Chris Cuellar

Chris Cuellar, MFA Writing SAIC 2010, a participant of the first Abanonded Practices Institute this past summer 2009 wrote the following text on and towards A Future Abandoned Practice. He delivered this text on the last day of the 3 week Institute, Friday July 24th 2009.

In S/Z, Roland Barthes proposes the writerly text as the 'novelistic without the novel, poetry without the poem, the essay without the dissertation, writing without style, production without product, structuration without structure.'

In response to Matthew Goulish's invitation to speculate on a future abandoned practice, I predict (following Barthes) the discontinuation of the readerly text. The abandonment of the linear narrative, with definitive beginning, middle and end. The end of the author and critic as dictators of interpretation. Taking things a bit drastically, one can even imagine the abandonment of the single-channel attention span. Studies indicate that the typical web browser will have an average of ten to fifteen different web pages open in multiple tabs at any given time. And there's the anecdote about David Tudor, John Cage's long-time musical collaborator, in which he would turn on every TV in the house in order to practice the piano.

Watching and participating in the structures we all created, I thought of A.D.D.

Theorist Linda Stone coined the term 'continuous partial attention' to describe how many of us pay attention today. This is not to be confused with 'multi-tasking,' which results from a utilitarian desire to be more productive or efficient. Continuous partial attention springs from an emotional impulse, it is the desire to pay partial attention ­– continuously. She writes that it is 'motivated by a desire to be a live node on the an effort not to miss anything. It is an always-on, anywhere, any-time, any-place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis.’

Replace the word 'crisis' with 'comfort' and you have what's called 'ambient awareness.' But Stone's terminology hints at a more active process; in it, we find potential for the practice of a new kind of attention. A dutiful awareness of time as atmosphere rather than as a discrete series of events.

This kind of attention seems ideal for the content we've been creating as a group. Multiple and wildly diverging strands of work, thought and play, all laid out together in 15-inch long parallel lines. The 21-minute collaborative performance with a literal 'plurality of entrances.' Performance as 'atmosphere in action,' to borrow Lin Hixson's phrase. It could turn out that paying partial attention (continuously) is the best way to engage with the perpetual present of the 'writerly' performance.

And maybe this sort of awareness isn't really so new. A re-inspection of the abandoned practice of the commonplace book shows it to be yet another example of the future-past hybrid. Could the commonplace book be a more perfect match for our digital mentality of cut-copy-paste, of the always-on-anytime-anyplace? Reading over your own commonplace book is like re-reading every book you've ever read, over again, all at the same time.

'An attention span produces things that interest us and not the other way around.'
                                                                                                                                         (Tan Lin)

Continue Reading:

On Response by Matthew Goulish
Response by Mark Jeffery
A Commonplace Book by Daniel Sack
Performance Response by Daniel Sack