Scenes of Attention: Essays on Mind, Time, and the Senses

Columbia University Press (2023)
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Are we paying enough attention? At least since the nineteenth century, critics have alleged a widespread and profound failure of attentiveness—to others, to ourselves, to the world around us, to what is truly worthy of focus. Why is there such great anxiety over attention? What is at stake in understanding attention and the challenges it faces? This book investigates attention from a range of disciplinary perspectives, including philosophy, history, anthropology, art history, and comparative literature. Each chapter begins with a concrete scene whose protagonists are trying—and often failing—to attend. Authors examine key moments in the history of the study of attention; pose attention as a philosophical problem; explore the links between attention, culture, and technology; and consider the significance of attention for conceptualizations of human subjectivity. Readers encounter nineteenth-century experiments in boredom, ornithologists conveying sound through field notations, wearable attention-enhancing prosthetics, students using online learning platforms, and inquiries into attention as a cognitive state and moral virtue. Amid mounting concern about digital mediation of experience, the rise of “surveillance capitalism,” and the commodification of attention, Scenes of Attention deepens the thinking that is needed to protect the freedom of attention and the forms of life that make it possible.



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