slow reading 04.08.2010, 12:40 AM
posted by dan visel
Roger Ebert's blog brings news of a very slow viewing of a movie – Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Ebert is in Boulder for the Conference on World Affairs; what's going on is a shot-by-shot viewing of one of Herzog's masterpieces, a process that Ebert calls Cinema Interruptus. Herzog and another director, Ramin Bahrani, watch the film together in front of an audience, stopping after every shot and discussing what's on the screen. The audience – an ample one, from Ebert's description – shouts out questions as well. Herzog's director's commentaries, of course, are some of the best exemplars of the genre: what was happening behind the scenes in his movies is almost always as interesting as the indelible images that appear before the lens. There are no end of things to talk about; and the shot-by-shot method takes a long time, eight hours in total, so the viewing is broken up over nights.
This is a fantastic idea, which makes me wish I were in Boulder to be part of it. I like the idea of this kind of slow and detailed "reading": to take a work of art & to lavish time on it. It seems, in our age of media overload, almost luxurious: this idea of devoting so much time to one text. In eight hours, we can see four movies. To give that much time to one seems decadent. But maybe this is what works of art deserve; maybe this is how we should be reading. The problem of availability is something that seems increasingly to have been solved. To view or to read well is another kind of problem. In the past, when there was an economy based on scarcity, this might not have been as much of an issue: whatever was available was watched or read. Now we need to think about how we want to watch: we need to become better readers.
Posted by dan visel on April 8, 2010 12:40 AM
Grant Barrett on April 8, 2010 3:26 PM:
Dan, there's a small error: Robert Ebert should be Roger Ebert.
What a luxury and a gift it would seem to have the time to mull over something, anything, at length. Time for contemplation is so hard to justify in a busy life.
Bob Gregory on April 9, 2010 12:29 PM:
2 things---why I enjoyed the prep for college teaching, for exactly that chance to pour over and ponder something and a memory of a film class where one assignment was to take the last 2 minutes of a film and describe everything you could see or hear. Pleasure!
Edward Visel on April 9, 2010 5:19 PM:
This sounds a bit like lectio divina, which is (I believe) a very old practice.
This sort of slow reading is also the only productive way to read Kant's first Critique, a uniquely dense book. An hour on a page or two is not unusual. The downside of this is that it takes a very long time to finish the 700 page book; in my case, a semester-long seminar.
One last thought: For the end of the much-talked about last episode of The Sopranos, the writer wanted 30 seconds of black screen. I think he only got 4 in the end, but idea is audacious, given the medium.
kintopp on April 10, 2010 1:11 PM:
Cinemetrics (http://cinemetrics.lv) also draws, deliberately, on a stylized, self-conscious form of film reading (in order to gather data on shot lengths for subsequent analysis). As is often the case in other "texts" as well) you need to deliberately read against the grain (another example - watch a film listening only to the soundtrack) to understand its internal structure and organization.
Edward Visel is spot on - I remember my professors in Germany walk us through texts in this fashion. You don't see this too much anymore in the States, I think.
Matt Goerzen on April 13, 2010 1:26 PM:
I find this an interesting trend in art circles.
Particularly interesting when the goal is to slow / limit the speed of consumption of the most overloading technological media.
The Wikipedia Reader and several Dexter Sinister projects come to mind.
Is anyone aware of similar projects, out of curiosity?
dan visel on April 14, 2010 3:58 PM:
I'd forgotten about an old post I made about Francis Alÿs & Bill Drummond, but maybe there's a similarity in their projects: both are similarly responses to the problem of making sense of the enormous volume of what's available.
Aida on May 7, 2010 10:50 AM:
Dan, thanks for this. I linked to this post on our blog simply because it's wonderful.
Jeana Visel on May 17, 2010 3:26 PM:
Benedictines (and a lot of other people in the States and elsewhere) still do lectio divina every day. More on it at our website: http://www.thedome.org/SeekGodWithUs/NourishSpiritOnline/WaysOfPrayer/ContemplativePrayer/Lectio.html
Jay Rutherford on August 15, 2010 5:16 AM:
I remember with great fondness a seminar I attended in the mid-1980s. The lecturer was Hanno Ehses (now retired), Professor of Visual Communications at NSCAD University in Halifax, Canada. He read Mukarovski's "Aesthetic Function, Norm and value as Social Facts" out loud to us, a number of pages every week over one semester. I never understood a book so well.
Rory Litwin on August 22, 2010 9:10 AM:
A book of interest published in 2009 is John Miedema's Slow Reading. Chapter 2 of this book is available online: http://litwinbooks.com/slowreading-ch2.php