. It is against these joints and sutures of the personality that an able attack will always be directed" (AOBR, 204). Yet satire, in its scurrilous abuse of grotesques and "puppets" (a prominent word in Lewis's satiric lexicon), discloses precisely the vulnerability of everyone to such attack on the "integrity" of body and of person:
It is unnecessary to enumerate the tragic handicaps that our human conditions involve—the glaring mechanical imperfections, the nervous tics, the prodigality of objectless movement—the, to other creatures, offensive smells, disagreeable moistures—the involuntary grimace, the lurch, roll, trot or stagger which we call our walk —it is only a matter of degree between us and the victim of locomotor-ataxy or St. Vitus's dance. (MWA , 93)
"Unnecessary" it may be, but satire will address itself precisely to enumerating and even exaggerating the fragility, friability, and permeability of the human body.
Laughter, to which Lewis assigns a highly specific function, serves to resolve this apparent contradiction. For laughter, in Lewis's view, functions to inoculate the organism against the buffetings it faces from without: "Laughter . . . has a function in relation to our tender consciousness. . . . It is the preserver much more than the destroyer" (MWA , 89). It is an "anti-toxin of the first order" (MWA , 93). It protects the "tender consciousness"—which Lewis always sees as endangered by the modern "climate"—by hardening up the organism, "stiffening" it: "There is a stiffening of Satire in everything good, of 'the grotesque,' which is the same thing" (MWA , 99). The laughter evoked by satire, if it is to have this "healthy" effect, must be diffuse and impersonal: "in a sense, everyone should be laughed at or else no one should be laughed at. It seems that ultimately that is the alternative" (MWA , 89).
At this point, Lewis draws out the implications of this view that "everyone should be laughed at." Clearly, he says, this goes against the
grain of our decency: we normally suppress our laughter at the deformed and infirm. Yet to justify, his theory, Lewis proposes to take the issue to its extreme. He conjures up the image of laughter in the face of the recent trench warfare:
So far so good: but what of the shell-shocked man, for instance? He is often very funny, and it is very difficult not to laugh. But that is like laughing at the contortions of a dying man, and it would be too brutal a society that made a habit of laughing at its shell-shocked persons—especially as it would be to the society, of the laughers to which ultimately the responsibility for these disfigurements would have to be brought home. Therefore there is no society that does not refrain from guffawing at the antics, however "screamingly funny," of its shell-shocked men and war-idiots, and its poison-gas morons, and its mutilated battle-wrecks. (MWA , 92)
If this passage is almost painful to read, it is not (for me, at least) because of the "brutality," it seems to suggest in its author. On the contrary, for all the pretense of "coolness," one senses a vertiginous hysteria: the price exacted from its author to suppress a rising scream. Lewis evokes here a kind of unspoken primal scene of his writing: the loss of bodily and affective control before the sight of shocked, damaged, mutilated human bodies—the everyday world of wartime Flanders and Passchendaele.
Peter Sloterdijk has noted how Thomas Mann anatomized the cynical laughter of the Weimar years in three terrible scenes in The Magic Mountain . The first two scenes relate the involuntary laughter of interlocutors who have heard matter-of-fact accounts of the corpses, pulmonectomies, and other grim details of the sanitorium. The last scene of laughter, however, is of a different order: a pure automatism, like Ezra Pound's imagined "laughter out of dead bellies." A patient having a lung operation breaks into laughter out of "pleural shock," a reflex of the pleura being palpitated: "I heard myself laughing, while I was kicking the bucket, but not like a human laughs, but rather, that was the most disgraceful and nauseating laughter I have heard in all my life, for the palpitation of the pleura, gentlemen, that is as if one were being tickled in the utmost shameless, most exaggerated and most inhuman way."
