Kornbluh 2023 Immediacy

  • excerpts

Author: Kornbluh, Anna
Title: Immediacy, or The style of too-late capitalism
Publisher: Verso, London
Year: 2023
Link: https://search.worldcat.org/en/title/1371585302

A version of "Imaginary" appeared in Portable Gray 2:2 (2022).
Notions of and some lines from "Antitheory" were first tested in "It's Complicated," nonsite.org 35 (2021),
"Prospective Criticism: On Private and Public Things," Textual Practice 37:2 (2023),
and "In Defense of Feminist Abstraction," Diacritics 49:2 (Winter 2021).


In contemporary cultural aesthetics, there is something going on with mediation. The social activity of representation is slackening, loosing presence too much with us. Medium dissolves, extremes effulge, exposure streams.

But it's best to begin in the middle.

Standing at the edge of your mat, bring your arms out to the sides and up to the sky, joining your palms above your head, then relax your shoulders and lift your gaze to the sun. Its blazing rays swirl, thick brushstrokes animated, seventy-five high-definition projectors scaling wall to wall, floor to ceiling, 500,000 cubic feet of psychedelic wallpaper pinned to crescendos of digitally synthesized pop. "Inhale," the yogi quietly croons into your earpiece: intake the piped aroma of lavender gardens at Arles, inhabit the moment, Instagram it to be sure, #ImmersiveVanGogh.

Sunrise exercise is the ultimate American maximization of the nontraditional art experiences raging in Europe for the past several years, fusing whole-body whole-mind entertainment with the insatiable pursuit of wellness, reality and virtual reality, art and theater, phantasmagoria and yoga, the spectator ingested by the spectacle.' Here is one of history's most accessible artists, whose art no longer suffices to create an effect. Van Gogh's quotidian images, utmost color saturation, and mental distress are not enough to generate an adequate sensory encounter; sweat and endorphins must pump that regular spectating into multimedia, multitasking Vinyasa flow. In this flexible hypersensory coordination, the bounds of medium unfold: the work of art becomes indistinguishable from its installation and the corporeality of its spectators, while the aesthetic experience stretches toward total engagement, mixing miasmic emanation, everything simultaneously without rest or distinction. Painting, panting, impressionism, immersion, gallery, studio: exhale. It is all art; there is no art.

The vanGoghga, let's call it, blends physical exertion and aesthetic reception, interpellating a subject of utter sensation whose discipline attunes cultural consumption and corporeal optimization. In this limbering, it instantiates the embodied bent of the more haute contemporary artworld's movements of "socially engaged art" and "relational aesthetics." For the spectator to use their body to produce an "experience" logically augments both the remodeling of the gallery into a social space providing food, dentistry, or therapy, and the hulling of artforms down to affective transfer. A signature work: large empty square room, gray walls, and gray polished concrete floors, two unvarnished wooden chairs, one woman seated. Via a performance that is also an installation that is foremost an encounter, the artist Marina Abramovié offers her mere presence, ten hours a day, most days a week, for three months, custom bedpan insuring against absence.* Testimonials from spectators enthuse "a transforming experience —- it's luminous, it's uplifting, it has many layers, but it always comes back to being present." The Artist Is Present realizes its title exactly, and presence overflows the constraints of modality, medium, even venue. Presence itself is the work; relational aesthetics do not produce a contoured or commodified object so much as a happening that defies representation: medium redacted, charisma magnetizes.

One low, one high, immersive unmuseums and social practice art meet in this immensity of presence that excises medium, an enterprise that also underlies the artworld's most notorious hot trend: nonfungible tokens. NFTs are digital items like an image or sound clip, laden with indivisible metadata certifying the authenticity of cryptocurrency transactions. The computational energy for the certifications ("mining") has reached around 143 annualized terawatt-hours — more than the entire country of Argentina. Not all of this planetary arson masquerades as art, but the art NFT's astronomical market growth ($200 million in just the month of March 2021, compared to $250 million in all of 2020) includes a recent record-setting art auction at Christie's: $69 million for a group of images called Everydays -- the third most expensive sale ever of a work by a living artist (Beeple). Crucially, what was sold was not the "work" of art (since, as the Christie's listing proclaims, the owner of the NFT "does not bear exclusive rights to view, access, or reproduce" the item; the works are not securely archived, nor does the owner hold a legal title) but only the metadata encoded in it—an unforgeable authentication of provenance itself, owning ownership. Through this encoding, objects that freely circulate are endowed with a nonreplicable element of scarcity: the unique entry in the blockchain ledger, compiled through the paradoxically anarchic fiat of networked computing. Whether or not NFTs will become regulated in the future, in this moment the euphoria they incite hinges upon the deinstitutional character and the singularity of the ledger entries. Art that is bought and sold already consolidates the experience of aesthetic value with the asset function of capital value—not merely "money on the wall," as Andy Warhol once put it, but "inflation hedging," as the Deloitte consulting firm now holds it. NFTs perform by contrast a liquidating: scrapping money as the medium of value (replacing institutionally authenticated value with unique transparent encoding by decentralized actors) while also stripping the dimension of aesthetic value from art. In this reduction of sensory experience or beauty and this deflation of asset or currency into irreducible expression, art NFTs squeeze the abstraction "value" into a new unique expressive indivisibility:

no abstract equivalent-only concrete discrete metadata;
no central bank—only dispersed servers;
no aesthetic property—only un-replicable code.

