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Nick Salvato, Obstruction

Theodora D. Patrona

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1Nick Salvato, Obstruction

2Durham: Duke UP, 2016. Pp263. ISBN 978-0-8223-6098-8

3Theodora D. Patrona

4The Oxford dictionary online defines obstruction, as “a thing that impedes or prevents passage or progress; an obstacle or blockage.” Nick Salvato’s eponymous book, multilayered and thought-provoking, is an original study of five phenomena that while they ‘torment’ scholars and impede inquiry, for the author “they may, if properly directed, be conducive to critical work and valuable, more broadly, for intellectual life” (1).

5Loyal to his claim in the Introduction, Salvato’s important work thrives in interdisciplinary examples working, “both locally and globally” (1), ranging from popular music to upbeat films, MTV series and blogs. Instead of brooding over the loss of time and energy when obstructed, the author, creative and highly optimistic in his approach relies on a constructive “embrace” of all impeding factors, “not in order to surmount it but to cling to it, in such a way that the subject of this ‘intensif[ied]’ obstruction and the obstruction wall itself change, perhaps move, precisely because of the clinging and the more granularly textures feeling of, up, and against the wall that the clinging enables. In the process, the moving wall might become a dance floor” (4). In his preoccupation with “now contemporaneous objects” which sometimes find en route non contemporaneous ones (14), Salvato often floats between the self-reflexive and the pedagogical with a unique writing style that demands slow and critical thinking as well as the space and time to savor both words and thoughts.

6The first chapter discusses the notion of embarrassment starting with the connection between sophistication and embarrassment either for the sophisticate critic as regards embarrassing objects or the popular art critic as regards sophistication. The author distinguishes embarrassment from shame, given the former’s “collectivizing potential,” its “relationality” (38). In this dynamic first part, the author refers to cringe and blush, explores the connection between embarrassment and stupidity and reflects on the music of Tori Amos. Laziness is the focus of the second chapter with the author drawing the line between two forms of laziness: the active one and a more passive one. Well-read and meticulous, the author, in what could be the most persuasive chapter, goes through a plethora of authors in the tradition of relevant bibliography, the likes of Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, Roland Barthes to name but a few; Salvato, thus, resorting to Arendtian standards, erodes the hard work ethic, stating that “ products […] made through a process of lazing may be, one might say, ‘usefully’ situated to deconstruct this binary opposition between work and action, poiesis and praxis” (76). Salvato also researches the “tradition of artistic lounging” (76), from the disliked yet neglected figure of idler Dean Martin to the lounge act The Dream Express. Salvato’s argumentation, convincing and enriched with psychoanalytic theories ends with freeing laziness from any guilt and surrounding it in relaxation and creativity (91). The following chapter on slowness differentiates the concept examined from that of slow time: taking time versus making time feel slowed respectively. Here, the author attempts to exploit the concept of slowness, “so that the putative obstruction of slowness is galvanized to charge the experience of (thinking, writing) time as densely and intensely as possible” (99). Moreover, Salvato pores over the literature of speed and calls for an alternative space “for an alternative operativity, an operativity by other means” (103). While relying on both Eastern and Buddhist Philosophy seems inadequate for the scholar, both fields come to stress the role of cinema as s mode of elongating time, and the author finds recourse to the analysis of slowness in Kelly Reichardt’s films. The search of the value of cynicism in the academe as well as TV is quite a task in general and, in specific, in this penultimate chapter. This happens due to the concept’s multifaceted nature characterized by three attitudes: cynical accommodation, critical cynicism against accommodation, cynicism defined by acts of theatrical expressivity. With cynicism having preoccupied scholars for a long time, bibliographical references are numerous. The author ingenuously turns to Foucault’s work on classical cynicism. As a case in point, he examines the MTV series Daria, whose creators, protagonists and content the author regards as typical: “moving across modes of cynicism and Cynicism (and back again)” (144). The last chapter focuses on digressiveness, an opportunity for Salvato to re-view with renewed attention and interest and not to reject it as distraction as is the case with recent critics (158). Positive and open-minded, Salvato considers digression as insight, digressiveness as an art of strolling, “flexible movement perpetuated, even curated, as praxis (168). For this last phenomenon analysed, Salvato uses Diderot’s Encyclopedia whereby he compares roaming to resorting to the Encyclopedie. With an ingenuous final twist, Salvato turns to the blog fourfour to ponder over the notions of “new” and “old,” “ephemeral meandering” and being an intellectual.

7In stark contrast to its name and the definition initially given in the introduction of this review, Obstruction is a fascinating work of scholarly brilliance; provocative, complicated and challenging, it rewards the patient reader by freeing-and not obstructing- new passages that progress critical thinking.

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Theodora D. Patrona, “Nick Salvato, ObstructionEuropean journal of American studies [Online], Reviews 2019-1, Online since 02 April 2019, connection on 25 September 2021. URL:

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