Sianne Ngai - "Theory of the Gimmick" - Tina Post

Wednesday, October 6, 2021 - 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Event Presenter/Author: 
Sianne Ngai

"A provocative theory of the gimmick as an aesthetic category steeped in the anxieties of capitalism."

Join us for a conversation with Sianne Ngai on her book, Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form. She will be joined in discussion by Tina Post. The conversation will be moderated by Kaushik Sunder Rajan.

Presented in partnership with Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT) at the University of Chicago and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago

Virtual Event

Click HERE to attend

About the book: Repulsive and yet strangely attractive, the gimmick is a form that can be found virtually everywhere in capitalism. It comes in many guises: a musical hook, a financial strategy, a striptease, a novel of ideas. Above all, acclaimed theorist Sianne Ngai argues, the gimmick strikes us both as working too little (a labor-saving trick) and as working too hard (a strained effort to get our attention).

Focusing on this connection to work, Ngai draws a line from gimmicks to political economy. When we call something a gimmick, we are registering uncertainties about value bound to labor and time--misgivings that indicate broader anxieties about the measurement of wealth in capitalism. With wit and critical precision, Ngai explores the extravagantly impoverished gimmick across a range of examples: the fiction of Thomas Mann, Helen DeWitt, and Henry James; photographs by Torbjørn Rødland; the video art of Stan Douglas; the theoretical writings of Stanley Cavell and Theodor Adorno. Despite its status as cheap and compromised, the gimmick emerges as a surprisingly powerful tool in this formidable contribution to aesthetic theory.

About the author: Sianne Ngai is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form (2020), Ugly Feelings (2005) and Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (2012), winner of the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize. Her work has been translated into multiple languages, and she has received fellowships from the Institute of Advanced Study in Berlin and the American Council of Learned Societies.

About the interlocutor: Tina Post is Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature and the College at the University of Chicago. She is a performance studies scholar primarily interested in how Blackness is communicated (and how it is solidified or subverted) in theater, movement, visual culture, and the performances of everyday life. Post is currently at work on her first book, “Deadpan,” which theorizes expressionlessness and affective withholding in African American cultural and artistic production.

About the moderator: Kaushik Sunder Rajan is Professor of Anthropology and co-director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT) at the University of Chicago. He works on the global political economy of the life sciences and biomedicine, with an empirical focus on India, South Africa, and the United States. He is the author of Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life (2006) and Pharmocracy: Value, Politics, and Knowledge in Global Biomedicine (2017), and editor of Lively Capital: Biotechnologies, Ethics, and Governance in Global Markets (2012).

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