From Nietzsche's preface to The Dawn (published 1881; this translation by J.M. Kennedy):

... we are friends of the lento, I and my book. I have not been a philologist in vain -- perhaps I am one yet: a teacher of slow reading. I even come to write slowly. At present it is not only my habit, but even my taste -- a perverted taste, maybe -- to write nothing but what will drive to despair every one who is "in a hurry." For philology is that venerable art which exacts from its followers one thing above all -- to step to one side, to leave themselves spare moments, to grow silent, to become slow -- the leisurely art of the goldsmith applied to language: an art which must carry out slow, fine work, and attains nothing if not lento. For this very reason philology is now more desirable than ever before; for this very reason it is the highest attraction and incitement in an age of "work": that is to say, of haste, of unseemly and immoderate hurry-skurry, which is intent upon "getting things done "at once, even every book, whether old or new. Philology itself, perhaps, will not "get things done" so hurriedly: it teaches how to read well: i.e. slowly, profoundly, attentively, prudently, with inner thoughts, with the mental doors ajar, with delicate fingers and eyes... my patient friends, this book appeals only to perfect readers and philologists: learn to read me well!

Readers Comments

  1. Thanks for that, Mark. It's a great quote, and I think it raises points still relevant to readers, thinkers and academics today, insofar as the 'hurry to work' preys on the insecure assumption that one needs to read anything.

    The quote has some affinity with Schopenhauer's thought in a short essay, 'On Thinking for Yourself', where he reminds readers that it is more important to utilize your knowledge than to stockpile it:

    'As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value to you than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself [...]' (Essays and Aphorisms, translated by R. J. Hollingdale)

    I can almost imagine Nietzsche ordering the shelves of Schopenhauer's metaphorical library, careful to make sure every title is easily available.


  2. An interesting Freudian slip, above. I meant 'everything', rather than 'anything'.



  3. Yes, a fascinating quote. Lately, in my teaching, I've been attempting to substitute "slow reading" for "close reading" as a description for a kind of critical action. "Close" always suggested to me that you were looking through a microscope, or managing to get inside something -- a metaphor with bad suggestions, I think. "Slow" suggests patience, savoring. And that's actually where it came from, for me. Not long ago, for a book about modern utopias, I interviewed the founder of the Slow Food Movement, who articulates a lot of what Nietzsche does, but about food, and so on. Of course, since the Slow Food Movement caught on, it's branched out into "slow philosophy:" slow sex, slow beer, slow fish, slow design, slow cities. Slow reading aligns well with the trend...

  4. Rhys Tranter Monday 20 July 2009

    Slow beer has always been an ambition of mine.

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