endless stairs

Transparency and Enigma in the Gimmick as Capitalist Form

Thursday, April 18, 2019
5:00 pm
Heritage Room, Shriver Center

Sianne Nagi's first book, Ugly Feelings (2005, Harvard University Press) investigates the aesthetics and politics of non-prestigious, non-cathartic negative emotions—envy and irritation as opposed to anger and fear. Her second book, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (2012, Harvard University Press), argues for the contemporary centrality of three everyday, vernacular aesthetic categories, treating them with the same philosophical seriousness as others have treated the beautiful and sublime. This book won the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize for Best Book of 2012. It also won a Ray and Pat Browne Award for Best Primary Source Work from the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association (2012-2013). It was reviewed in a number of periodicals: SlateThe Times Literary SupplementLibrary JournalChoice ReviewsBookforumThe Los Angeles Review of BooksThe BelieverThe Daily BeastTexte Zur KunstReviews in CultureThe Oxonian ReviewThe Chronicle of Higher Education ReviewC MagazineFilm QuarterlyContemporary LiteratureCultural Studies Review, and American Studies. Sections of Ugly Feelings and Our Aesthetic Categories have been translated into Swedish, Italian, German, Slovenian, Portuguese, Japanese and (forthcoming) Korean.

Her work is most broadly concerned with the analysis of aesthetic forms and judgments specific to capitalism. The book she is currently working on, Theory of the Gimmick, explores the uneasy mix of attraction and repulsion produced by the “gimmick” across a range of forms particular to capitalist culture. These include fictions by Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Gertrude Stein, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, and Henry James; twentieth-century poetic stunts; the photographs of Torbjørn Rødland and video installations of Stan Douglas; reality television; and the novel of ideas. In 2014-15, to begin groundwork on this project, she was awarded a year-long fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin). In 2015, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate (D. Phil) in Humanities from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She has most recently co-edited a special issue of Critical Inquiry (Winter 2017) on Comedy with Lauren Berlant.

Co-sponsored by the Miami University Philosophy Department, Linda Singer Memorial Lecture Fund

Sianne Ngai
Sianne Ngai
Professor of English, University of Chicago