Gimmicks Might Be the Key to Understanding Capitalism

Sianne Ngai

Over the course of her career, UChicago Division of the Humanities scholar and critic Sianne Ngai has asked readers to interrogate the everyday aesthetic judgments we make about art and objects. While finding kitty cams, baby carrots, and bath toys “cute” might seem innocent, Ngai cautions that a term like “cute” is ultimately rooted in a desire to “aestheticize powerlessness,” a useful tool for making commodification and consumption feel, conversely, empowering.

In her latest book, Theory of the Gimmick (2020), Ngai proposes another aesthetic category, “gimmicky,” to think through broader questions about how artistic worth is measured in capitalist culture. The gimmick, as a kind of labor-saving device that ironically overperforms (i.e., doing too much), is an embodiment of our anxiety about the way value is tied to labor.

Division of the Humanities Recognizes the Scholarship and Teaching of Students and Faculty at the 533rd Virtual Convocation

Graduate students at the Division of Humanities Convocation in 2018

During this unprecedented time of the coronavirus, the Division of the Humanities at UChicago conducted a virtual Convocation—not out of choice but of necessity. The importance of commemorating its students’ and faculty’s achievements is captured on film and is available starting at 4:30 p.m. on June 12.

In addition to celebrating the achievements of more than 200 graduating students with master’s and doctoral degrees on June 12, Dean Anne Walters Robertson and Dean of Students Shea Wolfe honored several Division of Humanities students and faculty members during the Graduation Ceremony—Zoe Hughes, Lester (Zhuqing) Hu, Olga Sánchez-Kiselewska, Elizabeth Asmis, and Jason Riggle.

Four Graduate Students Honored for Exceptional Teaching of Undergraduates

University of Chicago campus view

Adam Antoszewski, Anna Band, Bastien Craipain and Shreya Ramachandran have been named the 2020 winners of the Wayne C. Booth Prize for Excellence in Teaching, awarded annually to graduate students for outstanding instruction of undergraduates. A doctoral candidate in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Craipain has received the Stuart Tave Teaching Fellowship and will continue to teach at UChicago as a Humanities Teaching Fellow

Students and faculty in the College nominated the recipients for the prize, which was established in 1991 in honor of Booth, PhD’50, the late UChicago faculty member who was one of the 20th century’s most influential literary critics.

The College Announces Winners of the Undergraduate Teaching Award

Aerial view of the University of Chicago campus

Beatrice Fineschi, Daragh Grant, Valerie Levan, Oscar Pineda-Catalan and Sunit Singh have been awarded the newly established Glenn and Claire Swogger Award for Exemplary Classroom Teaching. In the Division of the Humanities, Levan stands out for her understanding and support of helping students make the transition from high school to college.

Based upon nominations from students in the College, the award recognizes outstanding teachers with College appointments, who introduce undergraduates to habits of scholarly thinking, inquiry and engagement in the Core Curriculum, the College’s general education program.

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