Sianne Ngai

Sianne Ngai
  • Department of English
Walker 514

Sianne Ngai teaches and researches in the fields of aesthetic theory, affect and emotion theory, feminist studies, and literature. Her first book, Ugly Feelings (Harvard University Press, 2005) 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 (Harvard University Press, 2012), argues for the contemporary centrality of three everyday aesthetic categories that index the ways in which late capitalist subjects work, exchange, and consume, approaching these with the same philosophical seriousness and analytical rigor as others have treated the beautiful and sublime. Our Aesthetic Categories was awarded the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize in 2012. Sections of it and Ugly Feelings have been translated into Swedish, Italian, German, Slovenian, Portuguese, and Japanese.

Ngai’s work is most broadly concerned with the analysis of aesthetic forms and judgments specific to capitalism. Her most recent book, Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form (forthcoming from The Belknap Press in June 2020), explores the extravagantly impoverished, simultaneously overperforming and underperforming gimmick as an affective judgment registering uncertainties about “value” bound to labor and to time. The studies in this book examine the uneasy mix of attraction and repulsion produced by the gimmick across a range of examples: fictions by Thomas Mann, Helen DeWitt, Nicola Barker, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Henry James; the video art of Stan Douglas; the photographs of Torbjørn Rødland; the so-called “novel of ideas”; and the theoretical writings of Stanley Cavell and Theodor Adorno.

Ngai received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Copenhagen in 2015. She has also taught at the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University and has been the recipient of fellowships from the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Huntington Library.

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).