Friday, April 02, 2010

Anne Bogart on attention

Here's a quote from Anne Bogart that I came across today. It's taken from a longer blog entry on her SITI Extended Ensemble website:
What we pay attention to creates our experience of the world and this experience, in turn, determines who we become. You see what you look for. We are always surrounded by a myriad of stimuli and information. Any given moment presents a great deal to chose from, multiple aspects of the world vying for our attention. Using the tool of our attention, we hone in on what is useful in the present moment. We have to because we cannot take everything in. Without limiting our attention, we would be afflicted by an overwhelming information overload. This is why each person experiences the same situation in vastly different ways; we each pay attention to different aspects of the world around us. Our attention can be habitual or scattered but it is possible to guide attention consciously via the brain’s executive function: the frontal cortex. Without consciously guiding attention, we are victim to our habitual perceptions of the world. Via habit, for example, we may zone in on the defeatist negative attractions around us, our sense of failure and ineptitude that multiplies and then becomes our reality. But, on the other hand, we can train ourselves to attend to the beautiful things waiting to be noticed. We can become curious and push the perceptions outward towards the surrounding world and society. We can see the miracle of life around us. We can be altered and saved by the situation in which we find ourselves.
In classes I find I'm constantly asking students to practice noticing and attending to aspects of their experience, and to attempt to describe or account for what they notice in as much detail as possible. What is it? What did you see? How was it done? This is based, in large part, on Al Wunder's 'Philosophy of Positive Feedback,' and it is, as Bogart explains, an attempt to train students (and myself) to be attentive, to notice, and to thereby seek out and focus on that which is most interesting, most intriguing, most beautiful.

It's also an important ethic when seeking to be sensitive to the impact and consequences of one's actions in the world. Drew Leder, writing in The Absent Body, explains how, in perceiving the world around us, our sensing bodies disappear, being ecstatic in nature and therefore absent, away from us. He finishes his chapter 'The Ecstatic Body' with a wonderful paragraph:
As I go through the day, my extended body ebbs and flows, now absorbing things, now casting them back onto shore. I do not notice my body, but neither do I, for the most part, notice the bed on which I sleep, the clothes I wear, the chair on which I sit down to breakfast, the car I drive to work. I live in bodies beyond bodies, clothes, furniture, room, house, city, recapitulating in ever expanding circles aspects of my corporeality. As such, it is not simply my surface organs that disappear but entire regions of the world with which I dwell in intimacy. (35)
The art I value most is that which reminds me of those regions of the world with which I dwell in intimacy and yet never seem to notice.

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