Attention for Distraction: Modernity, Modernism and Perception

  • Ernst van Alphen Leiden University
Keywords: distraction, attention, modernity, modernism, abstraction


Particularly in the latter half of the nineteenth century sensorial experiences changed at breakneck speed. Social and technological developments of modernity like the industrial revolution, rapid urban expansion, the advance of capitalism and the invention of new technologies transformed the field of the senses. Instead of attentiveness, distraction became prevalent. It is not only Baudelaire who addressed these transformations in his poems, but they can also be recognized in the works of novelist Gustave Flaubert and painter Edward Munch. By means of the work of William James, Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer and Georg Simmel, the repercussions of this crisis of the senses for subjectivity will be discussed.


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Author Biography

Ernst van Alphen, Leiden University

Ernst van Alphen is Professor of Literary Studies at Leiden University. His publications include Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self (Harvard UP), Caught By History: Holocaust Effects in Art, Literature, and Theory (Stanford UP), Art In Mind: How Contemporary Images Shape Thought (U of Chicago P), Staging the Archive: Art and Photography in Times of New Media (Reaktion Books). The following book is in press: Failed Im­ages: Photography Beyond Dominant Practices.


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How to Cite
van Alphen, E. (2017). Attention for Distraction: Modernity, Modernism and Perception. Text Matters: A Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture, (7), 87-97.