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Posted by on Oct 27, 2009

What am I reading now: The Economics of Attention

Besides the readings/texts for my program at the University of Edinburgh, I am reading a wonderful book called The Economics of Attention by Richard A. Lanham. This was recommended to me by my professor and I immediately bought it (and am subsequently devouring it). For you teachers out there, there are some (conceptually) applicable bits, but it is definitely more philosophical discourse (and I mean that in a very positive way).

It makes a case for the economy of attention (as opposed the economy of stuff) and the perpetual gaze (the centripetal gaze) of the populace, that construct of attention and meaning we pile on top of objects we perceive as beautiful (or indeed any emotion, positive or negative). It is a really engaging book on some level (my centripetal gaze is fixed firmly on it) and discusses the medium as conveyor of meaning (even the text of a book). He meanders all over the place to Dadaism to Duchamp (and his exhibition of a urinal and a bicycle wheel at an art exhibition to poke fun at the seriousness of art). Lanham is quoted below from the book:

You must look at it differently. Yes, we should indeed pay more attention to the utilitarian world, savor its beauty as beauty. But when you find yourself gazing at it worshipfully, Duchamp turns around and says, “It’s just a bicycle wheel, you silly jerk.” The final result is to make us oscillate back and forth between the physical world, stuff, and how we think about stuff. It makes us look at our own patterns of attention and the varieties of “seriousness” we construct atop them.

He also spends a lot of time with Christo, the artist who wraps everything (think the Reichstag and the most recent project in Central Park). Lanham actually spends much more time with a Christo project called Running Fences that was really intriguing.

Running Fences meandering throughout the Californian Coast

This fence was fully financed by Christo, involved years of legal permissions to build through private property, ran over 24 miles, plunged into the sea and was torn down after two weeks. It was designed to be temporary, but we still talk about it. The economics of stuff gave way to the economics of attention.

Running Fences plunging into the Pacific

It was a brilliant chapter and I really came to appreciate Christo’s ambition here. If you are interested, it worth the investment or you can take a look at Google Books.

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