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Review: Immediacy or, The Style of Too Late Capitalism


Anna Kornbluh (2023): Immediacy or, The Style of Too Late Capitalism, Verso Books.

Immediacy, a feature of contemporary life associated with the use of social networks and smartphones, has become increasingly dominant. The worst tragedies and triumphs, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the Israeli attacks on Palestine, are now transmitted in a matter of seconds, even by their participants. Thus, one of the peculiarities of these cases is that the intermediation of the media, institutions and various actors and political groups to analyze or interpret what has happened has been left aside, since the networks allow the direct transmission of conflicts by the population.

Anna Kornbluh, philosopher and professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, and author of The Order of Forms (University of Chicago, 2019), Marxist Film Theory and Fight Club (Bloomsbury, 2019), and Realizing Capital (Fordham, 2014), explores this contemporary phenomenon in her latest book, Immediacy or the Style of Too Late Capitalism. In this book, the author develops the concept of “immediacy” as a master category to make sense of the stylistic production of contemporary art and even theoretical creation, which she argues is abandoning its function of mediating and explaining reality. A function that is an “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 supervalent abstractions otherwise unavailable to our sensuous perception – like ‘justice’ or ‘value’.” (p. 5).

Kornbluh bases this statement on a materialist explanation. Capitalism today represents a secular stagnation of production, the rate of profit is not increasing: it is decreasing. Therefore, the only way to keep capitalism functioning is to speed up the sphere of circulation, that is, to speed up the realization of surplus value – although one must also add the redistribution of surplus value among capitals (Harvey, 2023). This is achieved thanks to technology, which has made it possible to reduce the number of processes and intermediaries, reaching speeds never before known for capital; a reduction in time and space for the immediate generation of surplus value in the absence of productive growth that would allow the maintaining of stable rates of profit. Both the flow of goods and services and their speed have become elements of contemporary capitalism.

It is this stage of capitalism that the author calls “too late capitalism”, in clear reference to Fredric Jameson’s approach to “late capitalism” (1991), although Kornbluh defines it as a crisis about the future and a lack of hope for a better society in the face of current social and environmental challenges. This situation entails a focus on the now, on the urgent, on the immediate, as a response to or symptom of the loss of mediation to confront current problems and develop alternative futures.  

At the same time, the immediacy of this stage of capitalism rewards the individual production of images and their circulation through social networks. Here, the author draws on Lacanian psychoanalysis to use the registers of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary. In the current situation, the creation of a permanent mirror (selfies, for example) prevents interaction with others (despite the pseudo-recognition of the other through the “like”) and blocks the symbolization of our realities, so that the subject remains too long in the register of the imaginary, resulting in a certain narcissism. All this leads to an erosion of the symbolic register that keeps social rules functioning and keeps individuals anchored in their small realities. To address how this general context affects art, Kornbluh explains its stylistic impetus results in the formats of writing and video, and finishes with critical theory.

Under this trend of immediacy, the logic of capital in writing drives the destruction of fictionality and the dismantling of representations for the interpretation of reality, promoting literary styles centered on individual experience, private perspective, and personal voice. Thus, Kornbluh locates the genre of autofiction as part of this phenomenon, characterized by predominantly first-person writing that attempts to describe (the author’s) life down to the smallest detail; as an example, Karl Ove Knausgard’s six-book autobiographical series My Struggle (Archipelago Books, 2012-2018) is presented. The author’s direct experience is transferred to the reader, which affects the entire commercial and academic publishing industry. In other words, there is a loss of communication with the other, which implied a way of generating political and universal abstractions through fiction. Today, this type of literary production takes on the task of trying to make subjective experience universal, in its most literal and unambiguous sense, which by definition is impossible.

