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Wesleyan University | Center for the Humanities



Is Tristram Shandy "Merely Interesting"?

Jess Keiser • Tufts University 

November 7th @ 6pm at Russell House

In Our Aesthetic Categories, Sianne Ngai contends that traditional artistic experience has faltered in our “hypercommodified world of late capitalism.” The beautiful and the sublime are for us a thing of the past; our aesthetic categories are now the cute, the zany, and the interesting. But one of these categories—the interesting—has its roots in the eighteenth century. Originating in German Romanticism, the “interesting” names that most minimal of aesthetic judgments, a state that is closer to boredom, banality, and bemusement than the seductions of the beautiful or the shock of the sublime. Building on Ngai’s insights, this talk considers the “interesting” as a hinge between older aesthetics and our postmodern / late capitalist variety. It follows Ngai’s genealogy of the “interesting” back through Michael Fried to Schlegel and Hegel. But it ultimately lands somewhere different, considering Laurence Sterne’s proto-postmodern Tristram Shandy as a novel that both exemplifies and complicates the “interesting,” that delights in enumerating endless minutiae even as it ironizes and defamiliarizes the routine. Reading Sterne with Ngai helps us understand the provocation of art in a world given over to reification and prose.

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