This laughter, like the laughter of dying bodies and of soldiers driven mad by the sight of them, a laughter utterly unrelated to any spiritual response, is strictly a limit-experience. It is what Lewis calls "perfect laughter," which, he says, "would be inhuman" (MWA , 92). Yet below this limit is another zone of laughter minimally touched by moral consciousness or personal concern. It confronts the absurd as a component
of the anthropological condition, yet preserves the historical memory implied in thinking the limit of a laughter of "pleural shock" or of a belly convulsed by shrapnel. Lewis suggests that such a laughter is essentially reflexive, "non-personal and non-moral": "And it enters fields which are commonly regarded as the preserve of more 'serious' forms of reaction. There is no reason at all why we should not burst out laughing at a foetus, for instance. We should after all only be laughing at ourselves !—at ourselves early in our mortal career" (MWA , 92). It is the self-reflexive laughter ("laughing at ourselves!") of the survivor in the face of alterity and death, the subject's minimum self-confirmation, the minimal trace of the instinct for self-preservation. I laugh, therefore I (still) am.
Laughter has an intimate relationship with the situation of the embodied subject in external space, a fact that should give pause considering Lewis's insistence—both in his theory of satire and in his criticism of other modernists—on spatiality over time and physical exteriority over psychological interiority. As I will discuss Time and Western Man in greater detail later, here I want to take up Lewis's expressed preference for the "ossature" and "shell" of the living organism (his "favorite part" being the dead one) over its soft, fluxive innards. Likewise, he prefers "the rigid stylistic articulations of the grasshopper," the outer armor as it were, to "the jellyfish" (MWA , 99).
This imagery, hinging on the distinction of inside and outside, unconscious and conscious, and surface and depth, is reminiscent of Freud's depiction in Beyond the Pleasure Principle of consciousness as a rigidified, deadened shield against excess stimuli from without. Freud evolved this theoretical model, as I have already noted, in response to the traumatic dreams of shell-shock victims in World War I. These dreams seemed to contradict the psychoanalytic model of dreams as wish fulfillment and thus impelled Freud to postulate the "death drive" to explain the conservative repetition, seemingly "beyond the pleasure principle" evident in wish fulfillment dreams, of such traumatic dreams. In developing his argument, Freud employs a largely unstated but crucial analogy between the shattered experience of the adult shall-shock victim and the inchoate experience of the infant, regressing across the divide of adult speech from the postlinguistic tics and abreactions of the trauma patient to the prelinguistic pulses and affects of the prelinguistic human animal. To survive, the trench soldier needed to inure himself against the constant bursting of flares, the thunderous noise, the confusion and bloody terror of artillery bombardment. Yet this process
is, Freud suggests, only an extreme—and sadly ineffective—version of the normal condition of the human organism in the world. In infancy, however, the balance of external and internal forces is so much skewed toward the stimuli coming from outside that the child's experience is as potentially devastating as that of the soldier. Freud's task, then, is to explain why soldiers get shell shocked from trench warfare, while babies, under normal circumstances, do not end up traumatized by their surroundings.
By way of an answer, Freud offers the hypothesis that our conscious psychic life serves to channel and screen external stimuli that would be overpowering energies were their intensity not reduced. This consciousness originates in a kind of deadening of the sensory system that spans the mind and body, a devitalizing of sensory life in order to delay the reactions of the body and allow an interval of choice and reflection. Freud uses the metaphor of a hull of inorganic armor around a vital core, a hardened sheath formed of blasted layers of once-sensitive matter, which serves the life of the whole by suffering the storm of stimuli coming in from the outer world:
Its outermost surface ceases to have the structure proper to living matter, becomes to some degree inorganic and thenceforward functions as a special envelope or membrane resistant to stimuli. In consequence, the energies of the external world are able to pass into the next underlying layers, which have remained living, with only a fragment of their original intensity. . . . By its death, the outer layer has saved all the deeper ones from a similar fate—unless, that is to say, stimuli reach it which are so strong that they break through the protective shield. . . . The protective shield is supplied with its own store of energy, and must above all endeavor to preserve the special modes of transformation of energy operating in it against the effects threatened by the enormous energies at work in the external world—effects which tend towards a levelling out of them and hence towards destruction.
For Freud, consciousness, in contrast to traditional images of it as active, living soul, is a rigidified, deadened filter against experience—a hard outer shell, sacrificed to preserve life and prevent breaching of the inner organism by all but the most violent of shocks (like the war experience manifest in traumatic dreams).
Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno reinterpret Freud's image of defensive hardening culturally and politically. They suggest that an emphasis on "coldness" and "hardness"—so much a part of the political discourse of the German right, and for Lewis, significantly, the pri-
mary quality of satire—can be seen as a corporeal defense against the "seduction" of pure space, the death-drive understood as an assimilation to the dangerous extensiveness of inanimate nature.  Idiosyncrasy—often the occasion of laughter—represents for them a potential dissonance in human spatiality, which may set in motion a dialectic of dissolution and defensive stiffening:
In idiosyncrasy, individual organs escape from the control of the subject, and independently obey fundamental biological stimuli. The ego which experiences such reactions . . . is not wholly in control of itself. For a few moments these reactions effect an adaptation to circumambient, motionless nature. But as the animate approaches the inanimate, and the more highly-developed form of life comes closer to nature, it is alienated from it, since inanimate nature, which life in its most vigorous form aspires to become, is capable only of wholly external, spatial, relationships. Space is absolute alienation. When men try to become like nature they harden themselves against it. Protection as fear is a form of mimicry. The reflexes of stiffening and numbness in humans are archaic schemata of the urge to survive: by adaptation to death, life pays the toll of its continued existence.
As Lewis suggests in his remark on satire, however, laughter may, like mimicry, fulfill a defensive function against a threatening "outside." Laughter may turn back self-reflexively on the subject, "stiffening" the self against danger, marking that minimal "spatial" difference between conscious life and the pure extensivity of dead nature: a difference that preserves the subject, however diminished, in situations of adversity.
In an extraordinary remark in his 1948 essay on Charlie Chaplin, the film critic André Bazin draws together these threads of laughter, self-defense, and mimicry in an example taken from contemporary popular culture. Bazin notes, in passing, how many of Chaplin's gags involved a peculiar way of "brushing aside danger": " 'Camouflage' is not really the right term. It is more properly a form of mimicry. One might go so far as to say that the defense reflexes of Charlie end in a reabsorption of time by space." Echoing the analysis of insect mimetism advanced by Roger Caillois during the 1930S, also a crucial influence on Horkheimer and Adorno, Bazin's comments suggest that Chaplin's comedy depends on a kind of mechanical interruption of the flow of images and a breaking apart of the organic structure of movement. Such an interruption, however, is no .thing more than a capacity implicit in the technical medium and apparatus of film itself, which simulates continuous motion by projecting a steady stream of discrete, slightly different images. Supplementing Bazin's claim that time is reabsorbed by space,
then, we might say that Chaplin's organic body becomes a mimetic extension of cinematic technology, which breaks down movement into constitutive fragments, discarding some while isolating and accentuating others. Having incorporated the technical principle of montage into his physical movements, Chaplin is able to mirror it back to the camera in embodied form. By perfecting the equivalence between his body and the "cinematic body" produced by the camera, Chaplin becomes the very allegory of cinema in its inaugural phase and the changes in experience it will precipitate.
Bazin continues his discussion by elaborating the image of the comic film star as mimetic insect:
The painted canvas tree in which Charlie is hiding blends in with the trees of the forest in a way that is quite "hallucinating." One is reminded of those little stick-like insects that are indiscernible in a clump of twigs or those little Indian insects that can take on the appearance of leaves, even leaves that caterpillars have nibbled. The sudden vegetable-like immobility of Charlie-the-tree is like an insect playing dead, as is his other gag in The Adventurer when he pretends to have been killed by a shot from a gun. But what distinguishes Charlie from the insect is the speed with which he returns from his condition of spatial dissolution into the cosmos, to a state of instant readiness for action. Thus, motionless inside his tree he flattens out, one after the other, with swift precise movements of his "branches," a file of German soldiers as they come within range. (149)
Both Bazin's rejected metaphor of "camouflage" and Chaplin's repeated regression into the backdrop before the oncoming column of German soldiers underscore how closely the issue of mimicry was tied to the historical context of war—for Chaplin, World War I, for Bazin, more immediately, World War II. At the same time, Bazin implicitly seconds Lewis's conception of a self-reflexive, defensive laughter, finding it in the laughable mimicry of the beleaguered little man. Chaplin's characteristic rhythm of fall and recomposure in the face of superior powers, human or mechanical, evoked a new sort of minimal self, as much corporeal as psychic, as much technical as organic, and held together by stiffening bonds of a laughter without exterior object.