Prolific splainers in the recent art and business press have not yet ciphered the allure of this distributed concretude, but juxtaposed with full-body-pose-impressionism and the social practice of charismatic presence, art NFTs bespeak a bourgeoning cultural compulsion: to have done with mediation.

In the eminent tradition of aesthetic theory, "mediation" means the active process of relating—making sense and making meaning by inlaying into medium; making middles that merge extremes; making available in language and image and rhythm the super-valent abstractions otherwise unavailable to our sensuous perception -- like "justice" or "value." Now, this middling falters. Yoga in the strobe lights, bedpan chair-sits, and metadata liberated from financial reserve institutions: these three incongruous vertices of contemporary aesthetics together illustrate that art is drooping. The medium is the missing. Conventionally, art takes up a discernable medium and takes creative distance from ordinary communication or banal functionality, making an appeal to the senses that reroutes common sense. A painting isn't an efficient way to send a message or achieve a goal, but beholding its inefficient indirection can stimulate thought. In the current climate, though, art renounces its own project of mediation. Directness and literalism are the techniques; immersiveness and surety are the effects. If we forward-fold, we incorporate van Gogh; if we meet her gaze, we incarnate Abramovic; if we buy Beeple, we invest securely. Short-circuiting allusion, a pressure throbs: get it.

There's no accounting for taste, but what accounts for these recent consistent pressures against mediation? The beginning of an answer lies in the commonality between these art trends and the dynamics of twenty-first-century capitalist production and circulation. For it turns out that this urge to cut out the middle- man does not upraise art so much as merge it with a sweeping spate of other social and commercial activities, from gig labor to self-publishing to e-brokerage. The big business of "disinter-mediation" accompanies the aesthetic happenings we're observing: flexibility and fluidity, emanation and connectivity, directness and instantaneity are economic premiums as much as they are artistic ones. And it is this confluence that coheres a cultural style: "immediacy."


Immediacy crushes mediation. It is what it is. Self-identity without representation, ferment with "no words." The prefix "im-" connotes that negation -— in the middle without intermediary, #NoFilter -- as well as a prepositionality: the inness or onness of immersion, intensity, and identity. An estate of direct presence, always on, continuous, abundant, sui generis. Immediacy's pulsing effulgence purveys itself as spontaneous and free, pure vibe. Let it flow, let it flow! But in this imperative lies a grind.

Immediacy, or, The Style of Too Late Capitalism presents immediacy as a master category for making sense of twenty-first-century cultural production. Immediacy rules art as well as economics, politics as much as intimacy. It's at the art auction, in the boardroom, in the lingo, on the brain. Exacerbating this hegemony, immediacy animates even contemporary critical theory that now sidles too close to its objects, embracing rather than disarticulating dominant logics. Labeling this everythingness is a gesture toward reestablishing theoretical distance, though initially grasping the problem is tricky -- a list-y, circuitous, roving vibeology.

The colloquial connotation of immediacy as "urgency" underlines the temporal dimension of this style, a hurry-hurry that compresses time into a tingling present. Spatially, immediacy encloses while delivering everything close: the world at your fingertips; "Let's go places." The flexible psychology surfing these urgencies and proximities is self-possessed and transparent: "Speak your truth!" "Live your best life!" "You do you!" — the auto-actualization of human capital. Immanentist theology congeals this realm of ken in an unholy mix of instantaneity and eternity, presence identical to itself, the moment refreshed, Buddha at the gas pump on the mindfulness plane of continuity. Individuated epistemology ("Do your own research!") ensues from alternative facts, horseshoe both-sidesism, faux news, and personal-pan propaganda. Ideological variants of immediacy include virulent opinionism, cults of charisma, nihilist absolutism, and ecstatic anarchy. Its politics eschew organizations and institutions in favor of organic horizontalism, aleatory uprisings, and local autonomy; its adherents refuse vehicles of power while enthusing the omnipresence of power, and rhapsodize the immutability of domination, exonerating inertia. And underlying all these compressions and expressivities is the economy of hurry and harry, same-day shipping and on-demand services, where the ease of one-click buying covers up a human hamster wheel, and innovative circulation pulls off a just-in-time deflection from the multi-decade crisis in capitalist production.

