Saturday, March 1, 2008

Attention vs. Application

I've just finished John Hellman's Simone Weil: An Introduction to Her Thought, a lovely little book about the French philosopher/resistance fighter/Marxist/Christian mystic who I find extremely stimulating. Anyway, in the second-to-last chapter I ran across Weil's concept of attention, which relates to many of her spiritual ideas but also applies strikingly to writing:

"Most often attention is confused with a kind of muscular effort. If one says to one's pupils: 'Now you must pay attention,' one sees them contracting their brows, holding their breath, stiffening their muscles. If after two minutes they are asked what they have been paying attention to, they cannot reply. They have been concentrating on nothing. They have not been paying attention. They have been contracting their muscles.
Twenty minutes of concentrated, untired attention is infinitely better than three hours of the kind of frowning application that leads us to say with a sense of duty done: 'I have worked well.'" (Hellman, 85) (I wonder, do I have to cite my sources on this? I'm so entrenched in MLA format.)

"Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty, and ready to be penetrated by the object. . . Our thought should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything, but ready to receive the object in its naked truth. . . We do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them but by waiting for them." (Hellman, 86)

Now, of course, the real question is how to go about doing that. Well, I think what she's saying is that application means focusing on trying to focus, and attention means not trying anything at all, and focusing as a result. I hope this helps you guys as much as it's helping me. That's all for now. I'm off to go not-trying.


Temporary Home

This blogsite is our temporary home while our website undergoes an extreme makeover of epic proportions (shifted septums, pacemakers, calf implants, dialysis, a fancy wig, contacts -- the works).

This was our old home, and while it is a bit dated, it's a good source of info regarding recent issues and the history of Prism Review.

Updates will follow regarding our new home. ETA summer 2009.