Double Wartime and the Second World War
Volume 5, Cycle 2
Elegies in war years script wartime as endurance of the fraught experience of mass killing on battlefields, in concentration camps, and in bombed cities—and, for the post-Freudian mind experiencing the Second World War, they ignite feelings informed by insinuations of the death drive, its curious repressive and recollective effects. In her 1948 analysis of war anxiety, Melanie Klein writes: “War reminds us, like a prompt, of our early selves; and our early selves are terrorized by the mysterious workings—the ‘silence’ Freud called it . . .—of the death instinct inside us.” As Adam Phillips has shown, that terror and that return to early selves trigger manic denial of the dangers of war, mimicking the sense of security parents give children. The death instinct stalls ordinary time, acting like a trauma in its blocking effects, insulating the self from history, making “history impossible” (Phillips, “Bombs,” 195). At the same time, war’s destruction acts out the child’s own death drive, or projects the bombed city as traumatic mother, unpredictable and invasive: “In psychoanalytic theory and practice after the war,” Phillips writes, “there are bombs everywhere. What some of the analysts forgot was that children take history personally” (198). That strange doubling effect, death drive repression and acting out, is set within a temporal structure of two world wars, and so happens twice within the adult consciousness: as First World War childhood memory denying the Great War, yet recalling its destruction, and contemporary Second World War desire, similarly locking together repression of war’s violence and a spectacular staging of relish in the apocalypse. This twofold contradiction presents as a temporal fold in the wartimed mind, such that times are doubled in the manner in which they are folded into themselves, mixing memory and desire. The knot created by this fold is an involute (insofar as it is a fold dependent on another fold) that crosses psychological and political fields, turning on fear and destruction within the mind conditioned by family and nation at war. Wartime is here defined as the time of world war, and is understood as experienced within a double structure: this was a second world war, and the anxieties associated with the Great War were reprised across what had become the “interwar” years. For, as Storm Jameson recalled in her extraordinary novelized memoir The Journal Of Mary Hervey Russell (1945): “It is only now, when our army is back in Belgium, that I feel the acute ceaseless anxiety, the anguish, I did not feel during 1914–18, when it was my own friends, the young men of my age, who were there. Twenty-five years after they were killed, I begin to be afraid for them in the living bodies of boys I don't know.”
For writers experiencing this double wartime, this war would end the great period of modernism that the First World War had given such impetus to. That anxiety was played out in responses to the deaths of the great modernists that coincided with the Second World War’s onset, the deaths of Sigmund Freud, W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf. Their reflections on the doubling effects of memory in their own work, and their memories of the impact of the Great War on time-perceptions and culture, feed into the Second World War’s double wartime. Each death enacted the double workings of the death drive and the folding in of the compulsive repetitions and repression of First World War anxiety. Double wartime repetition sees mid-century writers taking on the time-experience of the dead high modernists as temporal fold in an elegiac incorporating of the textual time and death drive story of the dead precursor. Mid-century modernists felt compelled to acknowledge the inescapable shaping of Second World War culture by high modernist incorporation of First World War patterns of thought, as adults remembering how their childhood selves had taken history personally, and as receivers of precursor styles of being. Modernism as it modulates into its mid-century formations is an involute, insofar as it has doubled up into itself the wartime death drive generated by the two conflicts through transgenerational superimposition. The dead precursors pass on their own sense of double time, of war-triggered double consciousness of trauma repressed and unleashed, to the survivor modernists of wartime mid-century, who fold the precursor’s contradictions into their own wartime scripts, as transgenerational inheritance buried in text, and as elegiac gesture releasing a destructive mid-century modernism. Each section in what follows pairs a precursor high modernist with a Second World War mid-century writer-survivor who inscribes the double sign of the involute in their wartime texts, as difficult acts of acknowledgement, elegy, second-generation affect. They fold into the precursor’s folds their own death drive texts, created by war’s violence as psychological and political history being registered by the child-adult mind across two world wars.
In “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” (1915) Freud speaks of the involute created by the mind’s dual capacity to repress and to preserve mental states. The earlier state of mind “may not have manifested itself for years, but none the less it is so far present that it may at any time again become the mode of expression of the forces in the mind”; Freud defines this double plasticity as “a special capacity for involution.” War culture’s involute both erases and recalls earlier collective states of mind, “the most primitive, the oldest, the crudest mental attitudes” (“Thoughts,” 288). Freud returned to this core thought in 1937, with the double act of id and superego both representing the influence of the past and repressing it, staging in analysis “two quite different portions [. . . involving] two people” which map onto the contradiction between the return of fragments of history and the process of denial (23:258). That double movement—the return of the repressed triggered by the very act of delusional pacifying of anxieties—is itself doubled up by the repetition of the anxiety across the time interval, a cultural form of Nachträglichkeit.