Immediacy is out there everywhere: the basis of economic value, the regulative ideal for behavior, the topos of politics, the spirit of the age—so, if the category works, other indications should flash to mind now. In the following pages, we'll track many manifestations and analyze economic and technological determinations, while according special consideration to aesthetic compositions, those strata of culture where mediation usually shows itself -- like art, literature, or TV. Think of how the vanGoghga negates medium by decomposing the frame of the painting in chase of overdrawn affectivity. Similarly, contemporary literature repudiates representation itself, dismantling narration, character, plot, and the smoke of myth in favor of simply manifesting viscerally affecting stuff. Fiction makes me nauseous, the writer Karl Ove Knausgaard avers on the page, and reams of twenty-first-century writers incubate this malaise, in unalloyed unbosoming via radiant voice. In televisual production, massive platforms drown in content whose immanentized cinematography and genre fluidity formally anticipate the cascade of the stream: I'm watching you watch me, the TV protagonist Fleabag avows directly into the camera. Like "socially engaged" art, such bids for unboundedness pit themselves against the artifices of mediation, breezing in as lustrous manifestation. Though they appear as singular sensations, these arts serialize a cultural cloth in which ardor surges, acuteness pounds, and medium melts, exscinding the strictures of representation.

Immediacy's propensity to quiver with extremities minimizes art's capacity to imaginatively break with the merely given. And this demission now compromises cultural theory too. In the history of philosophy, in work from Aristotle, Hegel, Marx, Lukács, Adorno, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, and others, "mediation" evokes the social process of making representation, connections, and meaning -- which often reveals that the merely evident or intransitively existent does not already make sense. Immediacy style short-circuits and preempts this social process, swelling with self-identical thisness. Its reign in culture has evaded critical analysis because of its obvious appeal, but also because cultural theorists have succumbed to its intoxications. Across a wide variety of disciplines, theorists propagate the style in both form and content, denouncing abstraction while enthusing concretudes, writing in conspicuously "posteritical" modes like acafandom and autotheory to extol entanglement, the body, and tautological haecceity. Eating the real with a spoon.


A matrix of contemporary meaning, immediacy booms in pop ontology and quotidian epistemology, in official wisdom and Oprah magazine, in low art and high theory. To call this great general sway a "style" is to underline its obscured particularity:

immediacy swallows everything, but it is still discrete. Its > peculiar insistence that mediation recede makes that special manner > harder to perceive; immediacy style ferries the paradox of anti-style.

From the Latin for pencil or pillar, "style" denotes marks, the lineating that brings a thing into being. While colloquialisms oppose style to substance, it is tricky to actually disentangle the two, since style simultaneously augurs "semblances, referring to how things generally seem, look, or appear" and vests essences, what is definitional for such "things."° At once appearance and essence, style also straddles purpose and purposelessness: even though in fashion the de rigueur adjective for style is "effortless," style often precisely indicates deliberateness, exertion, and target beyond the haphazard. And, as a classification of a certain place, person, period, or proclivity, style provides a heuristic for his- tory; a style category grasps specificity stamped in time.

As small as how a novelist uses verbs (Henry James famously likes to nominalize them) or as diffuse as the rituals that comprise a zeitgeist (pandemic-era mask refusal as mass enactment of our nonsociety), style marks the features of an event, era, text, or form as having been made. It thus indexes work: effort was expended to configure a what in this particular how. It could have been different. Style also indexes constraint: we make art, but not in conditions of our choosing." Exertions within limits, style finally connotes nothing other, critic Michael Dango argues, than "action": neither the affective expectations of genre nor the structuring affordances of form, but an ongoing adaptation or accommodation, "how we continue to move around in the world ... we cannot not act; we are always doing something."[^12] "Style" is a theoretical name for the particular way busy people do things all day, the flavor of living and imagining in an osmotic present. That things as they are simply continue euphemizes what Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer pinpoint, in their monumental study of "the culture industry," as "style's secret: obedience to the social hierarchy." 3 Style is not just this maintenance of hegemony though; as Adorno and Horkheimer also argue, it stashes a "promise" to disclose the general truths of its context and convoke general subjects. Through this promise, through the imprint of its efforts and constraints, style outreaches what might appear as the merely aesthetic or idiosyncratically individual and, rather, piques social and collective dynamics—like how work is organized, how creativity is exercised, how value is assigned. For these and other reasons, the analysis of style frequently intrigues critics and scholars of politics and the political. '5

Style individuates, but culture is common and "ordinary" -- the shape, purposes, and meanings, Raymond Williams formulated, that every society expresses.[^16] "Cultural style" is therefore something of an oxymoron, what is particularly general. Moreover, style bespeaks unity, while culture is admittedly heterogeneous, which led Fredric Jameson to prefer a term like "cultural dominant": what characterizes a culture is more likely a hegemony rather than a unity.' This question of dominance calibrates the scale at which a cultural style can reveal itself, a degree of remove that risks beclouding particular instances. Arguing for the commonality between streaming aesthetics, literary fiction, contemporary art, and digital platforms surely underplays some differences. Notwithstanding all of these difficulties in the analysis of style, the wager that it is possible to identify and theorize cultural style pays off in the revealing ways overarching generalities can texturize particularities. As poetry scholar Jeff Dolven puts it, "Style holds things together, things and people, schools and movements and periods. It makes us see wholes where we might be bewildered by parts. But it makes us see parts, tools "Immediacy" names a unifying logic that should also aid us in interpreting separate instances; if we want to understand what is going on with mediation, what is up with immersive art or cringe TV or antifictionality, it helps to theorize their categorical commonalities.

