Experimental Psychology as Bourgeois Ideology – Manufacturing Middleclass Mediocrity

Posted: January 23, 2019 in Uncategorized


Thus is manifested in the field of perception what in the theoretical sphere is noticeable in the increasing importance of statistics. The adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.

–Walter Benjamin


Suspensions of Perception is a major historical study of human attention and its volatile role in modern Western culture. It argues that the ways in which we intently look at or listen to anything result from crucial changes in the nature of perception that can be traced back to the second half of the nineteenth century.

Focusing on the period from about 1880 to 1905, Jonathan Crary examines the connections between the modernization of subjectivity and the dramatic expansion and industrialization of visual/auditory culture. At the core of his project is the paradoxical nature of modern attention, which was both a fundamental condition of individual freedom, creativity, and experience and a central element in the efficient functioning of economic and disciplinary institutions as well as the emerging spaces of mass consumption and spectacle.

Jonathan Crary is Meyer Schapiro Professor of Modern Art and Theory at Columbia University. A founding editor of Zone Books, he is the author of Techniques of the Observer (MIT Press, 1990) and coeditor of Incorporations (Zone Books, 1992). He has been the recipient of Guggenheim, Getty, Mellon, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

“Voici des fruits, des fleurs, de feuilles, et des branches . . . “

Claude Debussy–Ariettes Oubliees
(lyrics by Paul Verlaine)
“C’est L’Exstace”

Gabriel Faure–Melodies
“Apres un Reve”


“This curious state of inhibition can at least for a few moments be produced at will by fixing the eye on vacancy. . . . Monotonous mechanical activities that end by being automatically carried on tend to produce it. . . . The eyes are fixed on vacancy, the sounds of the world melt into confused unity, the attention becomes dispersed so that the whole body is felt, as it were, at once, and the foreground of consciousness is filled, if by anything, by a sort of solemn sense of surrender to the empty passing of time. In the dim background of our mind we know what we ought to be doing: getting up, dressing ourselves, answering the person who has spoken to us. . . . But somehow we cannot start. Every moment we expect the spell to break, for we know no reason why it should continue. But it does continue, pulse after pulse, and we float with it.”

–William James, Principles of Psychology, 1878


  1. Nick Canfield says:

    The small excerpt by Mallarmé discusses the beauty of water lilies. He states how when one picks on up, they will be able to observe “a nameless nothingness made of unbroken reveries”. I hope that I am correct in saying that this statement sounds similar to how Eliot would’ve described the feeling, rather than emotion, that poetry should offer the reader. Which leads to my first question…Since Mallarmé preceded Eliot, did Eliot ever claim to have studied Mallarmé, and his poems, and were they more influential than other dead poets?

    Also, I searched for the full-bodied poem so I could have a better idea of the poem in its entirety. In the first few lines, Mallarmé states he must “recall back” in order to depict the scene. This seems like a page straight out of Wordsworth’s recipe book for poetry. This leads to my next question…Was Mallarmé, and poets of his time, most heavily influenced by Wordsworth? If yes, would that, in Eliot’s perspective, cause Mallarmé to be discredited as “great” poet?

    P.s. I really liked the music by the way

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