Thoreau's Axe: Distraction and Discipline in American Culture

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Product Details
Princeton University Press
Publish Date
5.5 X 8.4 X 1.1 inches | 0.97 pounds

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About the Author
Caleb Smith is professor of English at Yale University. He is the author of The Prison and the American Imagination and The Oracle and the Curse and the editor of The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, n+1, and other publications.
"With a colloquial tone, Smith makes a solid case that the contemporary take on distraction. . . is an old one that came about in the 19th century. . . . The result is a rousing academic study on the meanings of mindfulness."-- "Publishers Weekly"
"A fascinating new book."---Craig Fehrman, Boston Globe
"Smith's historicization of what he calls 'disciplines of attention' offers a useful check on reactionary nostalgia. Taking the measure of the distractions of the digital present requires caution."---Len Gutkin, Chronicle Review
"Thoughtful and well-written."---Alan Dent, The Penniless Press
"Elegant. . . . Gloomy yet humane."---Michael Ledger-Lomas, Spectator
"A fascinating meditation on "the 'infinite bustle' of modern life.""---Robert M. Thorson, Wall Street Journal
"Anxieties over attention and distraction are nothing new but also, and more to the point, [Smith] raises an enduring cultural contradiction: like Thoreau, many of us feel distracted by shifts and accelerations in collective life--by new media, to be sure, but also by capitalism and its myriad crises--and yet, to combat these collective distractions, we turn inward and desperately try to become more disciplined, attentive individuals. . . . Smith is not the first to name this tension, though his 'genealogy of distraction and the disciplines of attention' might be the first to unearth its deep cultural roots."---Chelsea Fitzgerald, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Much of Thoreau's Axe cuts deeply into American culture, revealing how discipline and punishment, often wielded from above, have defined for us the proper objects of attention: God, country, race, and the capitalist grind. But the blade of Smith's analysis is subtle, and what I find most remarkable about Thoreau's Axe is Smith's comfort with ambiguity, the apparent ease with which he makes space for contradiction, the degree to which his method depends on it."---Daegan Miller, Yale Review
"Smith's examples of attention being demanded rather than sought forces the reader to consider more carefully the goal of cultivating attention, and who benefits from such attention."---Shira Telushkin, Plough Quarterly