07 July 2011

Of Distraction

In my contemporary world so much exists that distracts me from attending to more immediate matters. Immediate matters? I guess I might define these ‘immediate, or insistent matters’ as the physical and emotional attachments that bond me to the things of this world. For me, these “immediate or insistent matters” are those things in the world for which I accept responsibility. (I thought to say “that these immediate or insistent matters represent those things in the world,” but in fact, these immediate or insistent matters represent nothingthey are the things in this world). Immediate or insistent matters are those events (or even, potential events) that obligate me to the world. Thus, to be distracted is to actively avoid those connections. 
Distraction is not boredom, nor even the result of boredom. Indeed, distraction functions to avoid boredom because boredom presents a threat to the one who would be distracted. In boredom the world is much with me late and soon and invites my active presence, but when I enter distraction, it is the world I mean to escape. I distract myself to escape engaging with the world that boredom presents. Distraction removes me from the immediacy of events to which I should attend; in distraction I move away from that which draws me. When I experience boredom, I am totally free and await that to which my desire moves me. In distraction, I am enchained because in distraction I am compelled at not insignificant cost to avoid my pressing matters. When I am distracted I simply and yet with some energy search out activity that takes me away from the complexities of those immediate or insistent matters. When distracted I engage in choice but only under some compulsion: the Lady or the Tiger. If boredom is a holding environment in which I calmly await the igniting of desire, then distraction frantically avoids being held at all. Boredom awaits complexity; distraction avoids it.  Distractions are exhausting and deplete all of my energy, and I think that boredom conserves. Within boredom, one need not make a decision to act until desire motivates some action, but in distraction one avoids desire by engaging in random activity; boredom invites and distraction vetoes. Boredom maintains desire even when the subject doesn’t know that she desires, and distraction smothers it. That is, desire is the pilot light; when I am ready to cook something I use it to light the burner.  Boredom ensures that the pilot light remains lit. But distraction sends me out to the fast-food restaurant or to the bags of junk food in my kitchen cabinets so I can remain disengaged. 
Unlike boredom that is a waiting, distraction is an act of avoidance. When I distract myself I engage in an activity that takes me away from those things that fulfill me. Distraction is an anxiety that cloaks my emotional self. When I distract myself I attend to an activity that enables a forgetting of that which troubles me. Distraction removes me even from the emotions of others. Distraction leads to obsession and then I am lost. 
In “Of Idleness,” Montaigne writes that he discovered that in idleness he lacked structure, and that in this statein idlenesshis thoughts produced so many chimeras and fantastic monsters “that in order to contemplate [the] ineptitude and strangeness (of his thoughts) I have begun to put them in writing, hoping in time to make my mind ashamed of itself.” That is, Montaigne meant to write himself to serenity. Now, I think that the idleness referred to by Montaigne is akin to my idea of boredom; when one is idle one is quiet and at some kind of rest. One waits expectantly. And so I would consider that Montaigne’s writing would be not a distraction from life but the activity in life to which his desire led.  In fact, the writing that arose out of the state of his idleness returned him to that which most concerned him: his immediate or insistent matters. Montaigne’s essays concern his many attachments to the things of this world. Many of us distract ourselves to avoid the chimeras and fantastic monsters, but Montaigne used his writing to engage with and to domesticate them. 
I wonder if this motivation was one of Freud’s purposes in elaborating his dreams on paper. Aside from his not inconsiderable pseudo-scientific purpose, the writing tamed his wild, unmanageable and seemingly pointless dreams. 
I think now that my dear friend Gary is one of the least distracted people I have even known.


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