Freud’s death in September 1939 was preceded by a curious doubling in his own life story, the reproduction of his Vienna consulting-room, Berggasse 19, in London. And the reaction to his passing took on his lifelong reflection on the double-redoubled nature of war anxiety. W. H. Auden, in his elegy “In Memory of Sigmund Freud” (1939), worried about mourning one death in a time of mass killing, but argued that we should honor Freud for his work on transtemporal correspondences in mental life. Freud told “the unhappy Present to recite the Past” like a child reciting poetry, till an error in recitation (a “falter[ing] at the line”) would suddenly reveal the dynamics of accusation and judgment in an amalgam of Oedipal recollection (“[giving] back to / the son the mother’s richness of feeling”) and political anamnesis (“he would have us remember most of all / to be enthusiastic over the night,” with “its delectable creatures,” “exiles who long for the future / that lies in our power”). The double revelation of childhood return of the repressed and of political enlightenment strikes Auden as one who had grown up in the First World War and whose maturity coincided with the Second World War.
Auden’s Spring 1940 poem, “O season of repetition and return,” partly reflects on Freud and the redoubled nature of the Second World War. Auden admired Freud greatly for treating the life of the mind as historical and not natural, as defined by its times and phases. The spring the poem reflects on is spring 1940: the season when we regress to childhood because of the annual renewal, but also the wartime juncture when the death drive reminds us of First World War terrors, only to tempt us to deny all violence: “hour of images when we sniff the herb / Of childhood and forget who we are and dream / Like whistling boys” (“Spring 1940,” 94). The death instinct haunts the act of denial like repressed history, like guilty sexual desire, a revelatory closing of all orifices, entryways to the Id/libido (“we / Hide the mouths through which the Disregarded / Will always enter” ).
The paradox of wartime is that ordinary acts of repression take place in a climate of such heightened violence and anxiety (and this for the second time in the half-century) that the conscious/unconscious mind is turned inside out, the unconscious Disregarded made public in the general conflict. This chimes with Elizabeth Bowen’s thinking about the dreamy shared inwardness of the war: “It seems to me that during the war in England the overcharged subconsciousness of everybody overflowed and merged.” This exposure is welcomed in Auden’s poem as a weird release of tension (“Only on battlefields . . . / Can night return to our cooling fibres” [“Spring 1940,” 94]), just as it is this very act of repression that generates anxiety prompting history’s return:
O not even war can frighten us enough,
That last attempt to eliminate the Strange
By uniting us all in a terror
Of something known (94)
The Great War haunts these lines in the tiny ambiguity of the “last attempt,” and is the reason why the terror is something already known—Second World Wartime unifies this specific generation that has known war’s peculiar night as children and now as adults. The poem ends with a cryptic allusion to Freud:
neither a Spring nor a war can ever
So condition his ears as to keep the song
That is not a sorrow from the Double Man. (95)
The double man is both the poet as creature of his generation, living with the two conflicts of the world wars that double the double (un)consciousness, and Freud as the recorder of the life of the divided mind in history, figures not clearly redemptive but ambivalently symptomatic of the times. Double wartime conceals, however, within its temporal involution—erasing and preserving the two violences of the psychic and cultural death drive—another song, potentially, the song of psychoanalysis and art as a third form, a life-force that attends to it all, “the love that hears” (95).
Yeats’s gyres figure forth the doubling of temporalities in the mirror formation of their double cone structure. The soul in this historical structure is always moving outward into the objective world or inward into itself—“this movement is double because the human soul would not be conscious were it not suspended between contraries,” Yeats remarked in a note to “The Second Coming.”
Yeats returned to this theory of historically situated double consciousness towards the end of his life as Second World Wartime approached. In the 1939 play Purgatory, a father who killed his father at the time of the First World War kills his son just before the Second, and in so doing, as if with the force of multidirectional memory, replays the violences of the Civil War and the Black and Tan War of Independence; all this is acted out before the ruin of the Big House where the spirit of the dead mother/wife haunts the space as tree in the background and light at the window. The play stages the night of the anniversary of the son’s conception: “Twice a murderer and all for nothing, / And she must animate that dead night / Not once but many times!” The father killed his progeny to release the mother from purgatory, but the cycle begins again.