In her essay "Place Names," Julia Kristeva explores precisely this minimal articulation of space in relation to the child's acquisition of language and the eventual sublimation of spatiality in syntactic structures. One section of the essay, entitled "Space Causes Laughter," considers precisely the scenario I pose above—but here not with respect to the
regression of a formed subject, rather with the nascence of the subject, the progression of the infant toward speaking/forming. Kristeva evokes a scene of a primary fusion of scattered elements in a crystallizing burst of laughter:
Voice, hearing, and sight are the archaic dispositions where the earliest forms of discreteness emerge. The breast, given and withdrawn; lamplight capturing the gaze; intermittent sounds of voice or music—all these meet with anaclisis [the "leaning" of one drive on another, for example, oral erotic drives on hunger—T.M.] . . ., hold it, and thus inhibit and absorb it in such a way that it is discharged and abated through them. . . . At that point, breast, light, and sound become a there : a place, a spot, a marker. The effect . . . is no longer quiet but laughter. The imprint of an archaic moment, the threshold of space, the "chora" as primitive stability absorbing anaclitic facilitation, produces laughter.
This archaic laughter of the infant is, Kristeva emphasizes, unconnected to a "sense of humor," which "presupposes the superego and its bewilderment" (284). But it responds sensitively to temporary derangements of space such as distorted faces, caricatures, vertiginous movements, and falls. It absorbs and discharges the rapid, violent, excessive "facilitations" of the body in space: "they stop there, impart the jolt—laughter. Because it was bounded but not blocked, the rate of facilitation discards fright and bursts into a jolt of laughter" (284)."
This account, transferred from the nascent self of the infant to the marginal, endangered self of the adult in extremis, resonates strongly with Lewis's image of a laughter linked to self-affirmation rather than humor. Lewis, though at times very funny, nonetheless opposes "humor," "clowning," and mere "fun making." Already in the opening pages of Tarr , Lewis puts his eponymous hero up to an attack on "the University of Humour that prevails everywhere in England as the national institution for developing youth." "Humour," Tarr argues, "paralyses the sense for Reality and wraps people in a phlegmatic and hysterical dream-world." Two decades later, speaking on BBC Radio, Lewis would make the distinction between humorous and satiric laughter explicit: "Satire laughs as much as humour laughs. But satire laughs differently. In the satirist's laughter good humour is not implicit. But it would not be accurate to say that, in consequence, bad humour is of the essence of his mirth. . . . He merely takes his laughter more seriously, as it were. Laughter for him is an explosive agency, and its object is to blast, rather than to tickle." His "humor" is a serious matter,
occasioned more by a spatial disturbance (an "explosive agency") than by anything "funny." It serves to absorb shock experience and to deflect it aggressively outward as self-preserving laughter.
Late modernist writing seeks to provoke this "serious," aggressive laughter. It is a deliberate conjuring, through the deformation of the body, through the evocation of its vulnerable "joints and sutures," its unpleasant "moistures" and "smells," of that "riant spaciousness" (Kristeva) that ends in laughter. Lewis thus writes:
"Satire". . . refers to an "expressionist" universe which is reeling a little, a little drunken with an overdose of the "ridiculous"—where everything is . . . steeped in a philosophic solution of the material, not of mirth, but of the intense and even painful sense of the absurd. It is a time, evidently, in which homo animal ridens is accentuating . . . that wild nihilism that is a function of reason and of which his laughter is the characteristic expression. (MWA , 232)
Satire, which Lewis often puts in scare quotes to indicate his unconventional "late modernist" definition, is thus the art of a minima moralia, the voice of "damaged life" persisting at the threshold of disappearance as a self.
Late modernist texts are, of course, complex literary structures, not tissues of pure laughter. Yet their forms have more than a casual relation to laughter. As Georges Bataille suggests, laughter suppresses knowledge, affirming and canceling it at the same time:
He who laughs does not, theoretically, abandon his knowledge, but he refuses, for a time—a limited time—to accept it, he allows himself to be overcome by the impulse to laughter, so that what he knows is destroyed, but he retains, deep within, the conviction that it is not, after all, destroyed. When we laugh we retain deep within us that which is suppressed by laughter, but it has been only artificially suppressed.
