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Ugly Feelings Paperback – March 31, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0674024090 ISBN-10: 0674024095
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Editorial Reviews


The book's worth lies in its ambition, even its overreach. This is no cultural-studies grab-bag: Ms. Ngai really is breaking new ground. (Benjamin Lytal New York Sun 2005-02-17)

Ugly Feelings tries to be many things in every chapter: a rhetorical reading of a set of 'marginal' avant-garde or popular texts, a deconstructive critique of 'blind spots and antimonies' in the way contemporary theory has approached a given problematic, and an articulation of a 'cultural predicament,' all through an exemplification of an affective quality that most commentators usually shy away from because of its 'minor' tone and 'negative' force. This is a most ambitious agenda--and one that Ngai succeeds admirably in carrying out. The analyses are beautifully crafted, complex without being convoluted, each judiciously drawing upon an appropriate subset of an impressive range of theoretical resources and cultural references. Although the book presents itself primarily as a contribution to literary and media studies, its impact will extend much further. In addition to developing highly original readings of its chosen texts, it reexamines pivotal political-cultural issues, concerned in particular with representations of gender and race, through a new revitalizing affective lens. In the uniqueness of the approach, familiar debates take on new life. The sustained engagement with affect and emotion, coupled with deconstructive technique, gives the book a certain unity across the differences in subject matter and the cultural-theoretical issues tackled by each chapter. (Brian Massumi, author of Parables for the Virtual)

One of the most intellectually dazzling and wide-ranging critical studies to appear in years. This is, in fact, far more than a book about emotions. Taken chapter by chapter, it is a series of commanding readings of notoriously "unfriendly" texts...At its broadest, [it] entails a rejection of Jameson's influential notion of "the 'waning' of negative affect" in late modernity or postmodernity, replaced by a glossily untroubled surface. Instead, Ngai asserts, we should recognize the consistent pockmarking of that surface by ugly feelings...Where other readings tend to see the ugly feelings in a problem to get past--an indication, say, of "repression"--Ngai, characteristically, treats them in productive terms, as generative of the text's overall "tone"...To the extent there is a critical capacity to the ugly feelings she describes, then, it would seem to lie in their ability to make emotional quagmires from which we might rather turn away matter deeply to us. On an intellectual level, then, this is precisely the feat performed by Ngai's wonderful book. (Jennifer L. Fleissner Modernism/modernity)

Ugly Feelings is a thought provoking book in the aesthetics of negative feelings with insightful reflections upon the social and experiential impact of artistic creations. (Dina Mendonça Metapsychology 2005-10-27)

The book is rewarding for the originality of its perspective. (G. D. MacDonald Choice 2005-07-01)

Ugly Feelings [is] one of the most intellectually dazzling and wide-ranging critical studies to appear in years. This is, in fact, far more than a book about emotions...Taken as a whole, it is no less than: a broad new interpretation of cultural modernity/postmodernity; a concerted attempt to reinvigorate race/gender analysis by pushing beyond some of its most familiar impasses; and, most impressively--at a moment when the "return to aesthetics" has become a vague rallying cry in much contemporary criticism--a rigorous argument for, and consistent demonstration of, a distinct mode of reading that gives equal weight to formal and cultural/political concerns. What may be most remarkable, however, is the way these features come together, such that each close reading is presented inseparably from a sustained theoretical argument that both stands strongly alone and contributes to the larger project of the book. (Jennifer L. Fleissner Modernism / Modernity)

Wow! That is almost all that I have to say about Sianne Ngai's Ugly Feelings. This is an amazing book, stunning in its depth and range, exemplary in its learning, and almost continually surprising in its inventiveness. Ngai seems to have read and seen almost every text and movie, and not just read and seen but imagined or reimagined them with dazzling intensity. And she writes a clear, precise prose replete with striking antitheses and inventive analogies. Most important for me, Ngai is the best-read theorist I have ever encountered--for her scope and even more for her ability to find the perfectly opposite argument to engage or to extend as she develops her own case. (Charles Altieri Contemporary Literature)

About the Author

Sianne Ngai is Professor of English at Stanford University.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674024095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674024090
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By D. Nawrot on May 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
Ugly Feelings is an important new perspective in the discussion on the social significance of emotion. Ngai's exploration of chronic, non-cathartic emotions including envy, irritation, paranoia, tolerance, etc. is fascinating particularly within the political context she discusses. She shows how certain emotions are considered shameful by society and thus repressed by individuals who experience these emotions, or the emotions are vague or generalized so they do not motivate us to action. Unlike strong feelings with direct objects, most "ugly feelings" prohibit individuals from acting, or exerting political agency on their own behalf. Ngai examines these emotions at work throughout a wide range of nineteenth and twentieth-century American literature and film.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By sm on October 11, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is stuffed full of smart and startling ideas, as well as fresh interpretations of an astonishing range of things from feminist theory to recent poetry, television, film, novels, contemporary art. I found the book a total delight to read, all manner of texts and issues are handled lightly, imaginatively and incredibly intelligently, if on occassions somewhat quickly. Ugly feelings, the main theme of the book, are states we don't like to examine, yet Ngai's book demonstrates how much can be gained from careful attention to them--the study of irritation in Nella Larsen's Quicksand is fantastic. The book is also an object lesson in how to think about the affective dimension of diverse cultural practices.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John F. Andrews on February 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
I'm somewhat perplexed by the negative reviews. There are books we like, others we don't - i like that, I get it. I may be misreading the critiques, but it appears the reviews are faulting Ngai for creating new terms. And by extension, her arguments, analysises, readings have no firm theoretic basis. Uhhm, this is how new knowledge is produced - by forging novel, relevant concepts. By calling into question or re-configuring existing concepts. Not willy-nilly but in a sustained, trenchant and thoughtful way. Ugly Feelings resists staleness.

I love this book,I think it's absolutely brilliant!
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