Feb 7, 2007

how to read

Quoth Lindsay Waters:
Nietzsche defined philology as the art of teaching people "to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow." If we look at the dynamics of what I call "slow reading," we might be able to explore the values of a methodology that has links to what was once called "close reading" — but that goes beyond close reading in a number of ways that might prove particularly valuable today. The one thing necessary is that we put aside our normal adherence to punch-clock time, a universal measure that has us all in its grip.

The most skillful writers are always playing with our timing as readers, for example by retarding our progress through their works, causing us to linger and pay closer attention than we might have wanted. The late literary critic William Empson said that the poet uses the physical properties of words not to stop us, but to make us dally through the great amount of thought crushed into a few lines....

I have increasingly come to believe that the key to reading is rereading. Paradoxically, rereading a literary work is not a quick business, but usually slower than the first time round. We learn that the first time we read too fast, and in a complicated feedback mechanism what was deeply buried in the text can emerge.
Waters decries teaching that values morals and themes over the appreciation of the aesthetic experience--but although some "whole language" types might carry things too far, there's no required either-or. In contrast, I teach students both: aesthetics and themes aren't meant to be teased apart, but explored as facets of the same dynamic reality, a reality that appears fresh with each approach to the text. If nothing else, getting buried in Emerson showed me just how rich a text can be on the seventeenth go-through.

Of course, I write all this after reading through Waters' essay once, at blog-speed.

[via AL Daily]

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