In our digital and interconnected world, attention is more important than ever, particularly for writers, scholars and artists, and yet it’s also a cognitive resource under unprecedented strain. As this book (published by Oxford University Press) shows, to truly understand the contested status of attention today, we need to put this faculty into a wider historical context.
This interdisciplinary study explores the highly contested role of attention and its adversary, distraction, from the eighteenth century to the present. It looks at the origins of debates about (in)attention in Enlightenment moral hygiene literature and nineteenth-century experimental psychology, before turning to its role in twentieth-century literature, thought, music and photography. As it argues, attention took on a unique and precarious role in interwar Germany and Austria in the face rapid social change and political crisis; its status in these precarious times still resonates with us today.