How does the History of Ideas “Move”? Metaphors that are going somewhere.

Thought moves. Whether with fluidity or rigidity, the movements of thought may remind us of the movements within Glenn Gould’s performance of Mozart’s Sonata No. 10 in C Major: rising and falling, bifurcating – a strange mirage of continuity and discontinuity. The movement of thought can also be articulated rhythmically, like the hammering of the blacksmith: steady, repetitious, with a form in mind.

These forms continually flow in and out of each other. The writing of intellectual history mirrors and plays with these movements also, for the writing of a history of thought is a self-reflexive articulation of thought: thought folded back on itself.

Instead of plotting a point, discussing only a single articulation of attention; instead of systematizing a concept, attempting to find something atemporal and independent of the knowing subject, something that is not a process but a structure; instead, we attempt to plot a multiplicity points of transformation. We seek the processes that lead to our present concepts. We seek to find the “curve” which runs throughout attention’s multiple, historical manifestations. A calculus of attention.

This curve, in fact, opens up a full space for thinking “attention”, and also carves out a path, placing us within a tradition. A tradition, like any form of history, is constructed, in-part, by the wanderer’s attention. For a topic as precarious as attention, we trample a precarious path, not one already well-trodden, on which we are tempted to simply follow others with heavier steps. These roads can be often washed-out.

Reassessing the past requires we, often, seek out the cattle-paths of thought, paths worn-in for more complex reasons than simply Progress. We seek those past instances of scientific thought that, while no longer considered legitimate in the history of a “science”, greatly affected the processes of its arrival. But we must be careful. On the one hand, these cattle-paths often threaten to, because of their particularity and location, forbid our entry, and, on the other hand, they threaten to close behind us once we’ve passed within them, for the forest will be dense.


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