Formalism has consistently been mischaracterized as an aesthetics without a politics. Taking issue with this misconception, this talk looks at formalism’s fascination with composed arrangements as a political ethos of composition, making, building. By approaching formalism as part of a series of nineteenth-century developments in architecture, anthropology, and early photography, this talk advocates for the arts of social building. Anna Kornbluh is Associate Professor and Associate Head of English at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where her research and teaching engages theoretical problems in marxism, psychoanalysis, and structuralism through formalist readings of novels and cinema. Her book project, “The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, and Social Space,” offers a new theory and practice of political literary reading at a moment when the political horizons of the humanities are vigorously contested.