Me Need to Think Harder: quick thoughts on Kornbluh’s IMMEDIACY

“The epistemic sacralization of ineffable experience discredits those arcs of cognition and of action that capacitate affiliation beyond experience, thus deglegitimizing political solidarity.” (169)

Quick thoughts.

Finally received my preorder of Anna Kornbluh’s Immediacy, or, The Style of Too Late Capitalism on Monday, finished it yesterday. Despite (?) its largely anti-demotic prose — it aims instead for aphoristic assertions (think: Adorno’s hip sibling), and verbs that surprise — it goes by fast, itself almost a “just in time” book. I’m in broad agreement with it: I too find the demand to “personalize” our arguments embarrassing, the No Filter hashtag (and its corresponding discursive pose) anti-intellectual (as if we were somehow free of culture and history!), the praise of authenticity or “getting real”  ennervating. So much of “personal expression,” including autotheory, is expression by people who don’t know yet what genre they’re in. It’s too soon to give up on alienation. Me need to think harder!

The up-to-the-minute-ness of the book, though, means its invocation of NFTs (here representing the artwork existing as pure unmediated exchange value) misses the NFT market collapse. Nothing as yet has replaced it. We have to wonder, too, about the new toy for the folks who were doing NFTs, the LLMs and “AI” art generators, which, being so proudly antipersonal, demand a dialectical analysis of thoughtless mediation.

Some of the bombs land close. Maggie Nelson studied with my colleague Wayne Koestenbaum at the CUNY Grad Center, and Marcos Gonsalez’s Pedro’s Theory (not cited, but it could have been) is also a Grad Center product, and Ocean Vuong with my colleague Ben Lerner at Brooklyn College.

I can’t ride the bus the whole way through the “antitheory” chapter, and not just because I do posthumanism. I absolutely taught Bennett’s Vibrant Materialism several times; I’m in the acknowledgements to Influx and Efflux; 11 years ago, I did a group read of Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway and wrote a (withdrawn) article on it (where I argued that quantum physics operates at a level of accuracy that’s essentially useless for literary studies); but fortunately my reading of the new materialists happened in between my 2 books (2011 ; 2019), because I abandoned them roughly around the time when everyone else did: Trump’s election.

Trump killed OOO. That’s a real split in the kinds of theory Kornbluh immolates. We got, afterwards, a new critical commitment to Marxism, various moral critical modes and championing of insurgent identities (trans + negatively racialized groups), a renewed return to material archives in medieval studies. But, if my citations are any evidence, the sun has mostly set on critical animal studies. (and I couldn’t have written my Book2 without Bennett’s challenge to agency as a central plank of being human!) And yet people still invoke “the human” and “humanity” so piously, so thoughtlessly, as if a prayer were enough to stop the killing.