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  • Embracing Obstruction
  • Alex Wescott (bio)
Obstruction by Nick Salvato. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. 250 pages, illustrated. $24.95 paperback.

How might embarrassment, laziness, slowness, cynicism, and digressiveness be products or symptoms of a neoliberalized present, and how might we, rather than dismiss or feel discouraged or blocked by them, embrace and linger within them in ways that are aslant or askew from the priorities and demands of corporatized universities? How does a reorientation of our thinking about these phenomena as generative rather than limiting and foreclosing allow for not necessarily new but alternative ways of thinking about and doing academic labor? Without promising or capitulating to a desire for comprehensivity or mastery but embracing the inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies that compose a multifaceted and seemingly contradictory subject and that subject's relationship to a complex social, political, and economic sphere, Nick Salvato's Obstruction attempts to answer these questions in the spirit of the obstructions that are the book's primary concerns. In so doing, Salvato's model for intellection and criticism reveals an opposition from within that attends to the ways in which we—as subjects, artists, academics, critics—navigate a complex relationship to (popular) culture, the academy, and the market rather than an opposition that imagines itself as outside of capitalism's grasp and beyond critiques of buying in or selling out. After all, who among us can claim that they have [End Page 163] not, at one time or another, felt embarrassed or stupid about work or fandom; found themselves feeling lazy with regard to writerly output, even when the bureaucratic demands of universities and teaching loads make them feel as though they rarely have enough time; felt the demands of speedy production and wanted to slow things down; felt cynical amid the corporatization of academia or the neoliberalization of capitalism writ large; or followed the sometimes distracting paths of digression with the knowledge that our attention should be focused elsewhere?

Chapter 1, "Embarrassment," explores our relationship, as fans and critics, to cultural objects, eschewing both guiltless enjoyment and cultural snobbery and embracing the critical potential of dwelling in the very feeling that we associate with guilty or, more accurately, embarrassing pleasures. Embarrassment draws our attention to the ways in which our own critical positions "can't … be so neatly disentangled" from affect, a disentangling often marked by a tendency to distinguish "thought" from "feeling" (57). Embarrassment's embodied performance in the blush or cringe reveals not only the potential for obstructive withdrawal—consider the cringe's manifestation as a physical withdrawal from the embarrassing subject or object—and avoidance but also how it is always already contingent upon some awareness of the qualities that make something embarrassing. We are embarrassed because we might find some fault with a beloved cultural object, because it is "uncool," or because particular systems of (e)valuation deem an object unworthy or less useful to think through and with than other more "acceptable" or "sophisticated" texts, objects, and archives. By lingering in embarrassment rather than attempting to fully avoid it or embracing the object with pride, we might be able "to keep productively in tension and at play the knotted thoughts and feelings" (57) that inform our similarly knotted roles as fans and critics, reorienting our critical approaches "both 'toward' and 'against' an object" (9) that consider criticality and affective attachment not as working "against" and "toward" that object, respectively, but instead as a generative oscillation between the two. Thus, Salvato's reading of Tori Amos's career, music, live performances, and album packaging is able to oscillate between his own embarrassment (as a fan) at the artist's pretentious excesses (such as the name of her short-lived late 1980s band Y Kant Tori Read and the artist's insistence on referring to a holiday record as a "solstice album") and the embarrassment that is both a stylistic feature of her recordings and performances as well as a recurring theme in her work.

Chapter 2, "Laziness," feels most timely amid ongoing attacks on so-called lazy academics and questions regarding the value, [End Page 164] purpose, and utility of the arts and humanities. Neoliberal claims of pragmatism increasingly reorient higher...


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