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First Person/Third Person

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Organizer: Theo Davis

Co-Organizer: Josh Kotin

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Basketball players know when they get the hot hand—when making a basket increases the likelihood of making the next. Yet as the authors of “The Hot Hand in Basketball” (1985) demonstrate, “there is no evidence for a positive correlation between the outcomes of successive shots.” The hot hand is a “cognitive illusion.”

The hot hand is one of myriad ways that our first-person experience deceives us. Sometimes the deception has significant consequences. Yet first-person experience is the source of our deepest commitments and our most influential literature. It is integral to what it means to be human.

This proposed ACLA seminar explores the relationship between first- and third-person perspectives. We are especially interested in what literature—and specific literary texts—tell us about ways of valuing first-person experience. Does literature provide an especially fine-grained account of first-person experience? Can the category “first person” even apply to literary representations? Is impersonality in literature a kind of objectivity? How do literature and literary study contribute to the research on subjectivity and objectivity that defines fields across the humanities and social sciences. Are our terms—“first person” and “third person,” “subjective” and “objective”—sufficient? Or should we adopt different terms to discuss the complexity of our knowledge about the world and ourselves, and how literature reveals it?

Literature, like the hot hand, generates cognitive illusions that call for further explanation. Such explanation, we believe, can aid us in defining and pursuing work on literature in a climate that favors the third-person methodologies of the sciences and social sciences over the first-person methodologies of literary creation and interpretation.

We welcome proposals for papers on any aspect of the topic. But please write one of the organizers before submitting.

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