Kings Review – Distraction 2018
by Kings Review€14.00
Formed by graduate students at King’s Cambridge, KR is an interdisciplinary magazine that exists to promote accessible writing underpinned by long-term, rigorous research. KR was founded to provide a new kind of debate breaking pay-walls of journals and concrete walls of specialised jargon. Its vision is to ‘engage academia’: we use the analytical power of academic thought to present a grounded perspective on current events.
KR combines the sustained, detailed investigation central to academic work with longform journalism – accessible, but sacrificing nothing in the way of depth and discernment. We curate strands, built around issues of contemporary importance, that allow writers, editors and readers to participate in ongoing conversations.
Distraction can be either a plight or a pleasure. This is part of its rather original difficulty. To be distracted is, at its simplest, to be divided. To be distracted is to find oneself pulled to more than one object at once, or from one object to another; implicitly, to be attending fully to neither.
In earlier centuries, distraction often meant insanity (‘Enter Ophelia, Distracted’). A shade of this meaning lingers when we experience distraction as an unwilled tendency: a compromise to volition. Distraction, of course, can also be an alibi or excuse on the grounds of an essential human susceptibility to becoming engaged — accidentally — elsewhere. Here, distraction is a liberty, a vital expression of our own multiplicity and the multiplicity of our interests.
Distraction sits on the threshold of a definite gravitation toward pleasure or pain, and its sense of dividedness extends to its own moral equivocation. The word ‘distraction’ borrows from the French ‘divertissement’, to mean a diversion or mental relaxation. In some contexts, it seduces us. You might find someone distractingly beautiful. Or, their beauty might drive you to distraction. A different thing again. Distractions are opposed to the willed attention we associate with serious pursuits: religious devotion and its secular forms, say, work and monogamy. Yet a world without distractions sounds like tyranny. The language of attention, after all, is transactional: attention is something we pay or owe, suggesting in turn that to attend is to comply with a given logic of obligation. Which of course suggests that it is something we might want to resist.