Theory of the Gimmick:
Aesthetic Judgment and
Belknap Press, 2020
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 and as working too hard. 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 in fiction, photography, video art, and theory. Reviewer Jonathan Flatley notes, “Books of this ambition and accomplishment are rare! Theory of the Gimmick continues the work of Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and others in seriously putting together aesthetic theory and Marxist theories of capital. In an impossibly erudite, wide-ranging, and theoretically sophisticated argument, Ngai gives us a unique insight into the relationship between labor, time, and value in a capitalist economy. This book is a major event in American intellectual life.”
Read a recent New Yorker profile on Sianne Ngai.
“Ngai tracks the gimmick through a number of guises: stage props, wigs, stainless-steel banana slicers, temp agencies, fraudulent photographs, subprime loans, technological doodads, the novel of ideas… [She] has slowly been building a reputation as one of America’s most original and penetrating cultural theorists.”
— Charlie Tyson,
The Chronicle of Higher Education
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sianne Ngai is Professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Ugly Feelings and Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting, 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.