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Art and Attachment

How does a novel entice or enlist us? How does a song surprise or seduce us? Why do we bristle when a friend belittles a book we love, or fall into a funk when a favored TV series comes to an end? What characterizes the aesthetic experiences of feeling captivated by works of art? In Hooked, Rita Felski challenges the ethos of critical aloofness that is a part of modern intellectuals’ self-image. The result is sure to be as widely read as Felski’s book, The Limits of Critique.

Wresting the language of affinity away from accusations of sticky sentiment and manipulative marketing, Felski argues that “being hooked” is as fundamental to the appreciation of high art as to the enjoyment of popular culture. Hooked zeroes in on three attachment devices that connect audiences to works of art: identification, attunement, and interpretation. Drawing on examples from literature, film, music, and painting—from Joni Mitchell to Matisse, from Thomas Bernhard to Thelma and Louise—Felski brings the language of attachment into the academy. Hooked returns us to the fundamentals of aesthetic experience, showing that the social meanings of artworks are generated not just by critics, but also by the responses of captivated audiences.

208 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2020

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory


"In Hooked, [Felski] examines the way we connect to novels, films, paintings and music, and argues that our enthusiasms should be an integral part of conversations about art. Only this can deliver the ‘course correction’ the humanities need, and dissolve the boundary between academic interpretation and ordinary appreciation."

Helen Thaventhiran | London Review of Books

"The sensual stuff of culture gets under our skin, draws us in, expands our world, fashions our consciousness, sets the tone and tempo of our responsiveness to the world around us. The ‘tuning of sentiments’ is precisely the sort of phenomenal work that Rita Felski’s Hooked: Art and Attachment is suggesting that humanities scholars could and should pay attention to. . . . [Felski is] concerned with proposing the vocabularies and protocols for an approach to cultural works that are open to their immediacy, to their ability to connect us to the world, and to their intimate sociality. The project, then, is to imagine a postcritical attention to art (broadly conceived) that can hang on to our first-person response to works (which might be visceral, indifferent, traumatic, melancholic, consoling, and so on), while ensuring that such attention isn’t a flight from the social but a more capacious form of contact with it."

Ben Highmore | New Formations

“Over the past decade, Felski has been a breath of fresh air: working to nudge literary criticism away from an exclusive focus on politics. . . Felski is not against critique, the world being what it is. She is one of the growing number of malcontents who merely want to discuss other ways in which people respond to art. . .  [Hooked] is an exposé aimed at critics who disavow their personal allegiances.”

Matthew Rubery | Public Books

"The chief virtue of Hooked is that it encourages scholars to be more honest. . . . If accepted, Felski’s proposals would lead to aesthetic engagements which speak openly about why the interaction is happening in the first place. Such honesty can only be welcomed as a step forward in that old philosophical project—namely, knowing ourselves."

Thomas Millay | Marginalia Review of Books

"Among professors of English and comparative literature, Felski is one of the most influential scholars writing about aesthetics today. . . . Hooked: Art and Attachment picks up where The Limits of Critique leaves off by homing in on a crucial dimension of aesthetic experience discounted by critique: the attachments we form to works of art, the sources of their appeal to us, the personal growth they can excite and sustain. . . . Hooked honors this indispensable attachment to the arts and bolsters our efforts to understand and share what we care about."

Michael Fischer | The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

"Hooked is concerned with the phenomenological and sociological vagaries of aesthetic experience; the seemingly intangible or impenetrable nature of our attachments with art. . . . Felski’s argument—art isn’t a ‘microcosm of the world,’ but part of the ordinary fabric of sociality itself—is useful and rewarding, as is her particular interest in ‘diversifying the scales of criticism.’ Attachment is fundamental to all processes of meaning-making, in art as elsewhere. Aesthetics matter because they ‘create, or cocreate, enduring ties’ but we need methods capacious enough to reflect the messiness of this reality."

Nell Osborne | Review 31

“The book invites a conversation that ranges widely beyond literature; its arguments span media and its scope is expansive. . . . There are many insights in Hooked that will facilitate a productive interdisciplinary conversation about aesthetics, politics, and the future of critique.”

Michael Gallope |

"In Hooked Felski examines aesthetic experience in terms of co-creation and enduring ties. . . . Using essays, memoirs, works of fiction, ethnographic research and a variety of examples from high to popular culture, Felski argues that works of art make a difference in the world and matter - they act - because they 'create, or co-create, enduring ties' . . . Hooked offers a plethora of hypotheses and a wealth of ideas to think with and to research empirically. The book will be of interest to sociologists and social theorists interested in cultural objects, emotion and aesthetic experience."

María Angélica Thumala Olave | Theory, Culture & Society

“Rita Felski’s new book puts in place… a less counterintuitive, secluded, and priggish way of addressing art.”

Forma de Vida

Hooked is the third in a de facto trilogy defending the varied ways in which people like and care about works of art, both inside and outside the academy and its various critical traditions. Felski argues that we write about works of art because we care about them and get pleasure from them— we're hooked!—and that examining them critically is neither the same as, nor opposed to, being hooked in other ways. Hooked provides a way forward, not only a description of what we already do or a reason to stop doing it, but a way to say more and do more."

Stephanie Burt, Harvard University

Hooked is a marvelous achievement. It is a rousing book that returns to one of the main questions at the heart of Felski’s scholarship—how people become attached to particular works of literature or art. Hooked offers a form of reception studies that invites alliances with different schools and modes of inquiry, from book history and curation theory to biography, ethnography, and practical pedagogy. It will excite and energize readers for years to come.”

James English, University of Pennsylvania

"Foregrounding first-person accounts of aesthetic experience imbues Hooked with a particular ambient quality evocative of those environments—theater bars, the sidewalks onto which viewers spill after a movie—that thrum with the sound of people talking about their aesthetic responses."

Critical Inquiry

"Taken on its merits, and treated in the generous, open way that it advocates, Hooked is a satisfying, thought-provoking read for anyone concerned with questions about the natures of our relations to artworks and why we bother forming them."

British Journal of Aesthetics

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 On Being Attached
Chapter 2 Art and Attunement
Chapter 3 Identification: A Defense
Chapter 4 Interpreting as Relating

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