Gina Filo Awarded Competitive Dissertation Fellowship

Filo wins the CAS Dissertation Fellowship for exploration of the relationship between sex and self in early modern England.

Gina Filo has been named the College of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Fellow for 2019-2020.

Filo's project, "Sexuality and the Contours of the Self in Early Modern English Verse,” analyzes how early modern poets such as William Shakespeare, John Donne, Andrew Marvell, Richard Crashaw, Robert Herrick, and Thomas Traherne use sex and eroticism to reimagine the relationship between body and self.

Filo observes that, in early modern England, sex was deemed "highly destabilizing to the invidual in both physical and psychological ways." Scholars have generally argued that poets were anxious about this instability and used their verse to maintain the identity categories that sex would seem to deconstruct. But Filo sheds light on the ways that early modern poets reveled in sex and the idea of a less-than-stable self:

In this project, I show that the poetry of Shakespeare, Donne, Marvell, Herrick, Crashaw, and Traherne ... embraces, rather than rejects, the annihilation of self and category (like gender and the human) that sex brings about. I show how these poets articulate new varieties of pleasure, diffuse and unstable forms of selfhood, and non-normative models of self-other relations that operate outside of conventional power hierarchies - and demonstrate that, far from being anxious, they take pleasure (intellectual, imaginative, and erotic) in so doing. 

Analyzing these alternative ideas about sexual pleasure, Filo adds, can give modern readers ways to rethink how "natural" their sexual practices and ideologies are:

This period [1485-1685] is posed just before the consolidation of both modern identity-based models of sexuality and the ideal of companionate heteroerotic marriage, both of which are so naturalized as to be coercive in the way we understand sex today. As such, the exploration of alternate, unstable forms of pleasure and eroticism in the period gives a sense of the what-might-have-been, one that is quite different than the what-is.

Please join us in congratulating Gina on this stellar accomplishment!