Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A study of reading habits

In Norman Malcolm's memoir of Wittgenstein, p. 62, Malcolm quotes a letter in which Wittgenstein says that:
reading aloud well, i.e. carefully, teaches one a lot! E.g. how rotten & slapdash most people, & the newspapers, write; & they write as they think.  
I thought of this when I read Timothy Garton Ash's obituary of Václav Havel in the Guardian. Speaking of "the European project" he writes there that:
Looking at the mess that project is in today, one can only cry: "Havel! Europe hath need of thee."
Really? That's the only thing one can do? More charitably: Really? That's the only thing one can cry?

Jean Kazez and Matthew Pianalto read slowly, as do I. I wonder whether this is common among philosophers. It seems possible that slow readers are more careful about uses of language, and perhaps less likely to produce (a certain kind of) thoughtless claptrap. I hope we are.

Irrelevant video to explain the title and provide an opportunity to hear Larkin say "dude":


  1. I am a slow reader myself, but take comfort in Wittgenstein's words that in philosophy the winner is he who finishes last. It is hard to imagine that people who race through a text like a speed train could possibly see as much as someone who just walks through it. But apparently some can. Georg Henrik von Wright, I read (slowly, envously) somewhere, could devour about a hundred pages an hour, and yet his thinking and writing were of the highest quality! (His critical essays in swedish are, to my mind, among the finest ever written in any of the scandinavian languages.)

  2. Yes, I've read that some of the fastest readers also take in and remember the most. I'm envious.