Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Since the invention of the World Wide Web in 1990 and the commercialization of the internet, numerous scholars and cultural critics have interrogated the cultural and economic role of attention, as both a psychobiological ability and a psychosocial good. In particular, commentators from many disciplines posit contested theories of an attention economy, a socioeconomic regime in which, since information and communications technologies make information abundant, the attention needed to acquire information becomes the world's most scarce economic resource. This dissertation argues that a parallel body of postmodernist narratives has emerged from the same conditions, in which technologies of attention enmesh individuals in illegible systems of production, consumption, surveillance, and thought management. Intensified strategies for focusing individual and collective attention are essential components of these narratives, and thus attention, as a means and an end, plays a central role in dramatic tensions between power and resistance.
At a time of increased concern for what happens to the long narrative in the age of the text and tweet, my analyses of the film The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998), novels Glamorama (Bret Easton Ellis, 1998) and Dead Stars (Bruce Wagner, 2012), and graphic novel series Transmetropolitan (Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson, 1998-2003), explore both continuities and disjunctions in how different media represent this narrative, since diverse institutional codes dictate conditions of production and reception. Despite the different physiological, technological, temporal, and spatial demands these texts place upon their readers' attention, in the main they share an emblematic suspicion of attention's relationship to the governing institutions of American life, which ask subjects to attend to their bodies, minds, schedules and life objectives according to a digitized ideology of perpetual labor, consumerism, and efficiency. This dissertation also intervenes in debates about the value of close textual analysis, arguing that paying attention to narrative forms and themes forces readers to pay attention to the act of paying attention, increasingly important at a time when large institutions find new ways to monetize attention as a form of unpaid labor.
Copyright 2014 Robert William Albanese