The death of Yeats had its own creepy repetitiousness: his last poems were reviewed after the S Plan IRA bomb attacks on England in 1939 and 1940, whilst Eire remained neutral: the mixed responses eerily recalling the relations understood to pertain between Yeats’s early work and the events of 1916 in British responses to the work. The reaction to Yeats’s death was muted as a result—until T. S. Eliot produced “Little Gidding,” one of the first great poems of the Second World War.
Here Eliot writes as receiver of Yeats’s theory of history as repetitive violence psychological and cultural, situating the poem’s scene in a ghostly wartime space of Nietzschean recurrence: “At the recurrent end of the unending.” Eliot’s persona hails the ghost of Yeats as though he were Dante hailing Virgil:
the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: “What! are you here?” (The Complete Poems, 140).
The double part being played and the cycle of knowing, forgetting, and half-recall are symptomatic of the plural roles over war-traumatized times the dream poem asks its characters to play: Yeats as himself and Virgil and all precursors, Eliot as himself and Dante and all descendants. It is also symptomatic of the purgatorial double wartime of the Second World War. The double part and cycle mime the double movement of gyre-like history and its recurrences in the non-temporality generated by the death drive involute of repression and preservation. The double man here is Yeats, suspended between two wartimes as ghost of the interwar, “spirit unappeased and peregrine / Between two worlds become much like each other” (141).
Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939) returns to the Nietzschean premises of his youth in the First World War as remembered (and critiqued) in Ulysses (1922). Eternal recurrence had been recast as a poetic fiction testing Joyce’s capacity to think and feel himself free of culture and his own time: if time is held to be cyclical, then teleology falters and tyrants of the mind are toppled. That analytical freedom from cultural norms became a necessity in the war culture, nationalist and imperial, that throttled the Ireland of the war years, and which Joyce could only properly analyze from the vantage point of neutral Switzerland. The Wake returns to this complex with its satire both of wartime double slavery (nationalist/imperial) and of the Nietzschean imperatives that had structured Joyce’s Great War. The minds caught in the dream of Dublin live a recycled existence of commodification and Viconian / Nietzschean recurrences: “commodius vicus of recirculation.” History is what is yet to happen (“pas encore”) and what has come to pass again (passe encore): “passencore rearrived” (Joyce, Finnegans Wake, 3, lines 4–5). And what galls is the eternal recurrence of war culture and its phallic and delusional romanticism: “Sir Tristram, . . . wielderfight[ing] his penisolate war” (3, lines 4–6). The double consciousness of wartime draws together the doubling that is Dublin’s signature tune (“doublin their mumper all the time”), and the ways of all desire within war-ridden Ireland’s hysterical histories of mind and culture (3, lines 8–9). These are thematized in the neurotic double acts of the “sosie sesthers” and “twone nathandjoe,” subject to the death drive (“the fall” of death) (3, lines 12, 15). The Wake tracks that war history as a force that sucks life from the minds of citizens; after the tour of the Willingdone Museum of war relics, the narrator warns that war culture seeks “to steal our historic presents from the past postpropheticals so as to will make us all lordy heirs and ladymaidesses of a pretty nice kettle of fruit” (11, lines 30–32). History dealt Joyce a doubling blow by forcing him back to neutral Switzerland and Zurich in the Second World War, and it is there that he died.
In Samuel Beckett’s Watt (1953), written in Vichy France during the war whilst Beckett served clandestinely in the Resistance to the Nazi occupation, Watt has a “running sore of traumatic origin” and that traumatic chronic wound may be history as endless repetition. Arsene, the precursor servant in Knott’s house, teaches Watt this history lesson:
And if I could begin it all over again, knowing what I know now, the result would be the same. . . . And if I could begin it all over again a hundred times, knowing each time a little more than the time before, the result would always be the same, and the hundredth life as the first, and the hundred lives as one. A cat’s flux. (Watt, 39)
This parody of the cyclical Wake as Nietzschean wound is also inaugural of Beckett’s mid-century method, whereby language betrays manic symptoms of deadening habitual return and dédoublement. The permutations of the novel lock the voice into a double act of twinning relations, as opposites, as the same anew, as both abandoned to the clicking logic of the calculating machine, the machine of history as waste. The waste of time is a doubling thanks to Joyce’s example, and the Joyce-Beckett double act is playacted by the avatars Watt and Sam at the end of the novel. The last section has the narrator Sam receive the story-text we are reading from Watt through the fence of an asylum, an asylum that crosses wartime France with neutral Ireland, but it also enacts a space-time that connects the First to the Second World War, side by side. Watt speaks this doubling in code, a backwards speech, as though language were under wartime conditions of secrecy and censorship, but also as though it were looking back in time to its serial traumatic origin. This is the text “heard” by Sam in the asylum grounds:
Dis yb dis, nem owt. Yad la, tin fo trap. Skin, skin, skin. Od su did ned taw? . . . Nilb, mun, mud. Tin fo trap, yad la. Nem owt, dis yb dis. (143–44)
Translated, this reads: “Side by side, two men. All day, part of night. Dumb, numb, blind. […]. What then did us do? Niks, niks, niks. Part of night, all day. Two men, side by side.” The Watt-Knott double act reenacts the Arsene-Watt twins reprised in the Watt-Sam compositional scene. The two men, side by side, are locked into a double act sketch featuring a wound and flux that is history as death drive, doubling the first wars of Irish modernism with the Second World War that saw Joyce hand over his Wakean nightmare to Sam the penman.
