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The Order of FormsRealism, Formalism, and Social Space$
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Anna Kornbluh

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226653204

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226653488.001.0001

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The Order of Forms: Mathematic, Aesthetic, and Political Formalisms

The Order of Forms: Mathematic, Aesthetic, and Political Formalisms

(p.1) Introduction The Order of Forms: Mathematic, Aesthetic, and Political Formalisms
The Order of Forms

Anna Kornbluh

University of Chicago Press

What does literature make, and what can literary criticism make with it? This book proposes a new theory of the novel as a social model, entailing a new program for literary critics and the humanities more broadly: reading aesthetic forms for how their composition of relations illuminates a general composedness of social life. The introduction names this new program “political formalism,” developing it in conversation with aesthetic formalism and the revolutionary advancements in Victoria-era formalist mathematics. Political formalism regards the merely formal quality of the structures of social experience, from collectivity and the city to the law and the state. A position—and a positive affirmation of organized sociability that departs sharply from the negative critique prevalent in the humanities—and a method—an approach to the composition and agency of forms in the tradition of aesthetic formalism—political formalism serves a distinctive critical practice of recomposing forms of social being. Elaborating political formalism by overviewing antiformalist tendencies in critical theory, the introduction also provides an interpretative reading of constructive commitments in Marx’s German Ideology and Talbot’s Pencil of Nature (the first ever book of photography).

Keywords:   theory of the novel, social modeling, aesthetic formalism, political formalism, Victorian-era mathematics, law, state, antiformalism, Karl Marx, William Henry Fox Talbot

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