Sianne Ngai

Sianne Ngai
  • Department of English
Walker 514

My 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. My 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: Slate, The Times Literary Supplement, Library Journal, Choice Reviews, Bookforum, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, The Daily Beast, Texte Zur Kunst, Reviews in Culture, The Oxonian Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education Review, C Magazine, Film Quarterly, Contemporary Literature, Cultural 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.

My work is most broadly concerned with the analysis of aesthetic forms and judgments specific to capitalism. The book I have just completed, Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form (forthcoming from Harvard University Press in June 2020), 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 Thomas Mann, Helen DeWitt, and Henry James; twentieth-century poetic stunts; the photographs of Torbjørn Rødland and video installations of Stan Douglas; and the novel of ideas. In 2014-15, to begin groundwork on this project, I was awarded a year-long fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin). In 2015, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate (D. Phil) in Humanities from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. I have most recently co-edited a special issue of Critical Inquiry (Winter 2017) on Comedy with Lauren Berlant.

Selected Publications
Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, and Interesting (Harvard University Press, 2012; paperback edition 2015.)

Ugly Feelings (Harvard University Press, 2005; paperback edition, 2007.)

Kritikk ens fortsættelse: Interview med Sianne Ngai” by Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen and Devika Sharma in Kultur & Klasse 122 (2016): 5-20 (Denmark). Reprinted as “Critique’s Persistence: An Interview with Sianne Ngai” in Politics / Letters (online), February 27, 2017

“Theory of the Gimmick.” Critical Inquiry 43 (Winter 2017): 466-505

“Comedy Has Issues,” with Lauren Berlant. Introduction to Comedy: An Issue, a special issue of Critical Inquiry 43 (Winter 2017): 233-249.

The Philosopher’s Zone, Radio interview with Sianne Ngai by Joe Gelonesi. Broadcast November 1, 2015 on Australia Broadcasting Radio National.

“Visceral Abstractions.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 21. 1 (January 2015): 33-63.

“Merely Interesting.” Critical Inquiry 34 (Summer 2008): 777-817.

“The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde.” Critical Inquiry 31.4 (Summer 2005): 811-847.

“‘A Foul Lump Started Making Promises in My Voice’: Race, Affect, and the Animated Subject.” American Literature 74.3 (September 2002): 571-601.

“Black Venus, Blonde Venus.” Bad Modernisms, eds. Douglas Mao and Rebecca Walkowitz (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).