The paradox of immediacy is a cultural style that imagines itself unstyled. As such, it nixes many regular frames for interpretation. In the habitual "substance versus style" contrast, for example, ordinary information conveyance detaches from extraordinary bedazzling: "style is understood as emphasis (expressive, affective, or aesthetic) added to the information conveyed. Language expresses and style stresses."' In immediacy, though, the express/stress difference falls away; to express is to stress. Similarly, if style often pins historical context, immediacy's temporality of instantaneity resists tether. Where stylization palpates the seams of its own appearance, immediacy's meta-physics of presence chafes against representation. And wherever art slants, immediacy pools, in medium dissolve and ad-lib unformedness. The critic's task is to orient amid all this swirl -- to situate immediacy's priorities of immersion, intensity, and instantaneity within the grid of values that define the twenty-first century.

too late capitalism

What makes those values distinct? Immediacy, or, The Style of Too Late Capitalism grapples with how the present diverges from the past: something is different, even though much is also the same. "Late capitalism" has been a Marxist term of art for this different sameness for more than a century, used to describe everything from post-Great War market integration to postwar prosperity to 1970s stagflation to millennial leverage busts, but it is perhaps most famously associated with Fredric Jameson's now forty-year-old argument for postmodernism as the logic of cultural production in the 1980s and '90s.[^20] Critics increasingly agree that postmodernism no longer furnishes the logic of the contemporary.? Does any such thing as a cultural dominant come after? Periodization in too-short bursts belongs to mainstream historicization as well as to the very rhythm of instantaneity culture with which this book is out of step. But, even so, the gamble here is that immediacy comprehensively unifies contemporary culture, and that its capitalist substrate takes definite form. It's still capitalism after all these years. Only now, the economic dynamics of the 1970s that were first registered in postmodernism have been compounded by those of the turn of the millennium (audited below in "Circulation"), and they modulate themselves in today's cultural aesthetics differently. "Too Late Capitalism" titles that difference: a contradictory moment where the overmuchness of lateness arrests itself. Future-eclipsed, present-immanentized, "Step on it!" immediacy.

After postmodernism's skepticism and irony, immediacy's authentications and engrossments now plat realness. Where postmodernism revels in mediation-intertextuality, irony, the meta-immediacy negates mediation to effect flow and indistinction. Where postmodernism aesthetically activates pastiche, a "blank," playful "heterogeneity without a norm," immediacy precipitates blur, a demediated meld that lacks the contours to array heterogeneity. Where postmodernism aesthetically and epistemically embraces the surface and eschews depth, immediacy mires itself in profundities of corporeality, affect, and polarized extremity. Where postmodern affect undergoes "waning"—a dilution of modernist ferocity like anomie and alienation into "free-floating" flatness—immediacy's affects wax rapt and veritable. [^23] Where postmodernism inscribes "a crisis of historicity," immediacy encodes a crisis of futurity, a beclouded nonhorizon.[^24]

Blur, immersion, presence: too late is no longer merely late. The material corollary of this stylized time is the inevitable environmental ruin wreaked by undead zombie capitalism. It is too late. Ecocide has already taken place. Lethal deluges, catastrophic droughts, and heat death are already baked into our future. The earth is hotter now than at any moment in the last 125,000 years. No matter what happens tomorrow, sea levels will rise six to twelve inches over the next two decades. Two billion people worldwide are currently living on land that will soon be either uninhabitably hot or well underwater, or both. There is no going back. Already in 1988, the first United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change compiled enough terrifying data to compel virtually every country on earth to recognize the severity of climate change, commit to mitigating greenhouse gases, and do so in accordance with a principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities," acknowledging wealth, power, and contributory inequities; thirty years later little action has ensued.? A small number of hyper- consuming billionaires, their oligarchic plutocratic enablers, and syndicates of lumpen McShoppers have irreparably degraded the planet, ergo billions of people will be displaced and killed. The world's wealthiest 10 percent are responsible for 50 percent of carbon emissions, which have skyrocketed in direct proportion to our undeniable knowledge of their catastrophic effects. Scorching temperatures and rising waters aren't the only effects; along with biodiversity collapse there is also the horrific reality that concentrated carbon dioxide levels compromise cognition, diminishing the human brain's ability to think strategically, react patiently, or read theory books for the hell of it. In the near future, we will be hot and imperiled and stupid. It is too late.

