But, after all, why must we proclaim so loudly and with such intensity what we are, what we want, and what we do not want? Let us look at this more calmly and wisely; from a higher and more distant point of view. Let us proclaim it, as if among ourselves, in so low a tone that all the world fails to hear it and us! Above all, however, let us say it slowly . . . This preface comes late, but not too late: what, after all, do five or six years matter? Such a book, and such a problem, are in no hurry; besides, we are friends of the lento, I and my book. It is not for nothing that one has been a philologist, perhaps one is a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading: in the end one also writes slowly. Nowadays it is not only my habit, it is also to my taste—a malicious taste, perhaps?—no longer to write anything which does not reduce to despair every sort of man who is “in a hurry.” For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow—it is a goldsmith’s art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of “work,” that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to “get everything done” at once, including every old or new book: this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers . . . My patient friends, this book desires for itself only perfect readers and philologists: learn to read me well!
Ruta near Genoa, in the autumn of 1886.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality. Preface (to the Second Edition, 1887)
--If this text is incomprehensible to anyone and grates on their ears, then the blame as I see it does not necessarily lie with me. It is clear enough, assuming as I assume one has read my earlier writings and done so without sparing the considerable effort; these are in fact not easily accessible. For instance as concerns my Zarathrustra, I will regard no one as its connoisseur who at some time was not deeply wounded and at some time not deeply delighted by its every word: for only then may he enjoy the privilege of reverent participation in the halcyon element out of which it was born, in its sunny brilliance, distance, health, breadth and curiosity. In other cases the aphoristic form presents a difficulty: this is based on the fact that today this form is not taken seriously enough. An aphorism that is properly stamped and poured is not yet "deciphered" just because someone has read it through; on the contrary, its interpretation must begin now, which requires an art of interpretation. In the third treatise of this book I have offered a sample of what I call "interpretation" in such a case:--this treatise is preceded by an aphorism, and the treatise itself is a commentary. Of course one thing above all is necessary in order to practice reading as an art to this extent, a skill that today has been unlearned best of all--which is why more time must pass for my writings to be "readable"--something for which it is almost necessary to be a cow and in any case not a "modern man": rumination . . .
Sils maria, UPPER ENGADINE,
IN JULY 1887."
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals
What is reading? What is not reading? What is misreading? What is unreading? What are the limits of readability? Paul de Man wrote a book entitled Allegories of Readingthat could just as easily been called Allegories of Unreading. Jacques Derrida talks about "unreadability," not to be confused with the opposite of readability The question of reading is always a question of when you are free to stop reading (getting to the last page doesn't mean you are free to stop reading). When to stop is both an ethical and a political question. Friends don't let friends read responsibly.
In my view, "distant reading" with graphs and diagrams is information-processing, not reading. Nor is data mining reading.
"We need distant reading, Moretti argues, because its opposite, close reading, can’t uncover the true scope and nature of literature. Let’s say you pick up a copy of “Jude the Obscure,” become obsessed with Victorian fiction and somehow manage to make your way through all 200-odd books generally considered part of that canon. Moretti would say: So what? As many as 60,000 other novels were published in 19th-century England — to mention nothing of other times and places. You might know your George Eliot from your George Meredith, but you won’t have learned anything meaningful about literature, because your sample size is absurdly small. Since no feasible amount of reading can fix that, what’s called for is a change not in scale but in strategy. To understand literature, Moretti argues, we must stop reading books."
I personally could care less about novels that are long forgotten because they aren't any good and didn't sell. Do you really have to know what kinds of awful food to know what good food tastes like? It's impossible to read and reread all of the thousands of books in their original languges that make up the canon. (Why should we focus on nineteenth-century England? Why on novels? What about poems? Prose?) How can you study literature without studying language? Far reading would be a reading of the canon, of what makes a given text Shakespearean or not. The study of book publication make be a fit subject for history or for sociology. But distant "reading" isn't even part of a sociology of texts. Now a study of bad, forgotten novels no one wants to read and that perhaps no one ever read even if copies was purchased--that kind of study, mind you, could be very, very interesting.
You can donate your heart to science, but it won't bring you back, no way.
More here. Unlike people who work in the so-called digital humanities, I think close reading is already mechanical, just as writing is a machine (de Man, "Excuses: Confessions") or a quasi-machine (Derrida, "Typewriter Ribbon, Ink"). To allow a text to surprise you, all you have to do is open the book or scroll down the webpage and start reading. To oppose close reading (human) as reading to data-mining (mechanical) as not reading amounts to little more than giving oneself an alibi not to un/read or think while reinscribing scientism and an entire metapysics of dead writing and living speech.
"An Attempt to Discover the Laws of Literature" (as opposed to a Derridean or Kaskaesque notion of "'Before the Law' of Literature"
Marjorie Garber on slow motion reading.
I am also in favor of speed-reading, the equivalent of watching a film on fast-forward.
Representations issue Vol. 108, No. 1 (Fall 2009) on surface reading. This is a somehat comic issue as the contributors seem never to have heard of close reading or read anything by I.A. Richards, William Empson, Harry Berger, Jr., Paul Alpers, Judith Haber, Susan Wolfson, Stephen Booth, and on and on and on.