Rather than give in to the dissolutionist impulse, The Order of Forms wagers that we need to pay better attention to how to build things up. For Kornbluh, the humanist status quo is now too far weighted on the side of particularity against abstraction, hybridity against structuration, dismantling against constitution (or, to borrow from Deleuze and Guattari, the “rhizomatic” against the “rooted”). The method that she introduces, which she calls “political formalism,” is Kornbluh’s attempt to combat the antiformalist tendency that she finds triumphant in much contemporary theory, literature, and philosophy.
Wielding an architectural vocabulary of construction, social space, and design, she marshals a set of allies from Lévi-Strauss to Freud and Lacan, describing their “structuralist” methods as means of both analyzing and building necessary, but changeable, forms. Her final chapter reads Lacanian psychoanalysis itself as a formalist project: the “form” of the clinic is meant to incite a kind of relation between analyst and analysand, one that nonetheless must be invented and reinvented anew — given a new “content” — each time one enters the space. The realist novel, then, should be understood not as mimesis but as model; its spaces — like those of architectural theory and mathematical formalism — are abstract rather than concrete. Realism, in this account, can be mined for its insights as to the inherent constructedness of social life.
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