Anne A. Cheng

Anne Anlin Cheng is Professor of English, Director of American Studies, and affiliated with the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Committee on Film Studies. She is an interdisciplinary scholar who works at the intersection of aesthetics and politics, drawing from literary theory, critical race studies, film theory, feminist theory, and psychoanalysis.  She works primarily with twentieth-century American literature and visual culture with special focus on Asian American and African American literatures. She is the author of The Melancholy of Race: Assimilation, Psychoanalysis, and Hidden Grief (Oxford University Press), a study of the notion of racial grief at the intersection of culture, history, and law. Her second book Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface, also published by Oxford University Press, excavates the story of the unexpected intimacy between modern architectural theory, the invention of a modernist style and the conceptualization of black skin at the turn of the twentieth century.

Cheng’s new book Ornamentalism is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. This study argues that Asiatic femininity is an enduring aesthetic practice that produces a form of synthetic personhood that is integral, rather than an exception, to the making of modern western personhood.   Cheng is currently working on another new project on Race Studies at the intersection of Food and Animal Studies.

Cheng received her B.A. in English and Creative Writing at Princeton, her Masters in English and Creative Writing from Stanford University, and her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from University of California at Berkeley. Prior to coming back to Princeton, she taught at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Cheng is the founder and organizer of the public conversation series Critical Encounters that promotes dialogue between art and theory and encourages cross-disciplinary conversations on the shared topic of social justice. Recent programs include a collaborative student reenactment of the Minoru Yasui Trial, with Judge Denny Chin, which highlights the roles of Asian Americans in American legal history as well as explores the enduring question of civil rights and the American Constitution; a screening of new works by internationally renowned filmmaker Isaac Julien; a conversation between contemporary experimental playwrights Jorge Ignacio Cortinas and Young Jean Lee.  Cheng is now working with colleagues in American Studies to create a new experiment in research and pedagogical partnership called the American Studies Collaboratory, a site for nurturing cross-campus research affinities, a multicultural lab of sorts that explores how issues such as identity or citizenship shape and are shaped by law, the arts, literature, food, sexuality, space, and more. (External link to come).

Selected Publications: 


The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation and Hidden Grief

Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface

Recent articles

“Ornamentalism: A Feminist Theory for the Yellow Woman,” Critical Inquiry (44:3), Spring 2018. 

“The Ghost in the Ghost,” an essay review of Ghost in the Shell in the Los Angeles Times Review of Books.

“Sushi, Otters, Mermaids: Race at the Intersection of Food and Animal; or, David Wong Louie’s Sushi Principle,” Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities (24:1), Winter 2014, 66-95.

“Ornament and Law, collected in New Directions in Law and Literature, eds. Elizabeth S. Anker and Bernadette Meyler, Oxford University Press, 2017.