Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Attention Deficit and the Balance Sheet of Being

"To pay attention, to attend. To be present, not merely in body — it is an action of the spirit. ‘Attend my words’ means incline your spirit to my words. Heed them. A sentence is a track along which heeding is drawn. A painting is a visual path that looking follows. A musical composition does the same for listening. Art is a summoning of attention. To create it requires the highest directed focus, as does experiencing it.
     The French philosopher Simone Weil said: ‘Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.’ To attend, etymologically, is to ‘stretch toward,' to seek with one’s mind and senses. Paying attention is striving toward, thus presupposing a prior wanting, an expectation. We look at a work of art and hope to meet it with our looking; we already have a notion of something to be had, gotten. Reading, at those times when reading matters, we let the words condition an expectation and move toward it.
     …Marcel Proust wrote somewhere that love begins with looking, and the idea is suggestive. But if that’s the case, the reverse might also be: that true looking begins with love.
     There’s the quote that I used to repeat like a mantra to writing students, from Flaubert: ‘Anything becomes interesting if you look at it long enough.’ Again, the distinctions, the questions of priority. Is it that the looked-at thing becomes interesting, or that its intrinsic interest gradually emerges? Is the power in the negotiable thing or in the act of looking? If the latter, then the things of the world are already layered with significance, and looking is merely the action that discloses."
— Sven Birkerts, Aeon
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