Forms of Attention, Forms of Distraction (ASECS, March 2010)

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American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS)
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The last decade has seen a surge of scholarship on the history of mental states in the eighteenth century, including boredom, happiness, curiosity, and grief. Building on this growing interest in modes of mind, as well as recent developments in cognitive approaches to literature, media studies, and the history of the book, this panel investigates the paired states of mind, attention and distraction. In this session, we would like to bring together scholars from disciplines such as music, drama, history of science, philosophy, literature, and art to explore eighteenth-century theories of attention and distraction through a variety of genres (e.g. philosophical treatises, newspaper advertisements, sermons, plays, scientific displays, works of art). What aesthetic forms were imagined to engage (or interrupt) focus in the eighteenth century? How did cognitive faculties like attention and distraction form aesthetic experience? Or, conversely, did aesthetic experience form cognition?

Abstracts of 250-300 words should be sent by email to Natalie Phillips ( and Andrew Broughton ( by Sept. 15th, 2009.