The Humanities as Arts of Attention in the Age of Computational Mediarchy


The Humanities in general, and among them literary studies, art studies, media theory and media archeology in particular, can be seen as calling us to pay attention to what conditions our attention. By doing so, they help us take distance towards the lures of “communication”, and reframe issues of “information” at the conjunction between meaning and matter. In Karen Barad’s vocabulary, media perform “agential cuts” which condition what “matters” to us, collectively and individually. By analyzing and theorizing such agential cuts through literary and mediarchaeological means, one can hope better to understand the agency specific to media. We may thus realize that our political constitutions should be considered as “mediarchy” (structured by the power of the media), rather than “democracy” (attributed to the power of the people). This reframing may not be irrelevant in the age that elected President Trump, even if mediarchy already elected Italian President Berlusconi and countless other so-called “populist” leaders.

The more interesting challenges ahead of us consist in understanding how digital and computational technologies tend to reconfigure what has conditioned our collective attentions during the 20th century. In such a context, we need to devise the Humanities as cultivating arts of collective embodied attention, necessary to orient, steer and reconfigure the techniques of automated attention currently mobilized through computational assemblages.


Yves Cittonis professor of French Literature at the Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint Denis. He previously taught at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, at the University of Pittsburgh, PA, at the Université Grenoble Alpes, France, and has been invited Professor at New York University, Harvard and Sciences-Po Paris. He is co-editor of the journal Multitudes. He recently published Médiarchie (Paris, Seuil, 2017), The Ecology of Attention (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2016, translation of Pour une écologie de l’attention, Paris, Seuil, 2014), Gestes d’humanités. Anthropologie sauvage de nos expériences esthétiques (Paris, Armand Colin, 2012), Renverser l’insoutenable (Paris, Seuil, 2012), Zazirocratie (Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, 2011), L’Avenir des Humanités. Économie de la connaissance ou cultures de l’interprétation ? (Paris, Éditions de la Découverte, 2010), Mythocratie (Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, 2010), Lire, interpréter, actualiser. Pourquoi les études littéraires ? (Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, 2007) and L’Envers de la liberté. L’invention d’un imaginaire spinoziste dans la France des Lumières (Paris, Éditions Amsterdam, 2006). His articles can be found on his website :