Theory of the Gimmick

Theory of the Gimmick Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form

Hardback (26 Jun 2020)

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Publisher's Synopsis

A Literary Hub Favorite Book of the Year
A New Statesman Book of the Year


A provocative theory of the gimmick as an aesthetic category steeped in the anxieties of capitalism.

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 (a labor-saving trick) and as working too hard (a strained effort to get our attention).

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: the fiction of Thomas Mann, Helen DeWitt, and Henry James; photographs by Torbjørn Rødland; 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.

Book information

ISBN: 9780674984547
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Imprint: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Pub date:
DEWEY: 111.85
DEWEY edition: 23
Language: English
Number of pages: 401
Weight: 662g
Height: 166mm
Width: 242mm
Spine width: 38mm