Woolf had suffered history as war aftermath in the wake of the First World War. Mrs Dalloway (1925) is haunted by images of the recent devastating conflict, and that collective trauma is shared by all Londoners: “This late age of the world’s experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears.” A mysterious grey car cruises through the streets and is responded to eerily by the people in the streets: “in all the hat shops and tailors’ shops strangers looked at each other and thought of the dead” (Mrs Dalloway, 18). Woolf returned to this apperception towards the end of her life with a remark in a letter in 1941: “the human race seems to repeat itself insufferably.” That repetition is played out in her last work, Between the Acts, where Miss Trobe’s pageant is studded with recycled gestures and language. The repetitions of history, “senseless, hideous, stupefying,” creep into each characters’ mouths in the form of tics and duplications of phrase—“[he/she] repeated,” one of the most common direct speech markers in the novel. Time, figured in the ticking of a gramophone hidden in the bushes, conspires with the cars that bring the spectators to the pageant and away: “The machine ticked. There was no music. The horns of cars on the high road were heard. . . . They were suspended, without being, in limbo. Tick, tick, tick went the machine” (Between, 110). The limbo of unreal non-presence generated by the two wars’ forcefields, destruction in memory and looming threat ahead, generates this ticking mechanical double wartime of the collective mind, its music the horns of the cars on their anonymous way.
Woolf’s suicide in 1941 took her back to 1915 and the self-destructive mania of that terrible year; as she noted in her tragic suicide note to Leonard, time was the enemy: “I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time.” Elizabeth Bowen sensed in her death an end time to high modernist war trauma as it modulated into Second World Wartime. “The Demon Lover,” written during the war, reflects on modernist feminism as dark response to Woolf’s suicide. The struggle between a brutal modernity and female psychology under war compulsions is given nightmare figuration in the vision of the taxi driven by the demon: “After that she continued to scream freely and to beat with her gloved hands on the glass all round as the taxi, accelerating without mercy, made off with her into the hinterland of deserted streets.” The taxi recalls the grey car of Mrs Dalloway, the cars in Between the Acts; the demon is a dead combatant from the trenches returned to claim his war lover, a death-driver from the collective unconscious of double wartime. That double wartime is absorbed into the very language of the Second World War: “after that she continued”—the chronic trauma of aftermath is captured in the phrase, generating a manic machine-like body-tic (the beating of her hands on the glass) that is itself enclosed within the machine and its time (“as the taxi . . . made off with her”), a hinterland time of two wars, suspended, without being, in limbo.
Each of the Great War modernists whose deaths marked the Second World’s War’s beginnings, found echoes in their mid-century counterparts, just as their wartime was itself folded in on itself. Double wartime as Nachträglichkeit and double subjectivity, as gyre-like history and purgatorial double part, as commodius vicus of recirculation and cat’s flux, as insufferable repetition and hinterland mechanical beat: that other war haunts the second war’s texts, like a traumatic wound throbbing with repetition that itself repeats: “Tick, tick, tick went the machine.” The two world wars triggered transgenerational transmission across the interwar and shaped mid-century modernism as a death drive legacy and precursor involute. The wars as fused together by these writers, as they felt compelled to take on the modernist war-determined temporalities of the dead, defined the 1940s as a double wartime incorporating the traumas of the Great War and its aftermath. Their doubling inheritance generated fitful textual monuments to the passing away of the great modernists of high modernism. Modernism itself emerges as a double wartime involute in textual consciousness at mid-century.
