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(Hybrid) Thursday 19: The Attention Economy with Graham Burnett and Justin Smith

Thu 19 October 2023 @ 19 h 30 - 20 h 30


Have we lost our ability to pay attention? Faced with a world designed to distract us, how can we control what we see and how we see it?

As the speed of the world increases, technology develops, and companies hone their abilities to steal our time and our gaze, do we still own our attention? In In Search of the Third Bird, scholars D. Graham Burnett and Justin Smith transform their attention anxiety into a historical study of literary, psychological, philosophical, and artistic approaches to attention. From attention to the world, each other, and ourselves, they imagine a new artistic order capable of re-awakening viewers to their own innate desire to look at length. Join them as they propose a strategy of resistance toward the commodification of our curiosity, celebrating the miraculous possibility of awe. The conversation will be moderated by Russell Williams. 

About the speakers:

Justin Smith is a historian and philosopher of science. A professor at the University of Paris, Smith is the author of Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason (2019), The Philosopher: A History in Six Types (2016), and Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life (2011).

Born in France, based in New York City, D. Graham Burnett trained in the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University and teaches at Princeton. He works at the intersection of historical inquiry and artistic practice, and his writing and collaborations focus on experimental/experiential approaches to textual material, pedagogical modes, and hermeneutic activities traditionally associated with the research humanities. Recent projects include THE THIRD, MEANING at the Frye Art Museum (Seattle, WA).

Russell Williams teaches in the Comparative Literature and English department at the American University of Paris. He is also French editor at the Times Literary Supplement and is currently writing a book called French Weird.

Learn more:

In an interview with the Princeton Humanities Council about the book, Burnett stated that the problem of attention is “an issue we saw as charged with immense contemporary importance in the context of the emerging ‘attention economy.’”  Read the full interview here

Burnett worked with Yale art historians to develop an accompanying art installation, THE THIRD, MEANING at the Frye Art Museum. This exhibit “circles the power and complexity” of the human faculty of attention: “our ability to give attention, and to receive what it gives; the power to land in front of anything, and wait upon everything.” Learn more here.

In Search of the Third Bird has inspired attention activism. Learn about the Friends of Attention and read their Twelve Theses on Attention, published in an effort to reclaim our own ability to notice the world around us.

Important information: The discussion will be available both online and in person. While the conversation will happen in person (the authors will appear in the Reading Room), the Library will stream the conversation on Zoom for a live viewing experience. Both in-person and online attendees will be able to pose questions.

Attendance at this event constitutes permission for your photograph or video to be taken at the event and used by the American Library in Paris for marketing, promotional, pedagogical, or other purposes.

Evenings with an Author are free and open to the public (with a 10€ suggested donation)
thanks to the generous support of Gregory Annenberg Weingarten of GRoW @ Annenberg.


Thu 19 October 2023
19 h 30 min - 20 h 30 min
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(Hybrid) Thursday 19: The Attention Economy with Graham Burnett and Justin Smith
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