Slower Reading for Better Philosophy
Truman Chen

01 May 2017

To be slow is to be radical. In cinema, for example, there has been a recent global movement of slow cinema "whose aim is to rescue extended temporal structures from the accelerated tempo of late capitalism." Such an approach to film is meant to create a cinematic viewing experience that demands the active contemplative participation of the viewer, and allows for a sense of time and world that helps the viewer share the experiences of the characters.

Now, the return to slowness has emerged in a study of the discipline of philosophy in a new book Slow Philosophy: Reading Against the Institution by Michelle Boulous Walker, a senior lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Queensland. Just like the figures of the slow cinema movement, Boulous Walker's return to slowness is used to critique the rapid tempos that adversely affect our relation to the world. Boulous Walker's focus here is how something is lost for philosophy, both as an activity and a discipline, when it has to meet a certain pace of reading and production. 

The book has benefitted from an insightful and positive review by Henry Martyn Lloyd from the Los Angeles Review of Books that need not be repeated in its entirety. But the review brings out one powerfully original reconceptualization of the very task of reading and understanding philosophy that bears emphasizing here. In Lloyd's phrasing, Boulous Walker's return to slowness depends on an understanding of philosophy as "a fundamental engagement with the other, and the preeminent activity of the philosopher is the act of reading."

But Boulous Walker interestingly considers reading an act of listening—as opposed to "seeing" the truth or the point. As Lloyd puts it, "The point is made against a tradition that generally takes sight to be the privileged metaphor for knowledge; sight permits a certain distance between the object and the subject... Listening promotes proximity and nearness: immersion." Lloyd then quotes Boulous Walker: "The patience of attentive listening involves an open exchange where listening is not mediated by shared understanding, but by difference. Attentive listening respects the other's difference." 

The metaphors we use to describe the acquistion of philosophical knowledge therefore have an affect on how we relate not only to the discipline as a whole, but also to others who share this engagement with philosophy. Philosophers should be good listeners, and not necessarily the isolated visionaries we generally cast them as.