Literary Criticism

Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


The Habits of Distraction


Michael Wood is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. He is the author of books on Stendhal, Nabokov, Kafka and García Márquez, as well as studies of American movies and Buñuel’s Belle de jour. His most recent works are Yeats and Violence (2010), Film: A Very Short History (2012), Alfred Hitchcock: the Man Who Knew Too Much (2015), and On Empson (2017). He writes regularly for the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, among other journals.

The thoughts traced in this book may seem a little complicated but the project itself is simple. It is to see what sort of weight and extension Walter Benjamin’s phrase ‘reception in distraction’ can be seen to bear in changing contexts.

The book first looks at the theoretical contours of the phrase, and several of its relatives, in the work of Benjamin and Barthes, with a glance at a prehistory in Proust and others. It then closely considers some different objects of reception and different forms of distraction: in jazz, classical music, poetry, painting, art house film and popular film. Particular instances are: an album by Miles Davis and his group, a song by Richard Strauss, a poem by W. B. Yeats, a painting by Max Ernst, a film by Luís Buñuel, a film by Clint Eastwood.

The hope is that distraction in interpretation – listening, reading, viewing, watching – will come to seem less vague and regrettable, and may serve as a corrective to narrow, expert and over-explicit modes of response. But this hope itself depends on readers who will take what is shown here as an invitation to choose their own examples and explore some of these possibilities for themselves.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-249-5
Hardback Price: £35.00 / $50.00
Release Date: May/June 2018
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-250-1
Paperback Price: £17.95 / $24.95
Release Date: May/June 2018
Page Extent / Format: 144 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Contents to Follow

Review Quotes to Follow

Books can be ordered by phone or online

Ordering in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australasia, South America and Rest of the World

Gazelle Book Services
Direct sales tel.: +44 (0)1524 528500; email:
Web ordering:

Ordering in the United States and Canada
International Specialized Book Services
Direct sales tel.: 1 800 944 6190; email:
Web ordering:

Bookseller Ordering
Information is provided under the Resources tab

eBook Ordering
e-Book publication (e-PDF and MobiPocket [Kindle]) availability is detailed under the Resources tab; availability is alerted by e-Book in the publication information field on the web page