Annotated Bibliography #2 “Our Aesthetic Categories”


NGAI, SIANNE. “Our Aesthetic Categories”. PMLA 125.4 (2010): 948–958. Web…

‘Our Aesthetic Categories” looks at the terms “cute” “zany” and “interesting” as a collection of “consistently rotating aesthetic categories” (948) for their aesthetic potential, both as sites of commodification and as valid tools with which to asses contemporary artistic forms. It discusses their relevance in contemporary discussion based on the tenents of capital- namely, production, circulation, and consumption. Ngai works to deconstruct the development of each term historically, tracing these concepts through traditional theory and performance. In our course’s context, the text seems especially poignant as the “cute”, “zany”, and “interesting”, are seen as “trivial” aspects of aesthetic study. As such, they are typically feminized and seen as inconsequential in the pursuit of “serious” academic study. Ngai not only works to break down these aesthetic genre’s connections to capital, but also acknowledges and deconstructs their contributions to major representational modes in fiction (949), the decay of public culture (949) the way we interact with artistic mediums such as poetry (950), as well as examining the nature of the “trivial” and “inconsequential” as embodied in these terms. She suggests that the power of these terms lies in their seeming irrelevance, through incorporating the work of Hannah Arendt, concluding “…cute things evoke in us a desire to protect them. (950) This manifests in a kind of self-preservation of the “cute”, “interesting” and ”zany” in the modern world, which she works to describe in depth in the case of modern poetry. Ngai suggests that these aesthetic forms and their inherent ability to self-preserve works allows them to endure in a world which otherwise dismisses the merit of artistic creation, as she states” What better way to get traction on art’s diminishing role as the privileged locus for modern aesthetic experience than an aesthetic category of and about inconsequentiality?” (951)


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