What Bataille describes psychologically as a relation between the mind, laughter, and knowledge can also, however, be understood in textual and rhetorical terms. In his studies of Rabelais, in fact, Bakhtin made precisely this translation from laughter as an affective expression to laughter as a formal component of texts. He argues that laughter can be "reduced," that is, sedimented into forms that preserve its disruptive force while restricting its active presence: "Under certain conditions
arid in certain genres . . . laughter can be reduced. It continues to determine the structure of the image, but it itself is muffled down to the minimum: we see, as it were, the track left by laughter in the structure of represented reality, but the laughter itself we do not hear." As a formal component of texts, laughter gives rise to modes of irony, parody, and satire in which the literal, denotative sense of a text is convulsed by a disruptive negation or deformation of sense. In works of reduced laughter, the text's form and figures are "altered," made other, blurred by a rhythm of doubling in which meanings are alternately posited and canceled. Through its reduction, its containment in generic forms and conventions that silence its explicit presence, laughter moves from folk practices and rituals (i.e., carnival, the feast) into the forms of discourse and, ultimately, the history of literary genres.
Intuitively, it causes us no particular problem to grasp that there might be a relation between laughter and textual forms. After all, it is common enough that texts make us laugh, which at least suggests the possibility of moving from one to the other. Yet on reflection, the way in which this happens seems rather mysterious. How is it that something as abstract and disembodied as, say, a description in a book brings about such a concrete, bodily response as laughter? It is even less clear how the process might be turned around: how physically embodied laughter could become virtual in language, "reduced," sedimented in textual forms. While Bakhtin's remarks are enormously provocative, one quickly reaches problems in explaining exactly how this process might work. Is the idea of "reduced" laughter just a clever theoretical cipher, a convenient way for Bakhtin to move between social context and textual forms without really explaining the mechanisms involved? For Bakhtin, I am tempted to answer this question in the affirmative. I also believe, however, that Bakhtin's sense of a transitive relation between embodied laughter and textual forms is correct and can be put on firmer theoretical grounds. For this task, it is necessary to turn to Freud's 1905 study of jokes, but to put it to somewhat unexpected use. For it is not Freud's psychoanalytic theory of jokes that offers the crucial key to this puzzle of relating laughter to textual form but rather his discussions of phenomena excluded from the ambit of psychoanalytic theory because they need not entail the workings of the unconscious: smut and the comic.
The first key lies in verbal behavior that is related to jokes but that exists on their margins: "smut." Freud argues in the third chapter of his study, "The Purposes of Jokes," that in certain situations a speaker uses
obscene language as a means of seduction; the speaker is trying to make the interlocutor see , in imagination, the sexual content of the words, and thus to arouse. If the attempt works, words pass rapidly into action, the clothes come off, and as Francesca tells a horrified Dante, they "read no more that day." If, however, the immediate aim is somehow inhibited, by situation or by the interlocutor's refusal, obscene speech takes on a peculiar autonomy, becoming a pleasurable end in itself. It is this autonomized obscenity that constitutes, properly speaking, smut. "Since the sexual aggressiveness is held up in its advance towards the act," Freud writes, "it pauses at the evocation of the excitement and derives pleasure from the signs of it in the woman" (Freud assumes that the seducer is male and the seduced is female). This account provides us with an important analogy to Bakhtin's idea of "reduced laughter," for smut, in Freud's view, is "reduced arousal." In smutty speech, the words remain charged with a latent residue of the sexual scene and may suddenly modulate back toward action if the context changes—the nosy neighbor leaves, the interlocutor has a third double martini, "Old Blue Eyes" comes on the radio, and so on.
