IGEL conference: Perspective taking in literature

Marissa Bertolussi and Peter Dixon reported on an experiment about perspective-taking when reading fiction.  The question is how effortful perspective-taking is; the assumption seen sometimes is that perspective-taking is basically effortless.  The experiment manipulates, through interruption of the reading experience, that effort.  Interestingly, their interpretations of the findings involved their own perspective-taking of the reader.  In designing the experiment they had assumed the perspective-taking would be of one character or the other, but as they interpreted results they started to think that readers may also be taking the perspective of the third person narrator.  Interesting. Reminded me of a story “The Lesson,” published in The New Yorker long ago, by Jessamyn West, about a steer named Curly, where the story shifts perspective from the boy to his sister. Very subtle.  The essence of literariness, too, that the writer skillfully changes perspective.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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