The ideology of immediacy holds a kernel of truth: we are fastened to appalling circumstances from which we cannot take distance, neither contemplative nor agential, every single thing a catastrophe riveting our attention. The very narrow window is slamming shut, and for many it has already been nailed. The country whose economic might and imperial extraction have fueled global carbonization staggers from domestic delegitimation, corruption, fascism, and utter abandon of the elementary offices of government—and many other governments follow in its suit. The crucible of ideas perpetuating this political order, the world-class research university, sometimes fostered its elucidative critique, along with humanistic flourishing, civic literacy, and paths to dignified labor and upward mobility -- but now finds itself stripped for parts. Murdered earth, failed states, and razed institutions are structural context for the ongoing categorization, racialization, and expulsion of human beings. Countless abjects persist in a class of surplus population: outside any regular wage relation, cut off from institutions unless held captive by them. Twelve million people in the United States alone were officially classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as "unemployed" prior to the pandemic, a distressing throng that nonetheless omits the 2.3 million people (of 10 million worldwide) incarcerated. Near-future dislodgement will irreparably enlarge this caste. The mediating function of the state and social institutions has dissipated into only corporate welfare, and the industry of securitization enforcing this depredation has exploded.

Expulsion, immiseration, incarceration, crisis: these are the quicksand grounds of immediacy. The more dehumanizing our world becomes, the more gross the failures of human society, the more splintered the efforts at collective transformation -- the more tightly immediacy cinches. The material irrefutability of catastrophic ecocide, the historical outmodedness of this irrational and immiserating capitalism, the epidemic of depression and anxiety, declining life expectancy, domestic abuse, mass violence, mass incarceration, and the group-differentiated vulnerability to all these terrors (to slightly bend Ruth Wilson Gilmore's definition of racism)—these deformities tar existing sociability, begetting atomistic absorption and evanescent egress as its only alternatives.[^26] When the mediations of society mis-carry so systematically, it begins to look as if mediation itself is to blame.

Crushing lateness and routinized abjection increasingly limit imaginative departures from reality. The petrodepression hellscape is quashing creativity; the novelist and critic Amitav Ghosh's observation of literary narrative that "the climate crisis is also a crisis of the imagination" might be extrapolated to encompass aesthetic inspiration as such. Immediacy's abdication of art evinces this crisis. Artistic mediation-representation in excess of messaging, creativity in excess of use, giving sensuous form to the unexpressed—has always been a fundamental human activity. The oldest archeological evidence of artwork, an ochre crayon drawing of seven lines, dates from 70,000 years ago. When Homo erectus was capable of speech but not yet writing, before humans began ritual burial of dead or to create clothing from animal hides, before what is now called "behavioral modernity," there was already abstract mediation-underlining that art is not epiphenomenal to life. Immediacy's evacuation of mediation eclipses this essential dimension of human being—an extinguishing hard not to interpret as a response to the imminent threat of human extinction. Climate collapse, war, the wanton degradation condemning us to heat death, swelling waters, and diminished cognition hardly need allegories—but the contemporary undoing of mediation surely provides one. The expressivist intensities of collapsed representation—a claim to be more real than made up, a dissolve of the bounds of medium into experience, an emission of inner selves without boundary—comprise delugent subsidences that put mediation into duress and under erasure. Urgency; extremity; no future, only presence. Party before the lights come up.

Shit is very bad. The umbrella tradition of post-Adorno critique to which this book belongs has often confronted a terrible world only to find in popular culture the weapons of mass distraction. "Amusement in late capitalism is the prolongation of work"; sure, toil is tedious—but doesn't this rom-com delight?[^28] Escapism and diversion on the big screen enable exploitation and discrimination in the daily grind, even as they also preview a freedom from active work. But the mode and genres of immediacy now suggest a different function for favored entertainment: not evasive delusion about but deeper enthrallment in the spectacle of mass abjection, an enveloping total sensory engagement with too-real social distortion. Faddish genres like cringe and edgy sci-fi practice exposure and extremity, magnetizing us infrangibly to the brutalizations of the known world. If past crises like global war or nuclear annihilation yielded mediums and media shaped by fracture and fragmentation, rupture and disorientation, the metastasizing crises of the twenty-first century seem to beget something else: total absorption, the loss of mediation itself. In this way does immediacy offer itself in response to raging omnicrisis while taking too much of its logic from the flames.