In Freud's account of smut, the affective force of the words, their ability to cause arousal, depends on a capacity of language that he leaves relatively unthematized here but that forms an important part of his theory of dreams: the intertranslatability of words and images. Words can conjure up images of the body, can make us see a sexual content, and can affect bodies by means of this capacity. In his chapter "Jokes and the Species of the Comic," Freud offers a theory of how the affective interface between psychic and corporeal acts arises, to explain how, for example, incongruities of movement or scale can make us laugh. He suggests that perceptions of space and motion come about imitatively. The imitative performance of movements sets a standard of "innervatory sensation," which can then be remembered even in the absence of an actually performed movement. In this way, embodied perceptions of actual objects, spaces, or movements can become memories of embodied states, which have the ability to affect the body when reactivated. In a provocative extension of these ideas, Freud goes on to suggest that our ways of expressing ourselves, not only gesturally, but also verbally and even conceptually, retain elements of these mimetically learned states. He calls this intermixture of embodied perceptions and affects with verbal and conceptual expressions "ideational mimetics." Thus, to take a simple example, our conventional use of metaphors of largeness and smallness reveals traces of our mimetic relations to objects and
spaces. Finally, Freud suggests that these mimetics not only form part of our intersubjective communication, for example in language, but also underlie intrasubjective processes like imagination.
This discussion of ideational mimetics is highly suggestive for our attempt to consider how texts and laughter might be transitively related, as Bakhtin's notion of "reduction" suggests. Freud, in essence, posits imitative activity as the crucial missing link that articulates the complex relations among language, imagination, affectivity, and embodiment. Moreover, if, as I have indicated, one of the essential historical characteristics of the interwar years is an enforced drive to imitation (what I call "generalized mimetism"), then Freud's theory suggests that late modernist literature may be registering a crucial change in the "ideational mimetics" of the period—that stock of figures, narrative structures, and images of voice that testify to the lived experience of the body in a determinate social space. The ideational mimetics of late modernism reveal the desperately heightened incongruities in the social experience of artists between the wars—incongruities that provoked self-reflexive laughter.
In texts structured in this way by reduced forms of laughter, open laughter only breaks out at points where the force of incongruity exceeds the containing energies of the image, at sites where figures rupture and forms fail. In late modernist works, accordingly, self-reflexive laughter bursts out above all at moments of maximum stress on characters, pushed to the limits of madness, dissociation, and death. The potential for such eruptive 'manifestations of laughter, however, underscores the tenuous nature of all such containing structures of literary form. Though from the position of the threatened subject, a writing structured around self-reflexive laughter may represent a potential foothold against disintegration, it nonetheless offers a significantly weaker formal principle than more symbolically unified modes. Laughter is at once articulated and mobile; it has an ambivalent relation to form. As Helmut Plessner writes: "To laughing . . . belongs . . . the significant and conscious relating of an expression to its occasion, an expression which breaks out eruptively, runs its course compulsively, and lacks definite symbolic form."
In the case of late modernist writing the "occasion" is the writing itself, which seeks to provoke self-reflexive laughter as its "significant" and "conscious" expression. Yet as such, this intention represents a very weak organizing basis—an almost substanceless subjective ground for giving form to a work. This hypothesis is confirmed by the observable
lack of formal solidity in late modernist works, an absence of overall symbolic form, which runs the gamut from pastiche in works like Barnes's Ladies Almanack to out-and-out collapses of large-scale form in Beckett's Dream of Fair to Middling Women and Lewis's The Childermass . By comparison, the remnants of the Bildungsroman used by Joyce and Lawrence, the adventure genres adapted by Conrad, the tightly symmetrical structures of the late James, even the buried mythic underpinnings of Ulysses and The Waste Land represent relatively strong symbolic constructions for the author to renew creatively. Whether by compulsion or deliberate strategy, the late modernist writer stood opposed to the discursive mastery of earlier modernists.
With these general theoretical observations in mind, we can now turn briefly to Samuel Beckett and Djuna Barnes, to indicate how their work is animated by similar concerns as those expressed by Lewis, if in less openly polemical and programmatic ways.
Beckett's writing, like Lewis's, arises out of an analogous reflection on a peculiar type of laughter as the zero degree of subjectivity—a condition shared by the artist, his characters, and his reader/spectators. Critics have often pointed to Nell's observation in Endgame as a kind of encapsulated version of Beckett's tragicomic vision: "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that." Less often remarked is the way that laughter , not happiness or unhappiness per se, is primarily at stake in Nell's meditation. For she goes on to say: "Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it's always the same thing. Yes, it's like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don't laugh any more" (19). This concern with laughter (and its disappearance) is consonant with the play as a whole, in which laughter, even where cruel or bitter, is an index of a minimal residue of humanness. Thus, asked to survey the horizon, Clov quips (pointing the telescope at the audience), "I see . . . a multitude . . . in transports . . . of joy," then turns to Hamm and asks, "Well? Don't we laugh?" Hamm replies: "I don't," and Clov concurs: "Nor I" (29).
