Academic journal article American Studies

OUR AESTHETIC CATEGORIES: Zany, Cute, Interesting

Academic journal article American Studies

OUR AESTHETIC CATEGORIES: Zany, Cute, Interesting

Article excerpt

OUR AESTHETIC CATEGORIES: Zany, Cute, Interesting. By Sianne Ngai. Cam- bridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2012.

For Sianne Ngai, the "zany," the "cute," and the "interesting" are aesthetic categories which demonstrate "how aesthetic experience has been transformed by the hypercommodified, information-saturated, performance-driven conditions of late capitalism" (1). That these are "aesthetic" categories is part of Ngai's point: traditional aesthetic theory has neglected these categories because they seem to be the opposite of the serious, contemplative stance such theory encourages. Ngai's approach is therefore two-fold: to show how these categories can be read as aesthetic theory; and to show how important they are to our understanding of contemporary culture.

There is a lot of work that takes place within these seemingly minor categories. The cute, Ngai argues, is an "uncanny reversal" that triggers both empathy and aver- sion (87).To regard something as cute is to diminish it, often turning an object into its opposite. Cuteness is therefore paradoxical, as cute objects often seduce us into believing that their cuteness can be grasped and manipulated. The "interesting," Ngai posits, is a "calm, if not necessarily weak, affective intensity whose minimalism is somehow understood to secure its link to ratiocinative cognition and to lubricate the formation of social ties" (113). …

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