How to live?: Pay attention

Small group but lively discussion about Bakewell’s second chapter, with everyone pointing out what should have been obvious to the reader in this context, but was not to this obtuse reader: that Bakewell contrasts the laudatory way that Montaigne pays attention with the inattention of the ordinary person without seeming to consider the other contrast: namely, with the constant, vigilant attention to what might normally pass without notice that prison demands, for example, to what every passerby is doing with his hands. It’s exhausting. To be sure the men get crucial information they’d otherwise dangerously lack, but the need for it reflects something intrinsically bad and abnormal about prison life. It put me in mind of the time early on in my career at the prison when on a bitterly cold night I ran from the gate I’d just been put through to the pick up van 50 yards away. One does not run in the prison yard, no matter how natural it might otherwise seem in punishing weather conditions. Of course as soon as the guard who yelled from the van said it it made perfect sense…

The men were also intrigued by the differences among paying attention, reflecting on what one had noticed, and writing down (or writing about?) what one had noticed. And yes, Montaigne’s essays inspire them to think about the everyday, and the fact that anybody can in theory at least do it. Pay attention, that is.

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