The Problem of Distraction

The Problem of Distraction

by Paul North


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We live in an age of distraction. Contemporary analyses of culture, politics, techno-science, and psychology insist on this. They often suggest remedies for it, or ways to capitalize on it. Yet they almost never investigate the meaning and history of distraction itself. This book corrects this lack of attention. It inquires into the effects of distraction, defined not as the opposite of attention, but as truly discontinuous intellect. Human being has to be reconceived, according to this argument, not as quintessentially thought-bearing, but as subject to repeated, causeless blackouts of mind.

The Problem of Distraction presents the first genealogy of the concept from Aristotle to the largely forgotten, early twentieth-century efforts by Kafka, Heidegger, and Benjamin to revolutionize the humanities by means of distraction. Further, the book makes the case that our present troubles cannot be solved by recovering or enhancing attention. Not-always-thinking beings are beset by radical breaks in their experience, but in this way they are also receptive to what has not and cannot yet be called experience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804786874
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 02/12/2012
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Paul North is Assistant Professor of German at Yale University.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Prologue: Primal Distraction 1

1 Not-Always-Thinking / Aristotle 17

2 A Face for Distraction / La Bruyère 37

3 Labyrinth of Pure Reflection / Kafka 74

4 Dissipation-Power-Transcendence / Heidegger 109

5 Time Wears Away / Benjamin 143

Epilogue: Distraction and Politics 175

Notes 185

Works Cited 219

Index 229

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