Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Charles B. Guignon, Ph.D.


Consciousness, Gelassenheit, Heidegger, Phenomenology, Waiting


Contemporary studies of the phenomenon of attention uncritically suppose that the only way to go about observing attention is as a modification of consciousness. Consciousness is taken to be always intentional, i.e., distinguished by reference to an object-whether physical or not-toward which it is directed. Observers of attention therefore assume that attention is an intentional modification of consciousness. Such practices of observation, in virtue of the kinds of practices that they are, take for granted that the fundamental constituents of reality are subjects and objects.

Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger (and Maurice Merleau-Ponty after them) discovered that belief in the world as divided into subjects and objects is merely a convenience designed for the purpose of making a certain kind of sense of experience intelligible-a belief that operates as a controlling assumption which forces the world, if it is to be intelligible, to show up under the oppressively confined ontology that was originally introduced merely as an observational convenience. My work contributes to the prevalent literature an examination of these presuppositions by reconsidering what the landscape of attention studies would look like without the importation of the confinement of a world reduced to subjects in interaction with objects. I do this first by returning to the fundamental and yet strangely forgotten insights into the question that Husserl and Heidegger provided.

Then I explore through some of the autobiographical work of Virginia Woolf, Simone Weil, and Pascal a pathway by which we might think differently about what it is to pay attention. I conclude that attention might also be understood as a kind of waiting that does not specify an object, but rather a posture, a way of being that necessarily manifests itself prior to any sort of prejudged or anticipated object. The contribution of my work will serve the community of observers of attention by forcing them to explain what it is to pay attention without reliance on the subject-object distinction.