The laboratory study of ‘attention’ across the first half of the twentieth century established a powerful framework for understanding the human subject. Experiments centering on patterns of stimulus and response tested the ways that human sensory and cognitive capacities could be elicited, assessed, predicted, and ultimately integrated into powerful new military-industrial technologies. This ‘cybernetic’ subject was triggerable and could pull triggers. In this lecture, Burnett will sketch the contours of this important psychological research programme, in order to establish the background for a pair of significant counter-reactions that unfolded across the 1960s — projects that, he will argue, marked major reconceptualization of (negative) agency. Focusing on the ‘Blue Vase’ experiments of the medical researcher Arthur Deikman, and then on the ‘Silent Vigils’ of Santa Barbara Sociologist Charles H. Hubbell, Burnett will sketch the emergence of a specifically ‘apophatic’ attentional programme across the counterculture


D. Graham Burnett is a writer, teacher, and maker based in New York City. Born in France, he trained in the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University, and currently holds the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History and History of Science at Princeton University. He is the author of a number of books on technology, nature, and politics from the seventeenth to the twentieth century; and he recently co-edited Scenes of Attention: Essays on Mind, Time, and the Senses (Columbia University Press, 2023) as well as Twelve Theses on Attention (Princeton University Press, 2022), the latter a manifesto of the ‘Friends of Attention’ coalition. Burnett is associated with the speculative collective ESTAR(SER), and was a 2023 visiting artist at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, Finland.

In English
Organized by

Oliver Aas, Hana Gründler, Antje Kempe, and Barbara Kristina Murovec

A Workshop of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, Research Group ‘Ethico-Aesthetics of the Visual’ and University Greifswald, Interdisciplinary Centre for Baltic Sea Region Research, in Cooperation with the ICI Berlin

How to Attend
  • At the venue: To attend in person, please register here. Registration will open on 25 June 2024.
  • Livestream available here. No prior registration or link required.

The audience is presumed to consent to a possible recording on the part of the ICI Berlin.
If you would like to attend the event yet might require assistance, please contact Event Management.

Image credit: Mladen Stilinović, Artist at Work (1978), 8 b/w photographs (detail)
© Branka Stipančić, Zagreb