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Faculty Advisory Board

Sianne Ngai

Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English University of Chicago


Sianne Ngai’s first book, Ugly Feelings (2005, Harvard University Press), is considered a key work of affect theory for its focus on politically ambiguous, 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), which won the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize, argues for the contemporary centrality of three everyday aesthetic categories, which are approached with the same philosophical seriousness given to the beautiful and sublime. Ngai’s most recent book, Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form (2020, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), explores the “gimmick” as a verdictive speech act and form encoding a series of interconnected contradictions concerning labor, time, and value. Extending Ngai’s previous investigation of the rise of equivocal aesthetic judgments (such as the merely “interesting”), Theory of the Gimmick explores the uneasy mix of attraction and repulsion produced by the gimmick across a range of forms specific to capitalist culture. Ngai’s work is most broadly concerned with the analysis of aesthetic forms and judgments specific to capitalism. She is currently working on a book about the ways in which Marx, Hegel, and a number of writers and artists inhabit error.