In her journalistic memoir Attention: A Love Story, Casey Schwartz participates in the technological lament, but the personal nature of her reflections allows her contribution to achieve something that The Shallows and The Attention Merchants cannot. Starting with her own addiction to Adderall and proceeding to investigate modern attempts to regain our lost attention, she plumbs the existential questions that underlie our collective escape into our screens. When we willingly cede our focus to Silicon Valley, she wonders, what is it that we are fleeing? What about the present moment makes it inadequate to the demands of our attention?
Christian contemplative prayer asks the same questions. The tradition that stretches from the Desert Fathers through the Spanish Mystics to Thomas Merton unites itself around the practice of silent prayer, which aims at, in Evelyn Underhill’s words, “the art of union with Reality.” Contemplation constantly calls our attention to the present moment to uncover the divine presence which animates it. Though Schwartz does not address the contemplative tradition directly in her book, she connects with it tangentially through her fascination with someone heavily influenced by it: the twentieth century thinker Simone Weil. Drawn to Weil’s insight that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” Schwartz is not content to situate attention inside the self; instead, she insists on the necessary link between attention and our moral obligations to others. In doing so her book opens a space for dialogue with the Christian mystical tradition.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor