Mark Edmundsun at The Hedgehog Review:
Pay attention! The phrase bears some considering. In his essay “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” Friedrich Nietzsche posed the question of the nature of language and made an acute observation. Language, he wrote, is a mobile host of metaphors and metonyms that have become conventional over time. Words become like coins that have been worn plain from overuse. We no longer see the tropes that are embedded in our language, the figures of everyday speech. Well, here is one such trope: Attention is something that must be paid. Paying attention is not unrelated to discharging a debt, to offering tribute, to giving the entity that demands the attention something akin to cash. When you tell someone to pay attention, you are trying to take something from him, something that, one might assume, he does not wish to give: his focus, his presence of mind, his full being. Is it possible that paying attention is akin to paying tribute? When someone asks you to pay attention, he is imposing authority on you. Perhaps it is not that we can’t get ourselves to focus on this or that matter, but simply that offering attention is felt as a challenge, a burden. “I made myself pay attention, even though what he was saying was boring.” “It wasn’t easy to pay attention to him, but I did.” There’s a tribute involved. There’s a tax. There’s a debt. Do you understand? Are you paying attention to me? We can take satisfaction in paying a bill, or getting rid of a debt, but it is never exactly a joy.