Nietzsche on Slow Reading
September 22, 2008
By Mark Bauerlein
The Chronicle of Higher Education
In response to the article on slow reading, Karl Maurer sent the following citation from Nietzsche, written in 1886 near Genoa:
Besides, 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.
It is uncertain whether this passage [from Paul’s epistle] should be punctuated so as to read “having a desire for two things,” or so as to read “straightened between two,” so that the passage continues, “having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.” But since there follows “for this is a thing by far the better,” he clearly say that he has a desire for the better thing, as if he were urged by two things, for one of which he has a desire and the for the other which there is a necessity. That is, he has a desire to be with Christ, but a necessity to remain in the flesh. This ambiguity is decided by one word showing a logical connection, ‘for’ [in English, the expression ‘this is’]. The translators who have omitted this particle have been inclined toward the opinion that he was not only urged by two things but that he also desired two things. Therefore the passage should be translated as follows: “What I shall do I know not. But I am straightened by two.” This is followed by the phrase “having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.” And as if answering the question why he should have more of a desire for this, he says, “for this is a thing by far the better.”
–St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine”