In Theory of the Gimmick: Aesthetic Judgment and Capitalist Form (Harvard University Press, 2020), Sianne Ngai continues her theoretical work of demystifying the vernacular aesthetic categories encountered in late capitalist daily life. In this witty and penetrating book-length treatment of the affective experience of the “gimmick,” Ngai draws upon formalist literary criticism, post-Kantian aesthetic philosophy, and Marxist political economy in order to illuminate the historical production of this attractive yet unsettling cultural form. From The Magic Mountain to It Follows, smiley faces to subprime mortgages, Ngai’s image of the surprisingly ubiquitous gimmick emerges from a careful evaluation of the capitalist subject’s fundamental discomfort surrounding the coupling of value to labor-time.
Michael Eby is a writer and researcher on contemporary art and digital culture. He lives in New York and tweets @michaeleby2020.