 Adam Phillips, “Bombs Away,” History Workshop Journal 45 (1998): 183–98, 193. He is quoting Melanie Klein’s 1948 paper “On the Theory of Anxiety and Guilt.”
 “Involute” was coined by Thomas De Quincey in Suspiria de Profundis: “far more of our deepest thoughts and feelings pass to us through perplexed combinations of concrete objects, pass to us as involutes (if I may coin that word) in compound experiences incapable of being disentangled, than ever reach us directly, and in their own abstract shapes” (Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Related Writings, ed. Joel Faflak [Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2009], 151). De Quincey was writing about the long-term effects of the traumatic loss of his sister. The word means to be rolled up, as a nautilus shell is curled up spirally around its axis; and in mathematics, the involute is a curve shaped as if wrapped around another curve.
 The Oxford English Dictionary gives as earliest use Osbert Lancaster writing in 1939: “The inter~war period through which we have just passed” (OED Online, April 2020, s.v., “inter-war, adj.”).
 Storm Jameson, The Journal of Mary Hervey Russell (New York: Macmillan, 1945), 151.
 Sigmund Freud, “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” (1915), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. and ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1953–74), 14:273–302, 285–86. “Involution” is James Strachey’s choice for Freud’s Rückbildung, reconstruction, literally back-formation; the mind’s capacity to revert to a previous state of being.
 See the whole essay “Constructions in Analysis” (1937), in the Standard Edition 23:255–69.
 The term was elaborated by Freud to articulate trauma “in two times” (Paola Marion, “Some reflections on the unique time of Nachträglichkeit in theory and clinical practice,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 93 : 317–340, 93). Marion writes: “The concept of Nachträglichkeit . . . [not only contains] within itself a double direction of time, from the present to the past and from the past to the present; it also carries out a transformation of the trauma itself” (“Some reflections,” 320). It was Freud who used the term for cultural memory work by populations in Moses and Monotheism (321). Involution occurs as a form of twisting of the two times of analysis: “In [Nachträglichkeit], in fact, the particular ‘twisting’ to which the analytic work is subjected is expressed, as well as the co-presence – but not the superimposition—in the analyst’s mind of the present time of the session and of another time, another scene, unknown to him, that the patient brings to him in the search for ‘lost time’” (337).
 W. H. Auden, “In Memory of Sigmund Freud,” Collected Shorter Poems, 1927–1957, ed. Edward Mendelson (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), 166–170.
 Published as “Spring 1940,” in The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (New York: Random House, 1945), 93–95.
 “The great revolutionary step taken by him . . . was his decision . . . to treat psychological facts as belonging, not to the natural order . . . but to the historical order” (W. H. Auden, “The Greatness of Freud,” review of Ernest Jones’s The Life and Death of Sigmund Freud, The Listener, 50 no. 1284 [October 8, 1953]: 593, quoted in “In Solitude, for Company”: W. H. Auden After 1940 ed. Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996], 144).
 Elizabeth Bowen, October 1944 postscript of the US edition of “The Demon Lover” (1945), The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen, ed. Hermione Lee (London: Vintage, 1999), 95.
 Note on “The Second Coming” (1921), in The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, ed. Richard J. Finneran, (New York: Scribner, 1997), 1:659.
 W. B. Yeats, Purgatory (1939), in The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats: The Plays, ed. D. R. Clark and R. E. Clark (New York: Scribner, 2001), 537–44, 544. For concepts of purgatory and the Second World War, see Sebastian D. G. Knowles, A Purgatorial Flame: Seven British Writers in the Second World War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990).
 T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” (1942), in The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909–1950 (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1952), 138–145, 140.
 James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, (London: Faber & Faber, 1939), 3, line 2.
 Samuel Beckett, Watt (1953) (London: Faber & Faber, 2009), 25.
 Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925), (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1981), 9.
 Virginia Woolf to Shena, Lady Simon, January 25, 1941, in The Letters of Virginia Woolf, ed. (London: Hogarth, 1980), 464.
 Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts (1941), (London: Vintage, 1992), 71.
 Virginia Woolf to Leonard Woolf, quoted in Susan Kennedy, “Two Endings: Virginia Woolf’s Suicide and Between the Acts,” University of Toronto Quarterly 44, no. 4 (1975): 265–89, 265.
 Elizabeth Bowen, “The Demon Lover,” in The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen (New York: Knopf, 1981), 601–606, 606.