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Paying Attention

In response to:

Divine Drudgery from the May 12, 2011 issue

To the Editors:

David Foster Wallace announces in the first sentence of the paragraph quoted in Jonathan Raban’s review of The Pale King [NYR, May 12] that his subject is the ability to pay attention. Paying attention is the basic method of meditation and of Gestalt therapy, disciplines in which one does little but pay attention. The process can be increasingly difficult and boring, until, they say, it isn’t.

Wallace isn’t talking about service; he says nothing about “ennobling toil” (what is ennobling about watching televised golf?) or any other kind of toil. Nothing about salvation. The only goal implied is the attainment of ecstatic bliss. En route, supposedly, one realizes one’s responsibility for one’s own boredom.

Paying attention is an ability, as Wallace recognizes, that requires high discipline to acquire. It isn’t undertaken in the hope of earning merit by self-abasement, but of learning something that is said to be useful in any case and possibly transcendent. Whether it enables levitation may be beyond the bounds of proof.

Cliff Barney
Aptos, California

Kurt von Meier
Professor Emeritus California State University
Sacramento, California

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