Of course, omnicrisis devours us. Of course, immediate interventions and immediate solutions simply match the violent sordidness and political extremism attending the wholesale destruction of the habitable earth. Of course, flow portends balmy reprieve from the desert of alienation, a utopian mirage in immediacy style. However, a core argument of this book is that immediatism is a reaction to crisis that fails the bar of strategy, a reflex that is ultimately crisis-continuous. A working out of species death that is also a covering over, immediacy presses to be interpreted as a symptom, an unavowable but irrepressible truth routed through forms of expression or stylization that at once avoid and announce it. In this ambivalent structure, immediacy style alludes to a desire for mediation while also ideologically enjoining us to enjoy our devastation. Amid crisis, alienation, and stratification, immediacy feels right: urgent, engaging, homogenizing. But this is pharmakon: remedy and poison in one. Working through rather than working out would involve cognizing that it doesn't have to be this way. It is too late at the same time as it is not too late.

Patience, distance, circumnavigation, imaginative distortion, and prolonged attention are resources and mitigants for disastrous mechanization—and they are forsworn by urgency, however well meant. Applicative reason reduces critical thinking and creative exploration to profit maximization, problem solving, and vocational training —- and then we worsen those reductions in demanding topical, transparent art. Calculative and extractive regimes seek value at the surface—and we condone that value regime when we mistake confession and self-expression as tactics against the predations of privatization. The world's proliferating abasements continually render immediacy more seductive and continually inflate its apparent purchase, obscuring immediacy's own role in immiseration. Immediacy impedes the public, conceptual, and reasoned mediations that are essential to limiting the devastations of deinstitutionalized society, privatization, and ecocide, and crucial for imagining different frames of value, meaning, representation, and collectivity.

Too-lateness as a condition for climate affect and cultural style heats up the present, but, were we to dialecticize our relation to time, this extremity could ordain action rather than resignation. Every past deed of oligarchic malfeasance now come to light, every terror come home, every threshold exceeded nevertheless admits the possibility of more amelioration. Too-lateness pegs the hopelessness that contrasts the hopefulness pinged in "late" capitalism's anticipation of an end. And yet, hopelessness is not self-identically fatalist; a kind of radical hopelessness that dares refuse the old promissory and progressive logics of capitalist growth could open political horizons. Such openings need not be novel: old forms, outmoded institutions, and residual constructs still have more to offer. Diagnosing too-lateness as it materializes in the style of immediacy shouldn't be an invitation to melancholy so much as an incitement to collaboration: it's not too late—things can still be less worse. (pp. 18-19)

the book medium

The organization of this book undertakes the work of articulating connections and causes, remediating immediacy by moving from context and general phenomena to specific mediums: writing, moving images, critical paradigms. For context of what is historically and technologically specific about immediacy, chapter 1, "Circulation," analyzes the contraction of global productivity over the multidecade era now recognized by Marxist theorists and establishment economists as "secular stagnation" to interpret the emphasis on speed and flow in the micro- electronic and logistical revolutions as intensification of the circulation (but not production) of value. Chapter 2, "Imaginary," probes the subjective sides of networking technology through a focus on the circulation of images, with a theoretical assist from psychoanalysis and its concepts of the imaginary, symbolic, and real, outlining a materialist explanation for what is misdiagnosed as a raging narcissism epidemic. Chapter 3, "Writing," pursues the destruction of fictionality and dismantling of representation in multiple modalities of literature that center individual experience, private perspective, and personal voice, studying a dramatic mutation in the history of the novel as well as casualization in university labor and the publishing industry. Chapter 4, "Video," argues that the technological and economic processes of streaming are now materializing in stylistic features of moving- image arts like front-facing camera, universe sprawl, spectacular sadism, and eternal looping. Finally, chapter 5, "Antitheory," exposes how, in both content and form, contemporary critical study propagates immediacy rather interpreting it, propounding flatness, entanglement, nihilism, and indistinction, all against the function of criticism to make a cut. These various media of immediacy style do not range all its amplitude (with luck, readers will find inspiration to further analysis, of music or fashion or more), but they do sound out the dystopian syncing in present cultural production.

As this preliminary discussion suggests, understanding immediacy as style involves aesthetic description, historical periodization, an inquiry into causality, and a flirtation with the encyclopedic. These are operations of analysis that fulfill theory's task to attain a meta-reflection on the production of ideas, including theoretical ideas. Traditionally, theory has been able to take a push toward this mediating function from art itself. Art constitutively thwarts immediacy, urgency, and utility; its most direct use rests in this indirection—but today's immediatist art aspires to void itself, and theory has been following in its wake. Recalling a different vocation for both art and theory requires esteeming mediation at the outset. Adorno writes: "By the affront to needs, by the inherent tendency of art to cast different lights on the familiar, artworks correspond to the objective need for a transformation of consciousness that could become a transformation of reality."? Jameson ramifies this task of art into the task of dialectical theory:

It must not cease to practice this essentially negative hermeneutic function (which Marxism is virtually the only current critical method to assume today), but must also seek through and beyond this demonstration of the instrumental function of a given cultural object, to project its simultaneously Utopian power. 30

Like art itself, critical theory defamiliarizes and reconceptualizes in order to build. In refracting the pressing need to address social calamities into the multidimensional need to reconstitute the social, mediations wield their own formedness-their qualities as artistic detour, their aspects of theoretical abstraction -- toward forming, reforming, transforming. Artforms and theory alike demand the slow and uncertain work of making sense, countering immediacy with mediation.

