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What must I pay attention to?

April 24, 2015

Apparently, having a baby takes up a lot of time–both because it requires so much attention (feeding, changing, comforting, lulling to sleep), and because it attracts so much of it. I never found babies particularly interesting until I had one, but it’s difficult to avoid staring at one’s infant for more time than seems reasonable.

Clearly “disinterested” is not the right word for the attention one pays to one’s infant. “Narcissistic” is tempting, but I’m not sure it’s appropriate either. It doesn’t seem, after all, as if one is looking to see oneself in the infant’s face. Rather, one wants to care about the infant as a person, and one looks for signs that it is a person.

The main attraction, perhaps, is the quasi-intelligibility of the infant’s face. Its expressions are like expressions we know how to read–smiles, frowns, smirks, glares, scowls, laughs–but these terms aren’t quite right, because the infant’s emotions don’t seem well enough defined for these terms to be applicable. We never succeed at “reading” the infant’s face, but we persist in the feeling that it could be read if we only saw what its point was. So we keep looking, hoping the next modulation will make it suddenly fall into place. The same, of course, could be said of the infant’s cooing: we wait in eager anticipation for it to turn into actual language.

This makes infant smiles and cooing sound a bit like music, which (some say) we enjoy because it’s language-like without actually making any sense; and perhaps this is also what we like about painting, which shows us faces (or face-like shapes) without giving us enough context to fully interpret them.


Anyway, combined with my attempts at a dissertation proposal, I haven’t had much time to write in this space. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t found other ways to procrastinate. I’ve also, for example, been reading Alan Jacobs’ “79 theses on technology”. There’s something ironic about this, given that they begin with:

1. Everything begins with attention.

2. It is vital to ask, “What must I pay attention to?”

3. It is vital to ask, “What may I pay attention to?”

4. It is vital to ask, “What must I refuse attention to?”

Still, the theses and the surrounding conversation have been sufficiently insightful that I think it’s reasonable of me to recommend them to your attention.


P.S. If 1-4 above didn’t sell you on the 79 theses, consider:

53. The physical world is not infinitely redescribable, but if you had to you could use a screwdriver to clean your ears.


One Comment leave one →
  1. April 30, 2015 11:21 am

    We have an eight-month-old in the house… I like the music analogy, it’s such a great way to describe what listening to her is like!

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