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January 21, 2006

First Person?

My first person is currently typing into his Palm, sitting in a dark-wood chair, surrounded by white-washed walls, about 20 meters from a huge lake just a bit northwest of the southern tip of India. (The tsunami had to hang a quick right to get near here, but still managed to kill about 160 people.)

A couple of hours ago his pre-dawn tossin' and turnin' -- as the overhead-fan mixed the thick air -- produced an idea, one that feels large by the standards of his circumscribed world. This idea enabled him to sketch out -- for the first time -- the somewhat more ambitious structure he had been contemplating for the book.

A bit on that idea in another post. The question I'm dealing with now is whether a few small slots in that new scheme should be reserved for that first person -- aka "me."

Do readers -- potentially "you," if you haven't had your fill of this stuff -- want to know, for example, whether their author had his own irreligious epiphany and from what religion he might conceivably be "ir"?

Should there be personal anecdotes?

** "The first time I realized how uncomfortable discussions of atheism could become was when I...."

** Our intrepid book writer manages to locate the site of Bonner's Field -- the outdoor meeting area in London, where, in the mid-19th-century, religious and irreligious freely held forth.

My first person -- who, mind you, wrote a whole book once without ever using the word "I" -- is now watching a cloud-muted dawn attempt to return greens and pinks to the lush landscape. And he ("I") is ("am") currently feeling awfully self-satisfied, on account of this new organizational idea.

Yo, second persons! Do you ("you") care?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at January 21, 2006 8:13 PM


I think I do, personally, if you mean for the book to be popularly accessible. At least at some point in the book, if only a prologue. I like the idea of knowing where a writer's passion comes from. And, frankly, getting some idea of their grounding, the things that are going to color the work. You will have your own unique view on all of this, different from other atheists and humanists, different from religionists...so knowing where you are coming from could help frame the book for the reader.

I've always thought that Carl Sagan had a knack for including that First Person in his books. It came up at great moments, usually to invoke that sense of passion -- two of my favorite Sagan moments are his meditation on seeing Broca's brain in a jar, and his musing about the conciousness of a spider in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.

Posted by: Gregory at January 21, 2006 9:42 PM

great question. i think the concept of purely objective analysis is pretty well debunked by this point in our post-modern world. consequently, i find i'm much more interested in reading pieces where the author reveals facets of their experience and personalities relevant to the subject.

Posted by: bob stein at January 22, 2006 11:38 AM

i also thnk that for many people, atheists are passion-less humans, coldly rational and logic, like mr. spock or something. to see emotion and personal experience, a life passion, coming from an atheist, and being used intelligently and sensitively to support a larger dicussion of atheism -- this seems all good to me.

Posted by: rie at January 25, 2006 8:29 PM

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