Even in the present straits, this capacity for mediation spurs art and theory forms that continue to create impersonality against privatization, objectivity against subjectivity, speculation against phenomenality, formalization against formlessness. Beyond the diagnostic gestures of the book's descriptive effort, the conclusion studies constructive alternatives, highlighting examples from cultural history, the minor contemporary, and theoretical traditions through which generative mediation abides. A cranky puncturing of beloved commodities is no fun, but fun bubbles in lingering with countercultural projects that withstand the imperative for immediacy. Some works still revel in figuration, abstraction, and the antiphenomenal marvel of fiction. And mediate forms are not just relics of the past, old novels and outmoded art, Jane Austen's novels or Eugène Atget's stills —- though those prove wonderful too. Mediations remain residual and spring emergent, peripheral but powerful, waiting at the margins of contemporary aesthetics, in forms that activate older modes of representation or that confabulate new mediacies, like Colson Whitehead's third-person novels or Edward Burtynsky's impersonal photography. In concluding by showcasing these alternatives, and the lessons and strategies we may glean from them, Immediacy strives to achieve critique's promise for affirmative synthesis.

Generative works critically depart from the ideology of the contemporary, holding open a portal for other departures. The many macroeconomic and psychic and intellectual determinants of immediacy want us to stay—in the moment, in the midst, in the wound. The more our crises imperil careful metabolization or disinterested study, the fewer institutional and social opportunities for interpretative learning, the greater the exigency of tactics and strategy sundered from visions and projects, the worse the fate of mediation. These binds render all the more precious those group practices with the capacity to orient broader efforts for mediation and social transformation. We creative types can generate dialectical images and poems and novels and art that precipitate new passages from the mesmeric imaginary to the sticky symbolic. We teachers have a special opening—our classrooms can be clinics of mediacy where we thicken the symbolic, estrange language, closely read, uncover unknowns, slow down, value impersonality, construct objectivity. We activists working to collectively confront the unevenly distributed catastrophe of our extinction thanks to capitalogenic climate crisis can challenge the immediatist tendencies of enisled localism and spontaneous anarchism, revalorizing the mediating function of forms like the party, the union, the state. We theorists especially owe our colleagues the engagement in real disagreement about the limits of so many paradigms of concretude, expressivism, and nihilism, carrying out our work instead as speculative synthesis and capacitating abstraction.

Writing a book makes little intervention in the extensive and entrenched material conditions and ideological formations of too late capitalism. But the aim of these words is to formulate new concepts that remediate immediacy. Such an aim is still possible thanks to remnants of prior cultural constructions -- tenure and research fellowships and academic presses and the institution of theory—and to the enduring capacities of language and other collective forms to collocate relations. In these pages, the work of categorizing and synthesis inlays the ubiquitous phenomenon of immediacy style into the medium of theory. Across this study, we will break with the merely apparent and the self-evidently important, estranging the new norms. Arguments for the historical roots and economic causes of style will interrupt immediacy's presentist immanence. Prolonged attention, belabored descriptions, and counterintuitive pattern recognition will, one hopes, withdraw from immersiveness. Checking the individuated "I" complex of the private contemporary will motivate the convocation of a "we," a mediated subject of collectivity that urges flourishing. And counterintuitive tropes or nerdy prose will surprise immediacy with a style makeover.

All of these strategies of theory will fall short of cultural transformation. Words are but tiny stoppers against the tide of immediacy. In the extremity of too late capitalism, distance evaporates, thought ebbs, intensity gulps. Whatever. Like the meme says: get in, loser.

1 To understand the relative novelty of this medium swirl, the analysis of the contrasting distinction of medium by Anna Schechtman can help: "In the second half of the twentieth century, as popular, industrial, and mass culture increasingly informed the concept of art in the name of 'media,' the American museumgoer's experience of art became focused on the ostensibly distinguishable aesthetic experiences of discrete mediums." Anna Schechtman, "The Medium Concept," Representations 150:1 (May 2020), 67.

2 Boris Groys differentiates installation from exhibition in "Art and Money," e-flux 24 (April 2011), e-flux.com. For Groys, the inclination to installation, and the broader injunction to circulation beyond objectification-to art experiences rather than artworks, to propagating information about art beyond exclusive encounters with art, to happening rather than contemplation—are basically positive develop- ments. He associates circulability not only with democratic access but also with a "revolutionary" "acceleration of the world of flow" and to a metaphysically more honest "synchroniz(ing) with the flow of time." In the Flow (London: Verso, 2016).

3 Miranda Siegel, "Water Definitely Not Included," New York Magazine, May 2010, nymag.com.

4 "I understood that... I could make art with everything... this was the beginning of my performance art. And the first time I put my body in front of [an] audience, I understood: this is my media." "Marina Abramovié: Early Years," moma. org. For theorization of other such artworld projects, see Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London: Verso, 2012).

