sianne-ngai-our-aesthetic-categories-zany-cute-interesting-1.pdf

Thinking through the question of what value Adorno has to us today, or how his ideas might be applicable beyond the narrow range of European high modernism that he champions, some of you might be interested in this book.

Ngai attempts to create a theory of "minor" aesthetic categories. This scan is missing the 3rd section, on "zaniness," but it's the first 2 that most directly engage with Adorno: "cute" and "interesting." Cuteness aligns with what Adorno calls "the culinary" - the easily consumable, whereas "the interesting" has a more complicated relationship to autonomy and the logic of the commodity. Her general theory of "minor" categories also relies heavily on Adorno.

In the last class we seemed to be getting stuck a bit on idea of subjectivity and objectivity, and one aspect of Adorno's thought that Ngai puts to use is how aesthetic judgments dwell somewhere between the two:

"For Genette and others, to make a judgment of aesthetic quality, with its necessary demand for universality, is to project one's negative or positive feelings onto the object in such a totalizing fashion that the subjective basis of the judgment--its grounding in feeling as opposed to concepts--by no means undermines the objectivity of the aesthetic quality as such.' As Adorno puts it in Aesthetic Theory in an echo of what Ross Wilson calls the 'Kantian Rettung,' or the 'attempt made throughout Kant's philosophy to salvage or rescue objectivity by way of the subject,' 'Even in its fallibility and weakness, the subject who contemplates art is not expected simply to retreat from the claim to objectivity .... The more the observer adds to the process, the greater the energy with which he penetrates the artwork, the more he then becomes aware of objectivity from within ... The subjective detour may totally miss the mark; but without the detour no objectivity becomes evident.'"

Tim Nicholas
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