The Attention Cluster is a group of faculty who meet under the auspices of Experimental Humanities to discuss the question “What is Attention?” in contemporary life as well as in the context of a liberal arts education. Members come from a wide range of disciplines and programs in the college, including theater, literary studies, psychology, biology, religious studies, visual arts, history, and more.
We ask how and whether the dichotomy of “attention vs. distraction” describes our present situation in the context of the digital age, as well as how we can move beyond this opposition and towards a more nuanced framework for understanding a spectrum of different types of attention and our relationships to them. In our work, we want to explore how different types of attention may be beneficial for different tasks, and to think creatively about how awareness of multiple types of attention might inform our personal lives, our professional work, and our teaching. Rather than trying to devise a “fix” for struggles with attention, we aim to turn a clear eye onto our own everyday practices and to learn from a variety of disciplines, professional fields, artistic forms, and ways of life. What might we find if we put athletes, performing artists, musicians, cooks, religious practitioners, and more into conversation?
As faculty and staff at a liberal arts institution, we are interested in exploring the assumptions about attention that are embedded in the undergraduate liberal arts experience, and further, how what we learn here might speak to social concerns beyond the academy. Bard calls itself “A Place to Think,” so we believe that it is necessary to interrogate and investigate more carefully just how we think, what it means to think, and how different modes of thinking can inform each other. And, as we strive to deepen our understanding of these issues, we also hope to nurture a new sense of agency as we decide when, where, and how to pay attention.
Most recently, we were centrally involved in planning the daylong “Cultivating Arts of Attention” unconference on Bard’s campus (April 2019), introduced a number of intergenerational dialogues and activities about attention into our courses (Spring 2019), and are now planning a series of intensive readings and discussions within the group for Fall 2019.