Chas Firestone East is a Ph.D. candidate in Italian and Comparative Literature and Society with graduate certificates in Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies. Their research interests lie primarily in the intersections of philosophy and literature across various time periods and geographies but with a particular emphasis on the reception and production of philosophical thought in the works of Dante. Their dissertation explores Dante’s contribution to the history of the philosophy of identity through the creation (and sometimes the solving) of several metaphysical puzzles about identity that closely resemble and even anticipate modern versions that would provide a significant challenge to hylomorphic thought in the 20th century. Their work has also touched upon several other topics in metaphysics, natural philosophy, and logic, including prime matter, time, angelology, embryology, and the structures of demonstrative and dialectical models of argumentation. While their research and daily thoughts are primarily devoted to the works of Dante, Chas has also explored the influence of philosophers and theologians, such as Aristotle, Boethius, Augustine, Averroes, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventure, on writers including Boccaccio, Christine de Pizan, and Alfred the Great.
Chas’s interest in Dante and the place of literature within the history of philosophy began in a freshman seminar at Princeton University titled “Dante’s Inferno: A Guide to Hell and Back.” Chas went on to major in French and Italian with a minor in Medieval Studies and would win the Dante Society of America’s Dante Prize in 2017 for their essay “Slipping Through the Cracks: A Study of the Elusive Literal Reading of the Contrapasso for the Lustful” on the influence of Aristotle’s Meteorologica in Inferno V, the Gruppo Esponenti Senior Thesis Prize for their thesis “Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself: A Study of the Unity and Boundaries of Subject and Object in Dante’s Commedia,” and the Outstanding Work by a Senior in Literary Translation Award for producing a published translation of a short story by Italo Calvino in tandem with Jhumpa Lahiri for her Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories. Chas would go on to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton University and join the Phi Beta Kappa honor society before transitioning their studies to Oxford University for a Master’s in Medieval Studies with specializations in the history of philosophy and medieval and modern languages. Chas’s thesis was titled “Commensuratio and Dimensive Quantity in the Commedia: Thomas Aquinas’ Principle of Individuation in Dante’s Portrayal of Immaterial Beings,” for which they would receive a mark of distinction and the highest degree classification for their Master’s overall. Chas then returned to the United States to begin their Ph.D. at Columbia, where they have thus far received an M.A. and an M.Phil., with their qualifying exam combining the departments of Italian, philosophy, and religion for research topics including Aristotelian and Neoplatonic philosophy in Dante, Identity and Aristotle, and Synthesis and Heterodoxy in Medieval Theology and Philosophy.
During their time at Columbia, Chas has been a teaching fellow in the Italian language sequence for four semesters, a teaching observation fellow at the Center for Teaching and Learning, an academic administration fellow for the Office of Academic Affairs, a research assistant in the English and comparative literature department, and a tutor for the Italian department. Chas has also worked as an authenticity reader for an off-Broadway production titled The Tyrannicides, adapting the story of the same name from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.