Next Meeting Monday, December 7

Our next meeting will be December 7, 3:30-5:00 in Melrose. We will be discussing our reading of Sianne Ngai’s Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting.

From the Harvard University Press:

The zany, the cute, and the interesting saturate postmodern culture. They dominate the look of its art and commodities as well as our discourse about the ambivalent feelings these objects often inspire. In this radiant study, Sianne Ngai offers a theory of the aesthetic categories that most people use to process the hypercommodified, mass-mediated, performance-driven world of late capitalism, treating them with the same seriousness philosophers have reserved for analysis of the beautiful and the sublime.

Ngai explores how each of these aesthetic categories expresses conflicting feelings that connect to the ways in which postmodern subjects work, exchange, and consume. As a style of performing that takes the form of affective labor, the zany is bound up with production and engages our playfulness and our sense of desperation. The interesting is tied to the circulation of discourse and inspires interest but also boredom. The cute’s involvement with consumption brings out feelings of tenderness and aggression simultaneously. At the deepest level, Ngai argues, these equivocal categories are about our complex relationship to performing, information, and commodities.

Through readings of Adorno, Schlegel, and Nietzsche alongside cultural artifacts ranging from Bob Perelman’s poetry to Ed Ruscha’s photography books to the situation comedy of Lucille Ball, Ngai shows how these everyday aesthetic categories also provide traction to classic problems in aesthetic theory. The zany, cute, and interesting are not postmodernity’s only meaningful aesthetic categories, Ngai argues, but the ones best suited for grasping the radical transformation of aesthetic experience and discourse under its conditions.

Hope to see you there!


three carbon tons, Featuring Jered Sprecher, Opens This Weekend.

Michael Jones McKeanJered Sprecher

Zeitgeist Gallery is pleased to announce three carbon tons, a two-person show with Jered Sprecher and Michael Jones McKean. Sprecher’s paintings and McKean’s sculptures both assume time as an elastic and cyclical entity. In both artist’s work, out-of-time and present day technologies intertwine in alchemic transmutations of images and forms, cycling through combustion, exchange, conductivity. Forms and images degrade to re-materialize as others, congealing momentarily as only the latest composition of energy matter generated by geologic, evolutionary, or human-made processes.

McKean presents a triptych composed of large, wall-mounted solar panels fixed with images of black objects each printed on perforated UV-resistant window vinyl. The objects ranging in form, time-scale and function are each haloed with a hand-painted border of fluorescent SeaMarker rescue dye. Nearby, rests four floor sculptures, each a meticulously carved laptop computer of varying vintage. Each computer is seeded with wood from ancient bristlecone pine trees – an object among the oldest living things on the planet resulting in a two-way sculptural gene splice. In another work, a classic Hudson’s Bay blanket carved from thermal insulation embeds a ubiquitous laptop computer charger; hidden inside the blanket’s core, 200 grams of silver provides the work’s amniotic center. The blanket is literally folded, and folding together two technologies – one modern, designed to transmit and transmute energy; and one ancient, designed to trap and transfer heat – to form an intra-generational battery, both harnessing and storing potential energies and commercial branding. In these works, energy and matter don’t begin or end, but reconfigure.

Sprecher sites combustion as both the beginning and end simultaneously: the catalyst for the transfer of energy from one entity to the next. Photomechanical images of nature and natural phenomena are the starting point for the body of work present in this exhibition. In the paintings, Way and Ember, a single stock photo of two nesting seagulls and a young chick are the source material from which each painting begins. Through the process of painting, this photo is merged with optical patterning, digital color, haptic gestures, and dissolving transparencies. As a result, the image both is and is no more; now and not yet. Works in the exhibition derive from photos of seagulls, fires, diamonds, moths, and trees. This source material is present at the beginning of a painting and then transmuted in the “combustion” of the image. The paintings on view act as a frozen frame, catching a still moment within a process of perpetual metamorphosis and exchange.

Rita Felski to Visit Campus this Thursday/Friday

Rita Felski will be on campus Thursday and Friday, November 5 and 6, as part of the English Department’s Literature, Criticism, and Textual Studies Speaker Series.

On Thursday, November 5 at 3:30pm in McClung Tower 1210, Professor Felski will lecture on “Attachment Theory.”  Drawing on arguments from Bruno Latour and Antoine Hennion and an essay by Zadie Smith, her lecture will explore forms of aesthetic attachment.  How and why do we become attached to works of art, and how might “attachment theory” help us make sense of this process?

On Friday, November 6, from noon to 2pm in 1210, Professor Felski will lead a discussion of her most recent book, The Limits of Critique, just published last week by the University of Chicago Press (excerpts available).  All interested faculty and graduate students are encouraged to attend.

Rita Felski is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English at the University of Virginia and the editor of New Literary History.  Her many publications include The Gender of Modernity (Harvard UP, 1995), Doing Time: Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture (New York UP, 2000), and Uses of Literature (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008).  We’re delighted to have her visit.

Email Ben Lee ( if you any questions at all, and please consider joining us for one or both of these events.