Friday, September 28, 2007


Reading Slowly

When I was a young boy in school, speed reading was a popular educational fad. President Kennedy was one of its most enthusiastic advocates. We were actually taught, in a systematic way, techniques for reading as rapidly as possible. Fortunately, I've forgotten most of what I learned. Reading quickly is like bolting your food. You can't appreciate or savor what you gulp down in a hurry.

In the preface to Daybreak (Morgenröte, tr. R.J. Hollingdale), Nietzsche says that the essence of philology is reading slowly:
It is not for nothing that I have been a philologist, perhaps I am a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading....For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow — it is a goldsmith's art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of 'work', that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to 'get everything done' at once, including every old or new book: — this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers.

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