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Ugly Feelings

4.22  ·  Rating Details ·  157 Ratings  ·  9 Reviews
Through readings of Herman Melville, Nella Larsen, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Hitchcock, Gertrude Stein, Ralph Ellison, and Bruce Andrews, among others, this work shows how art turns to ugly feelings as a site for interrogating its own suspended agency in the affirmative culture of a market society, where art is tolerated as essentially unthreatening.
Paperback, 422 pages
Published March 1st 2007 by Harvard University Press (first published February 28th 2005)
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Seth
Jan 16, 2009 Seth rated it really liked it
This brilliant debut book of literary criticism and theory has received widespread praise and attention--rightly so. Ngai provides a real high-note to the "affective turn" in humanistic scholarship with this volume on the "weak negative affects" that--unlike stronger, more thetic and cathartic negative feelings, like anger--mark the blockage of possibility while also opening novel terrains for rethinking the subtler forms that socio-political agency may take in capitalist culture.

The chapters p
...more
Adam
Zizek syndrome: isolated instances of enlightened, lucid, thoroughly charming criticism in a swamp of WTF.
Mike
Oct 21, 2009 Mike rated it did not like it
The theoretical points this book makes are somewhat welcome, but are so hard to extract from the efforts to turn them into "readings" that we end up frustrated and confused. In short, it is a rambling attempt to confuse a lot of aesthetic categories rather than clarify them. While Ngai interestingly inflects current discourses--notably identification, which she sees as involving envy--there is no way to take her book as offering anything more than that: compared with the discourse on identificat ...more
M.
Sep 17, 2011 M. rated it it was amazing
aesthetics / lit crit / affect theory approaching "minor" affective states such as:
irritation
envy
anxiety
paranoia
stuplimity
disgust

-ugly feelings that tend to be seen as politically inadequate (as opposed to ostensibly more politically effective states like anger, for instance) - and how various texts/artists variously mobilize them in part to convey art's own limited agency to effect social change; art theorizing its own failures:

"These situations of passivity [using Bartleby as prime example],
...more
Susan
Nov 05, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing
This book is stuffed full of smart and startling ideas, as well as fresh interpretations of an astonishing range of things from feminist theory to recent poetry, television, film, novels, contemporary art. I found the book a total delight to read, all manner of texts and issues are handled lightly, imaginatively and incredibly intelligently, if on occassions somewhat quickly. Ugly feelings, the main theme of the book, are states we don't like to examine, yet Ngai's book demonstrates how much can ...more
Myonlycookie
Dec 20, 2013 Myonlycookie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: academia
Read for my comp lit theory immersion. We did not read all the chapters, but what we read was mind blowingly good theory.

Thorough, rigorous attention to those "ugly feelings" -- irritation, envy, paranoia, etc. I loved it. Take your time with this one; the writing is dense, and it's best to spend a long time with each chapter. I particularly found the one on Animatedness helpful and illuminating.
Chad
Jul 04, 2009 Chad is currently reading it
Picked this up after reading the excerpt from "Stuplimity" in Consequence of Innovation, an essay on the effects of engaging thick language (Stein, Beckett, Goldsmith, Farrell) and have so far been pleasantly surprised with the rest of the essays focusing on negative emotional states produced by text.
Rafael Pajaro - Rafa
Aug 26, 2013 Rafael Pajaro - Rafa rated it liked it
Shelves: favorites
A little dense, but some of the most interesting contemporary scholarship. I came across Sianne Ngai in the footnotes of an essay on friendship and I really like what she has to say on Paranoia, Boredom, Envy etc.
Jessica
Aug 04, 2009 Jessica rated it it was amazing
I loved this book - what a fascinating concept, and what strong execution. I have a feeling I should have had a good deal more Heidegger under my belt before reading this, but I still got a lot out of it.
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Sianne Ngai teaches American literature, specializing in twentieth-century culture and theory, poetry, film studies, and feminist studies. Her writing includes cultural criticism, such as Raw Matter: A Poetics of Disgust, Stuplimity: Shock and Boredom in Twentieth-Century Aesthetics, and Jealous Schoolgirls, Single White Females, and Other Bad Examples: Rethinking Gender and Envy. At the same time ...more
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“In this manner, The PJs insists that racism involves more than the mobilization of stereotypes, that in fact it extends far beyond matters of visual representation. While this is a relatively simple point, it nonetheless invites us to push beyond the prevailing methods in media studies, where a focus on analyzing stereotypes dominates the conversation about race to the extent that racism often becomes inadvertently reduced to bad representation, and antiracist politics are often depicted merely as a struggle over the content of specific images. Yet the struggles depicted on The PJs are rarely about imagery; indeed, in a culture where it is impossible to separate racism from class politics, the struggles remain lived and felt primarily in relations of power not visible at all.” 0 likes
“In a sense, the book’s turn to ugly feelings to reanimate aesthetics is simply the flip side of its privileging of the aesthetic domain as the ideal site to examine the politically ambiguous work of negative emotions. More specifically, this book turns to ugly feelings to expand and transform the category of “aesthetic emotions,” or feelings unique to our encounters with artworks—a concept whose oldest and bestknown example is Aristotle’s discussion of catharsis in Poetics. Yet this particular aesthetic emotion, the arousal and eventual purgation of pity and fear made possible by the genre of tragic drama, actually serves as a useful foil for the studies that follow. For” 0 likes
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