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Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form

Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form

Ngai, Sianne

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Deeply objectionable and yet strangely attractive, the gimmick 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 working too hard (a strained effort to get our attention).

When we call something a gimmick, we register misgivings that suggest broader anxieties about value, money, and time, making the gimmick a hallmark of 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; 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.

Paperback, Dec 6th 2022