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Meet the Fellows: 2016 Newcombe Fellow Francey Russell

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This is one of a series of posts featuring Fellows from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation network.

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph. D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2016 class of Fellows includes Francey Russell, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Chicago. In her dissertation, Ms. Russell explores what can sometimes be an uncomfortable aspect of the human condition:

My favorite movie is Todd Haynes’ 1995 film Safe. The film is about Carol, a wealthy suburban housewife who starts having panic attacks and physical symptoms for no apparent reason. While the film indicates various possible explanations for Carol’s strange experiences, none of these explanations are finally satisfying. Instead it seems as though Carol has simply begun to experience her life as somehow not her own, and as increasingly intolerable. The film is also extremely unsettling in its form, with cavernous wide shots, eerie slow zooms, and often filming Carol from behind, as though neither she nor the viewer can fully appreciate what is going on inside of her. I’ve always felt that while this movie is obviously about a very particular character in very unusual circumstances, there is something deeply familiar about it. We’ve all had uncanny encounters with our own lives, or had the sense that we do not understand our own actions, desires, ambitions, or commitments. I think this is one of the great achievements and attractions of art: in its irreducibility to straightforward propositional judgments and openness to multiple interpretations, art allows us an intelligent encounter with something that also resists our efforts to render it intelligible. In many ways, what I want my work in philosophy to do is make sense of these experiences of opacity and strangeness, and show that they are an essential part of who we are.

Ms. Russell’s dissertation title is Self-Opacity and Human Agency. For more information on the 2016 Newcombe Fellows and to see a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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