by renée c. hoogland. University Press of New England, January 2014. 232 p. ill. ISBN 9781611684919 (pbk.), $45.00.

Reviewed September 2014
Anna-Sophia Zingarelli-Sweet, MLIS Candidate, University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences,

hooglandIn this challenging and provocative study, Wayne State English professor renée hoogland offers an interdisciplinary perspective on contemporary aesthetics. Hoogland argues that prevailing theories have been inadequate to conceptualize the affective power and political impact of images beyond their representational function.

Over the last two decades, hoogland has written and taught prolifically on literature, American studies, gender and sexuality, feminism, and visual culture, and she brings this multifaceted background to bear here on the development of an aesthetic framework that resonates in contemporary information-saturated culture and the search for meaningful questions that are truly aesthetic, rather than ethical or hermeneutic, in nature. Drawing heavily on Kant, Deleuze, Whitehead, and Bakhtin, among others, hoogland constructs a theory of art as affective event. Indeed, hoogland suggests, the aesthetically successful work of visual art might be best seen as disruption. While the disruptive intervention - the “violent embrace” of the book’s title - draws both strident opposition and fervent support in today’s technology and culture climate, it is an undeniably current frame for the work that art does in the world. Unfortunately, however, the opacity of hoogland’s prose often obscures insights and strong arguments that could otherwise be illuminating.

In the first three chapters, hoogland examines the discourse surrounding corporeality and the abject in contemporary art. A central chapter on neo-aesthetics acts as a hinge connecting to the final three chapters, which more closely examine the visual language of specific artworks ranging from the portraits of Rineke Dijkstra to Julia Reyes Taubman’s ruinous images of Detroit. Though resolutely ahistorical, hoogland persuasively identifies a common strand in contemporary art, which she often refers to as the “affective turn,” particularly in examining photography, drawing, installation, and art jewelry. There is a useful section of color plates for many of the most compelling images, but the impact of many of the other images suffer from their small-scale black-and-white presentation. Overall, however, the paperback is well-produced, durable, and comfortable to read, with well-documented endnotes and a valuable bibliography and index.

A Violent Embrace will be primarily of interest for academic libraries with programs emphasizing aesthetics, contemporary art, and critical theory. Since hoogland’s vocabulary is rich in jargon, it is best suited for graduate students and faculty, and is not recommended for any but the most advanced undergraduates.