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."