In Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, Mel Y. Chen offers a mesmerizing inquiry into how cultural life is animated by “matter” that is considered insensate, immobile, deathly, and even inappropriate. For this project, the author revisits the term animacy, a rather generic concept from cognitive linguistics that refers to “the grammatical effects of the sentience or liveness of nouns” (2). Chen pays particular attention to “animacy hierarchy,” which is a conceptual order of things measured by their possible agency; at the top of the heap are white male able-bodied human beings, while further down are other animals and eventually inanimate stuffs. The result is an ingenious demonstration that the organizing principles of an “animacy hierarchy” are relentlessly produced and policed—with political consequences. The author explores how animacy hierarchy operates, and sometimes fails, in encounters between bodies with different...

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