Beckett's dramatic works of the fifties, with their post-Unnameable return to embodied characters and a comparatively "expansive" space of play, can be seen as recurring to the late modernist mode of the thirties
and early forties, after the admitted exhaustion of the trilogy and "texts for nothing." And in fact, Beckett's last English novel, Watt , contains a meditation closely connected to the scenes from Endgame quoted above: in my view, a genuinely theoretical reflection on the nature of laughter. Its fictional framing is minimal, coming as it does in the long freestanding monologue of the departing servant Erskine to the newly arrived Watt:
Of all the laughs that strictly speaking are not laughs, but modes of ululation, only three I think need detain us, I mean the bitter, the hollow and the mirthless. They correspond to successive . . . excoriations of the understanding, and the passage from the one to the other is the passage from the lesser to the greater, from the lower to the higher, from the outer to the inner, from the gross to the fine, from the matter to the form. The laugh that now is mirthless once was hollow, the laugh that once was hollow once was bitter. And the laugh that once was bitter? Eyewater, Mr. Watt, eyewater. But do not let us waste our time with that. . . . The bitter, the hollow and—Haw! Haw!— the mirthless. The bitter laugh laughs at that which is not good, it is the ethical laugh. The hollow laugh laughs at that which is not true, it is the intellectual laugh. Not good! Not true! Well well. But the mirthless laugh is the dianoetic laugh, down the snout—Haw!—so. It is the laugh of laughs, the risus purus , the laugh laughing at the laugh, the beholding, the saluting of the highest joke, in a word the laugh that laughs—silence please—at that which is unhappy.
Three things are notable about Erskine's remarks on laughter. First is that from the start he focuses on a particular kind of laughter: "strictly speaking not laughs, but modes of ululation . . . successive excoriations of the understanding." In short, this laughter has nothing to do with the laughter of humor but is rather a specifically satiric laughter, an exasperation of the mind and a lamentative howling. Erskine underscores this difference between ordinary laughter and satiric laughter by situating the latter above the "tragic" affects on his hierarchy of value. Thus, below the lowest mode of satiric laughter, the "bitter," is "eyewater" (i.e., tears), peremptorily dismissed as a waste of time.
Second, the lower two planes of satiric laughter, the bitter and the hollow, correspond to the objects of traditional satire: the bitter laugh is aimed at the unjust ("that which is not good") and is thus "ethical"; the hollow laugh is aimed at the untrue and is thus "intellectual." The modes of satire that provoke these forms of laughter depend on a stable position in ethical norms in the first case, in knowledge in the other. The satirist must him- or herself know the good and the true, and s/he
may assume the existence of at least a few listeners who also know them and who can thus understand the satire. But the last plane of laughter, the mirthless, occupies a strange, placeless, asocial space: the threshold-an originary in -adequation—between the mind and the world. The mirthless laugh is "dianoetic," pertaining to thinking, and specifically to a thinking that attempts to extend beyond the inherent properties of the mind itself. It laughs at unhappiness, which begins, Erskine implies, not with unhappy circumstances but with recognizing the world's alterity as such.
Finally, this laughter—as with Lewis's—is self-reflexive. The mind's recognition of the world's alterity is also a self-recognition. The mirth-less laugh is the event of this recognition. It is the trace of consciousness confronting its minimal condition, the "beholding . . . of the highest joke," the genesis of consciousness as unhappy consciousness. The mind is unhappy and laughs at (the) unhappiness, which is itself: "the laugh laughing at the laugh." Such self-reflexivity should not, however, be understood as an example of the high modernist turn to authorial subjectivity as the basis of symbolic unity and, correlatively, its highlighting of epistemological questions (for example, the ironic occultation of truth in Conrad's novels). On the contrary, Beckett's assumption of an originary "infelicity" of mind and emphasis on "mirthless" laughter implicitly debunks the high modernist paradigm and its traffic in epistemological conundrums. Beckett disenchants the whole question of truth in favor of exploring epistemically contingent, "ungrounded" phenomena of pleasure, pain, social power, and death. "Yes or no?" Beckett's "seedy solipsist" Murphy asks. His free-floating commentator adds: "The eternal tautology."
Unlike Lewis and Beckett, Djuna Barnes does not explicitly theorize laughter in her work. Nevertheless, implicit in her literary depictions is a problematic of threatened subjectivity and self-reflexive laughter similar to that identified in these other late modernist authors. Near the beginning of Nightwood , for example, the Jewish "aristocrat" Felix Volkbein finds himself at a party at Count Onatorio Altamonte's house in the company of circus actors and the ubiquitous Dr. Matthew O'Connor. Suddenly the Count makes his appearance, only to dismiss his party guests without further explanation. When the bewildered Felix asks the oxymoronically named (or hermaphroditically endowed) circus performer "Frau Mann" about the Count's authenticity, this "Lady" replies: "Herr Gott !. . . Am I what I say? Are you? Is the doctor? . . . Yes or no?" Where everything is not what it seems, Frau Mann implies,
the very question of authenticity becomes nonsense, yes and no become tautological. Laughter, in turn, the late modernist's self-reflexive laughter, is the only appropriate response to this nonsensical world from which authenticity has been banished. Dr. O'Connor observes the scene, collecting himself in the face of the absurd through an inward-directed laughter: "The doctor was lighting a cigarette and in its flare the Baron saw that he was laughing silently" (N , 21). The Doctor's laughter shores up the ruins of his crumbling, night-roaming self, stopping his moral vertigo in a stiffening jolt. In a clear projection of his own desires and fears, Dr. O'Connor explains the Count's strange behavior in fancifully ribald terms. "Count Onatorio Altamonte," O'Connor claims, "suspected that he had come upon his last erection" (N , 21). Yet there is little need to ask how O'Connor might know of the Count's final tumescence, or whether he had guessed correctly. The Doctor's "explanation" refers first and foremost to himself. His punning play on the "last erection" before the "resurrection" is a joke on his own cockeyed condition, shuffling between the privies of Paris and the altars of its churches. He laughs self-reflexively, "hardening" himself against a threatening yet seductive loss of boundaries, maintaining his human "erection" against the temptation to dissolve himself into the darkness and night air.
Dr. O'Connor's hardening of the self through laughter stands in stark contrast to Felix's near-dissolution by it. On hearing the phrase (uttered by O'Connor) "the cold incautious melody of time crawling," Felix loses control of himself:
Felix . . . broke into uncontrollable laughter, and though this occurrence troubled him the rest of his life he was never able to explain it to himself. The company, instead of being silenced, went on as if nothing had happened. . . . This only added to the Baron's torment. He began waving his hands, saying, "Oh, please! please!" and suddenly he had a notion that he was doing something that wasn't laughing at all, but something much worse, though he kept saying to himself, "I am laughing, really laughing, nothing else whatsoever!" (N , 16)
I would suggest that this bizarre scene, almost incomprehensible in terms of narrative motivation, reflexively represents within the text the perilous place of Barnes's reader before her text. Felix, himself precariously balanced in his own mask and costume, discovers the impossibility of reading —of interpreting—the unreal world of the Count's party. O'Connor's conceit ("the cold incautious melody of
time crawling") combines an evocation of infantile spatiality ("crawling") and the absurd passage of time (a terrifying reality), for Felix). It triggers the regressive unraveling of "the Baron's" confected identity. The demonic laugh that he hears comes from somewhere else, a sheer alterity. It is a mirthless laugh, expressing the perplexity of Barnes and her reader, to whom every form of relation to these characters is barred but one, the laughter welling up around Felix. And yet, the position of author and reader is inscribed nowhere else than within Felix himself. The laugh is self-reflexive, self-confirming, preserving the minimal condition of subjectivity and saving Felix from utter disintegration as a "character": "I am laughing, really laughing, nothing else whatsoever." The laugh brings him back "to himself," literally stiffening him against the next wave of the doctor's verbal onslaught: "As abruptly he sat straight up, his hands on the arms of the chair, staring fixedly at the doctor who was leaning forward as he drew a chair up exactly facing him" (N , 17).
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.