- Page 2Slow Philosophy
Slow and low? Or fast and loud? Led Zeppelin or Metallica? Hydraulics or Hemis?
When it comes to rock music and custom cars, opinions are sharply divided. Does the same hold for reading and writing? Speech and argument? Is loud argument preferable to low? Fast reading to slow?
While the “need for speed” is more than adequately represented in our culture, the “Slow movement” has been catching on ever since the publication of Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed in 2004.
“These days,” writes Honoré, “we exist to serve the economy, rather than the other way around.” As servants of what he calls “turbo-capitalism,” we pay a heavy cost.
“Long hours on the job are making us unproductive, error-prone, unhappy and ill,” says Honoré. “Doctor’s offices are swamped with people suffering from conditions brought on by stress: insomnia, migraines, hypertension, asthma, and gastrointestinal trouble, to name but a few.” And while a vacation would lessen the suffering, on average Americans only use eighty percent of their paid time off, while only forty percent of workers in the UK use their full vacation entitlement.
The work of Honoré, a Canadian journalist based in London, has led to a spate of “slow” books and articles. There is the slow food movement, the Slow Science Academy (http://slow-science.org), and various slow “philosophy” manifestos. The Australian magazine simply entitled Slow is dedicated to “promoting the slow philosophy.” Michelle Boulous Walker’s Slow Philosophy: Reading against the Institution (2017), argues that philosophy teaches us to read slowly, something which “inevitably clashes with many of our current institutional practices and demands.”
Another recent book, The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (2016), contends that academics must slow down. Authors Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber argue that “adopting the principles of Slow in our professional practice is an effective way to alleviate work stress, preserve humanistic education, and resist the corporate university.” Who would have contended that napping has the potential to bring down neoliberal academe?
To be sure, in the age of the internet and social media, speed is the key. Faster, shorter, and often shriller messages are seen as most effective. Concentration has given way to skimming; attention to inattention; and depth to surface. This manifests itself in a public discourse that favors the fast and loud over the slow and low. In politics and public life, more focus is given to those who yell. Those who take time to think before they speak are at a disadvantage.
Pundits scream at each other at a rapid-fire pace about anything and everything in the hopes of gaining greater attention for themselves and their sponsors. Dialogue and debate degenerates in this climate into demagoguery and diatribe. The content of the speech of the pundit is secondary to its performative aspects. Hyperbole gets social media attention and more hits on the internet than measured opinion, which is often relegated to non-commercial venues like PBS.
Writers and thinkers need to consider our own practices and preferences. We aim for fast book sales over slow sales. We champion the book that flies off the shelf over the novel that takes years to gain an audience. We admire the relentlessly self-promoting author, busy with readings and other promotional activities. We look for bold and hyperbolic praise in our reviews, preferring a quick thumbs up or five star promotion over a subtle analysis weighing merits and contextualizing a work in literary and intellectual traditions.
In a driven environment intensified by the insatiable financial appetites of corporate America, calm, careful, unhurried, patient, and reflective commentary about writing and writers does not increase the bottom line of the neoliberal publishing industry as effectively as aggressive, inattentive, hurried, and superficial commentary. The loud voices muffle out the low ones in the book world. And they are indeed fast and furious in the age of digital communication.
To take the other road in American publishing—the one where the voices are not so loud and the pace not as fast—is to take the road...