An Internet of Smoke, Dust and Attention: Exchanges between Jeroen van Loon, Despina Catapoti and Fronto

How can I expect anyone to read these daily posts of Minus Plato? Whenever someone comes up to me and says that they have read some posts, but they cannot keep up on a daily basis, I always tell them that there is no way I would expect anyone to read Minus Plato every day, it is such an excessive project, that I am just happy that they read it at all. There are so many demands on our attention that I am grateful to every single reader who takes the time to engage with Minus Plato. As Simone Weil wrote (and I have a variation of the phrase on the back of a t-shirt):

Attention is the highest form of generosity.

This generosity of attention was a key theme in a talk delivered by Despina Catapoti as part of the Liquid Antiquity: A New Fold early last month in Athens. In discussing “Attention economy and the “classical”, Catapoti describes the medium of the book Liquid Antiquity in terms of both Barthes’ concept of the ideal text and the form of the hypertext:

Interestingly, Liquid Antiquity would not only constitute an ideal textual medium to the eyes of Roland Barthes; with its “refusal to be contained, in its sublime excess, but also in its strange and persistent capacities to make connections” (Holmes 2017: 59), the volume’s structure bears very close similarities to a digital text (or more simply a hyper-text).

Catapoti proceeds to examine this hypertextual aspect of LLiquid Antiquity, in terms of the recent book by Yves Citton The Ecology of Attention, 2017. Citton’s main argument, according to Catapoti, is that the hypertextual condition (including the digital realm) represents a strange kind of marketplace where everything has equal value and everything is equally valueless. In this marketplace, Catapoti continues, information itself no longer matters; what matters instead, is the guarantee of its (transient) visibility.

At this moment in her talk, Catapoti introduced an illustration of her reading of Citton in the work An Internet by artist. If you have the time, you can follow her argument in the video below, as well as see van Loon’s work in action in the video beneath that.

For now, thinking about Catapoti’s argument and van Loon’s work, I am reminded of a series of letters by the Roman author Fronto, written to the emperor Marcus Aurelius in 139 CE. As a rhetorical exercise, Fronto offers consecutive eulogies of Smoke and Dust and of Negligence. I have copy and pasted the whole section of these letters below, beneath the videos. You will no doubt find it to be an excessive quotation that I doubt you will have time or inclination to read through. But if you do, perhaps you will be able to share in the comments section of this post how Fronto is engaged with some of the concerns of Catapoti’s discussion of attention and van Loon’s An Internet.

7. I will therefore praise gods who are indeed not much in evidence in the matter of praises, but are very much in evidence in the experience and life of men, Smoke and Dust, without whom neither altars, nor hearths, nor highways, as people say, nor paths can be used. But if any cavil at this, whether Smoke can be counted among gods, let him consider that Winds too are held to be gods and though they can scarcely be distinguished from Smoke, Clouds and Mists, are reckoned goddesses and are seen in the sky, and according to the poets gods “are clad in clouds,” and a cloud shielded from onlookers Jove and Juno as they couched. Again, and this is a property peculiar to the divine nature, you cannot grasp smoke in the hand any more than sunlight, nor bind nor beat nor keep it in nor, if there be the slightest chink open, shut it out.

Fronto to his own Caesar.

1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . For those, who are too anxious in the performance of their duties, rely too little on friendship. . . . . . . . . . I have taken upon myself to indite the praises of Negligence, and the reason why I have never to this day indited them, that too, as the subject demands, I neglect to give. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .is checked by self-control. Generally too is the mildness praised, which readily pardons the sins of men, but unless you good-naturedly neglect offences, you are not likely to deal over mildly with them.

2. A man may think negligence to be unsafe and exposed to dangers, but my view is clean contrary, that it is diligence which is much much more liable to perils. For there is not one who takes the trouble to lay traps for negligence, judging that even without a trap it would be easy work to take in a negligent man always and everywhere and at pleasure: against the diligent, however, and the wide-awake and those who watch over their wealth, wiles and deceptions and traps are made ready. So general is it for negligence to be safeguarded by contempt, diligence to be assailed by craft. Mistakes too, committed through negligence are more readily pardoned and for kindnesses so done a more gracious gratitude is felt. For that a man in all other respects neglectful should not have neglected to do a kindness in season is from its unexpectedness grateful.3. Now the famous golden age celebrated by the poets, if you think over it, you will find to have been the age of negligence, when the earth neglected bore rich crops and, without trouble taken, provided all the requisites of life to those who neglected it. These arguments shew that negligence comes of good lineage, is pleasing to the Gods, commended by

the wise, has her share of virtues, is the teacher of mildness, shielded from traps, welcomed in well-doing, pardoned in faults, and, finally, pronounced golden. Who pray prevents us from painting-in much colour from the paint-box of our friend Favorinus ? The more a woman relies on her looks, the more easily does she neglect her complexion and her coiffure; but with most women it is because they distrust their beauty that all the alluring devices which care can discover are brought into being that they may particularly adorn themselves.

4. The myrtle and the box and all the other shrubs and bushes that submit to the shears, accustomed as they are to being most diligently and carefully pruned, watered, and trimmed, creep on the ground, or raise their tops but little over the soil where they stand; but those unshorn firs and neglected pines hide their aspiring heads amid the clouds.

5. Lions are not so diligent in seeking their food and procuring their prey as ants, while spiders are more diligent in weaving than any Penelope or Andromache. And altogether insignificant abilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . How small a part, I ask you, of the Lucullan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


One thought on “An Internet of Smoke, Dust and Attention: Exchanges between Jeroen van Loon, Despina Catapoti and Fronto

  1. Rick Livingston

    Enough Music
    By Dorianne Laux

    Sometimes, when we’re on a long drive,
    and we’ve talked enough and listened
    to enough music and stopped twice,
    once to eat, once to see the view,
    we fall into this rhythm of silence.
    It swings back and forth between us
    like a rope over a lake.
    Maybe it’s what we don’t say
    that saves us.

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