This phenomenon is even more evident in the video format, responding to the proliferation of mobile phone cameras and platforms for their distribution. Video allows for rapid image capture, with shots that focus on individuals in close-up, on their faces, on interactions – again – directly with the viewer and in infinite loops, as opposed to capturing groups of people or contexts and finite stories. Series that frame the experience of the character, without backstory, are the rule. Similarly, the continuous creation of sequels, prequels, and twists on the same story without an end, rather than continuing the rapid flow of the story, is also a result of immediacy: the Marvel movie series are clear examples. Streaming is the quintessential medium of late capitalism: flexible work, flexible entertainment.

Finally, what has been exposed so far is also reflected in critical theory, reduced to auto-theory, which pretends to develop universal conclusions from personal, subjective experience, avoiding grand narratives. Instead of interpreting this immediacy, it verifies and propagates it, proposing flatness, entanglement, nihilism and indistinction. Examples such as actor-network theory, object-oriented ontology, posthumanism, thing theory, and romantic ecological fusionism de-emphasize the subject and emphasize automatic responses, bodily force, felt experience, irrational selection, theaters of cruelty, and so on.  

This kind of development could be a starting point for processes of greater abstraction, of reason, but they remain only at the level of registering what the senses immediately grasp. This is what Hegel defined as “sense-certainty” in the Phenomenology of Spirit (2021), which is only the first step in the development of reason, not its absolute understanding. Holding on to this point is a mistake that every rigorous philosopher and critic must avoid. For example, Marxist theory is devoted to the critical analysis of mediation within capitalism, that is, to the study of how labor mediates nature, how social rules mediate social position, how capital mediates value by pretending not to be a medium (p. 155). But anti-theory eliminates references to mediation, to contradictions, and thus loses the power to criticize reality. 

This stylistic tendency is also part of the phenomenon of the precarization of the academy, which promotes the rapid production of studies and self-publication in order to deal with the crisis of university and research institutions.

Kornbluh points out that immediacy has a depoliticizing aspect that allows the promotion of post-truths and anti-expert populism, as well as the idea of a “too late capitalism” without a future, which in turn is reinforced by the disqualification of the production of theoretical critique. It is also one that emphasizes individual aspects, which makes it very difficult to build solidarities for political action. 

From this point of view, the author points out that there are works that start from the urgent, from the concrete, that affect the body, but in their argumentative development they move away from this level. This is the case of theorizations based on projects that address different aspects of global crises and allow the expansion of ideas to the level of the concrete situation and the formulation of bold actions to confront it. Examples include A Planet to Win (Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen and Thea Riofrancos), Feminism for the 99%. A Manifesto (Cinzia Arruza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nacy Fraser), and How to Blow Up a Pipeline (Andreas Malm) (p. 210).

This is why it is necessary to recover mediation in artistic and theoretical creation, because it allows us to confront precisely the worst tendencies generated by capitalism and to create a way out of the stagnation we are experiencing today. Such a thing can be achieved, as Kornbluh points out, in reference to A Planet to Win, “by way of the constructed analyses and deliberative judgments and shared signifiers that constitute the intellectual mediations so that a group may agree on a course of action. Ideas guide us.” (p. 214). 


  • Aronoff, Kate; Alyssa Battistoni; Daniel Aldana Cohen y Thea Riofrancos. (2019). A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal.  London: Verso Books.
  • Arruza, Cinzia; Tithi Bhattacharya y Nacy Fraser. (2019). Feminism for the 99%. A Manifesto. London: Verso Books.
  • Harvey, David. (2023). A Companion to Marx’s Grundrisse. London: Verso Books.
  • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. (2021 [1807]). La fenomenología del espíritu. Ciudad de México: Fondo de Cultura Económica. 
  • Jameson, Frederic. (1991). Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Knausgard, Karl Ove. (2012-2018). My Struggle. New York: Archipelago Books.
  • Kornbluh, Anna. (2023). Immediacy or, The Style of Too Late Capitalism. London; New York: Verso Books.
  • Malm, Andreas. (2020). How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire. London: Verso Books.