5 "The Artist Is Present," MoMA Learning, moma.org. For more on presence in contemporary art, see Hito Steyerl, Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War (London: Verso, 2017): "The idea of presence invokes the promise of unmediated communication, the glow of uninhibited existence, a seemingly unalien- ated experience and authentic encounter between humans. It implies that not only the artist but everyone else is present too, whatever that means and whatever it is good for. Presence stands for allegedly real discussion, exchange, communication, the happening, the event, liveness, the real thing—you get the idea" (22).

6 Sales data provided by the market tracker nonfungible.com and reported in Andrew R. Chow, "NFTs Are Shaking Up the Art World—But They Could Change So Much More," Time, March 22, 2021, time.com.

7 Deloitte, "Seeing the Bigger Picture: Arts, Collectibles and Wealth Management," 2014, www2.deloitte.com.

8 Ben Davis, "I Looked Through All 5,000 Images in Beeple's $69 Million Magnum Opus. What I Found Isn't So Pretty," Artnet, March 17, 2020, news.artnet.com.

9 Time-space compression is constitutive of postmodernity in David Harvey's account, and similarly, liquidity is constitutive of modernity for Zygmunt Bauman. See David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1990), and Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000). Lauren Berlant, in Cruel Optimism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011) describes the historical sense of the present as "affectively ... immanence, emanation, atmosphere, emergence" (6). Immediacy's temporality might thus be understood as this presence without future.

10 Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 29.

11 Leonard Meyer explores style as defined by the set of constraints within which a choice can be made. Style and Music: Theory, History, and Ideology (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997). Karl Marx writes: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1869 (1852]), chap. 1, trans. Saul K. Padover, available at marxists.org.

12 Michael Dango, "Not Form, Not Genre, but Style: On Literary Categories," Textual Practice 36:4 (2022), 501-17.

13 Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), 103.

14 "In every work of art, style is a promise. In being absorbed through style into the dominant form of universality, into the current musical, pictorial, or verbal idiom, what is expressed seeks to be reconciled with the idea of the true universal. This promise of the work of art to create truth by impressing its unique contours on the socially transmitted forms is as necessary as it is hypocritical." Ibid., 103.

15 For more on this intrigue in the Marxist tradition especially, see Daniel Hartley, The Politics of Style: Towards a Marxist Poetics (Boston: Brill, 2017).

16 Raymond Williams, "Culture Is Ordinary," in Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism (London: Verso, 1989), 3-19.

17 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), 4.

18 Jeff Dolven, Senses of Style: Poetry before Interpretation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 1.

19 Michael Riffaterre, "Criteria for Style Analysis," WORD 15:1 (1959), 155.

20 See Werner Sombart, Der moderne Kapitalismus (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1902); Theodor Adorno, "Late Capitalism or Industrial Society" (1968), available at marxists.org; Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1972); Jürgen Habermas, "What Does a Crisis Mean Today? Legitimation Problems in Late Capitalism," Social Research 40:4 (Winter 1973), 643-67; Jameson, Postmodernism. For some genealogy, see Peter Osborne, "The Postconceptual Condition; or, The Cultural Logic of High Capitalism Today," in The Postconceptual Condition (London: Verso, 2018).

21 See Andrew Hoberek, "After Postmodernism," Twentieth Century Literature 53:3 (Fall 2007), 233-47; Jeffrey Nealon, Post-Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Just-in-Time Capitalism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012); Mitchum Huehls, After Critique: Twenty-First-Century Fiction in a Neoliberal Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); and Lee Konstantinou, "Four Faces of Postirony," in Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect, and Depth after Postmodernism, ed. Robin van den Akker, Alison Gibbons, and Timotheus Vermeulen (London: Rowan & Littlefield, 2017), 87-102. For a different approach, see Nathan Brown's argument that stylistic differences, however evident, do not bespeak economic differences, since modernity abides as long as we remain in the capitalist mode of production: Nathan Brown, "Postmodernity, Not Yet: Towards a New Periodization," Radical Philosophy 2:1 (February 2018), n.p.

22 Jameson, Postmodernism, 17.

23 Ibid., 10-11, 15-16.

24 Fredric Jameson, "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," New Left Review 1/146 (July/August 1984), 69.

25 "History of the IPCC," Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ipcc.ch.

26 "Racism, specifically, is the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death." Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 28.

27 Nicholas St. Fleur, "Oldest Known Drawing by Human Hands Discovered in South African Cave," New York Times, September 12, 2018, nytimes.com. Abstract painting is 70,000 years old; figurative paintings have been discovered in both Europe and Asia as old as 40,000 years.

28 Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Culture Industry, trans. J. M. Bernstein (London: Routledge, 2001), 7.

29 Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullor-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 243.

30 Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), 291.

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