Hold It Against Me

Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art

Hold It Against Me

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 45 illustrations, including 17 in color Published: April 2013

Author: Jennifer Doyle

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies > Affect Theory, Gender and Sexuality > Sex and Sexuality

In Hold It Against Me, Jennifer Doyle explores the relationship between difficulty and emotion in contemporary art, treating emotion as an artist's medium. She encourages readers to examine the ways in which works of art challenge how we experience not only the artist's feelings, but our own. Discussing performance art, painting, and photography, Doyle provides new perspectives on artists including Ron Athey, Aliza Shvarts, Thomas Eakins, James Luna, Carrie Mae Weems, and David Wojnarowicz. Confronting the challenge of writing about difficult works of art, she shows how these artists work with feelings as a means to question our assumptions about identity, intimacy, and expression. They deploy the complexity of emotion to measure the weight of history, and to deepen our sense of where and how politics happens in contemporary art.

Doyle explores ideologies of emotion and how emotion circulates in and around art. Throughout, she gives readers welcoming points of entry into artworks that they may at first find off-putting or confrontational. Doyle offers new insight into how the discourse of controversy serves to shut down discussion about this side of contemporary art practice, and counters with a critical language that allows the reader to accept emotional intensity in order to learn from it.


“Jennifer Doyle’s Hold It Against Me offers us a powerful and challenging new voice. The difficulty she describes emerges in work that turns to face us. . . .Doyle has opened up a critical and much needed space for this work and these experiences. She demands that we consider the political and historical stakes in ourselves, to embrace what is intimate and fraught — and that is no easy feat.” — Laura Fried, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Doyle shows how controversial works have been oversimplified by critics and journalists in that they miss the ways these artists deploy their body to politicize processes. She claims that it is paramount to look beyond the feelings people have about this type of performances to understand the concrete challenge it brings out.” — Florence Martellini, Leonardo Reviews

“Doyle blends scholarly critique with personal experience, producing a deep and broad analysis which is as much a critique of contemporary art criticism as contemporary art.” — Publishers Weekly

“This treatise argues that emotion makes artworks harder, more interesting, more difficult, and yet ultimately more rewarding for their complexity. Though aimed at scholars of performance and visual culture, this densely complex book will reward tenacious readers interested in understanding some of the most moving (and difficult) contemporary art of our time." — Toro Castaño, Library Journal

“In this rich, thought-provoking, and very readable work of scholarship, Doyle poses questions about works of art that cannot be easily described, that bring complicated personal and political subject matter to the fore, and that often evoke strong emotional reactions in the audiences that view them.” — Alexis Clements, Hyperallergic

"Jennifer Doyle’s illuminating book Hold It Against Me is an insightful and astute study fuelled by Doyle’s passionate argument that for some performance,‘difficulty may in fact be integral to the work’s overall meaning’ (p. xii)." — Rachel Zerihan, Contemporary Theatre Review

"Doyle’s book is both an endorsement for and an example of what might happen once we venture away from the assurance of that cool scholarly detachment and into the less transparent but perhaps more revealing terrain of affective response. What Doyle discovers in that realm of feelings is not only personal sentiment, but also a complex site where ideology, aesthetics, social convention, and political possibility intersect."  — Catherine Zuromskis, Postmodern Culture

“Doyle’s book organizes a series of far-reaching analytic case studies, and along the way stages a vibrant encounter between what I’d call, for short, fury and love. Hold It Against Me is a coruscating assault on the state of contemporary art critical practice, and especially on what Doyle reads, with demolishing exhaustiveness, as its genuinely outraging incapacity in relation to racially engaged, feminist, and queer art and artists. . . . Hold It Against Me is a revelatory book of art criticism and politically astute theory.” — Peter Coviello, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Doyle captures unnerving moments of unease, anxiety, even extreme pain. These images and Doyle’s compelling discussion of their difficulty stay with the reader long after closing the book’s covers. Perhaps that is what is so successful about Doyle’s study. While the actual works explored are many of them fleeting performances, or done by artists who have by now succumbed to the AIDS virus, or are representations of the dead, they persist. They fight. They move us.” — Sarah E. Cornish, Rocky Mountain Review

"Hold It Against Me is forceful and memorable. Jennifer Doyle thinks about difficult art in a way that refreshes its historical impact; she also revitalizes what criticism can do to extend the event that its objects have been to new ethical, political, and aesthetic domains." — Lauren Berlant, author of Cruel Optimism

"In Hold It Against Me, Jennifer Doyle brilliantly interrogates a key aspect of contemporary visual culture: the issue of feeling itself. While art discourse has studiously avoided addressing how we feel, Doyle fearlessly attacks the question head on, exploring her own responses as she charts the resistance to emotion across art criticism and curation. Through this moving, lacerating critique, she provides an entirely new way of thinking about how art can, if we let it, potentially hurt, touch, and transform us." — Amelia Jones, author of Self/Image: Technology, Representation, and the Contemporary Subject


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jennifer Doyle is Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. She is the author of Sex Objects: Art and the Dialectics of Desire and co-editor of Pop Out: Queer Warhol, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xxi

I. Introducing Difficulty 1

Hard Feelings 5

Patrolling the Border between Art and Politics 9

Vocabulary Shift: From Controversy to Difficulty 15

Difficulty's Audience 21

2. Three Case Studies in Difficulty and the Problem of Affect 28

A Blank: Aliza Shvarts, Untitled (2008) 28

Theater of Cruelty: Thomas Eakins, The Gross Clinic (1875) 39

Touchy Subjects: Ron Athey, Incorruptible Flesh: Dissociative Sparkle (2006) 49

3. Thinking Feeling: Criticism and Emotion 69

What Happened to Feeling? 69

The Difficulty of Sentimentality: Franko B's I Miss You! (2003) 73

The Strange Theatricality of Tears: Nao Bustamante's Neapolitan (2009) 83

Relational Aesthetics and Affective Labor 89

4. Feeling Overdetermined: Identity, Emotion, and History 94

The Difficulty of Identity 94

James Luna's The History of the Luiseño People (Christmas, La Jolla Reservation 1990) (1990–1996, 2009) 98

Difficulty and Ideologies of Emotion 106

Carrie Mae Weems's From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1995–1996) 112

Conclusion 126

David Wojnarowicz's Untitled (Hujar Dead) (1988–1989) 126

Notes 147

Bibliography 183

Index 193
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5313-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5302-7
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