I would like to propose a little Slow Reading Project. I launched this blog into the world about Plato’s Republic, mindful that not everyone, indeed very few of anyone, happened to be actively reading it or thinking about it. I appreciate those of you have have been reading the blog, despite doing other things. But my real goal can only be attained within the context of philia, of friendship, and friendship always has a third partner, some object or activity of mutual interest. So let me make my offer:
Let’s take some time this upcoming week to read together slowly and discuss Republic, Book I. Some of you may have never read the Republic before, so here’s a chance to start. Some of you may have read it a while ago, and here is a chance to notice some things that you didn’t notice the first time — it may even present itself as an entirely new dialogue taken slowly.
In any case, here is an excuse to open the book again. Exciting, yes? Any translation is fine, whatever you have on your shelf. (I like Grube/Reeve or Bloom or Sachs, but any modern translation will do.) There are online versions if you don’t have one handy. I will keep the readings are very short — I think 6 pages or so is the longest. Remember, the idea is to read slowly. Here is my proposed schedule, with day of the week, Stephanus numbers (better than page numbers since they are the same between different translations and editions) and the subject:
Monday: 327a – 331d — The introduction and dialogue with Cephalus
Tuesday: 331d – 336a — The dialogue with Polemarchus
Wednesday: 336b – 342a — The dialogue with Thrasymachus, part I
Thursday: 342a – 350d — The dialogue with Thrasymachus, part II
Friday: 350d – 354c — The dialogue with Thrasymachus, part III
Saturday: Spoiler version — I will point out some things only available after having read the rest of the dialogue.
What I mean by “slow reading”?
A book will not have a lasting effect on us if is merely tasted — it must be digested. Receiving a book’s nourishment requires that it be incorporated into our blood and tissues. But this takes time…patience. To read well, we must allow silences between sentences, time to look away from the page to reflect and inquire. Deep questions can only arise when we allow them silence, since silence is the natural habitat of thought. As Wallace Stevens wrote, “It is not always easy to tell the difference between thinking and looking out the window.” These two activities can look the same, even to the one participating. I remember taking to heart years ago something Nietzsche wrote:
A book like this, a problem like this, is in no hurry; we both, I just as much as my book, are friends of lento. It is not for nothing that I have been a philologist, perhaps I am a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading: in the end I also write 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! (Daybreak, Preface, Aphorism 5)
The point is take your time, struggle to make sense of each argument with anticipating the conclusion, linger over words or phrases that puzzle you, or just think about what each section may mean to you and your life. I will post something Monday morning to allow a place for comments, and I may add to it later in the day. And I will do the same on each of succeeding days. (Tomorrow, I will post the follow-up to the Symposium question.)
** Please leave a comment if you are at all interested, even if you don’t plan to comment later.