The slow language movement

by Rob Tiller

It’s time time for the slow language movement.  The slow food movement aims to counteract fast food and inspire move thoughtful and pleasurable eating.   We need  similar movement for our language.  The constant deluge of media in the Internet age is changing the quality of our consciousness in a way that is not all for the good.  In skimming, speed-reading, and multi-tasking we miss subtleties and complexities, and lose the pleasures of the beauty of language.   A slow language movement aims to restore those things to the act of reading.  

I first heard the slow language idea articulated yesterday in an interview with Nick Laird, who was discussing his novel Glover’s Mistake with Scott Simon on NPR.  Laird noted that he’d noted his mind had been changed by Internet life when he recently tried re-reading Henry James, and found that even though he’d studied the work, it is difficult to read it now.   I’ve found the same thing with James, not to mention Faulkner, Joyce, and Woolf.  I know I once loved their writing, but now it seems overwhelmingly dense.        

As inhabitants of Internetworld, our minds move constantly and at an ever quickening pace.  It’s exciting.   But what are we doing to our brains?  We may lose part of our humanity if we don’t find space to read thoughtfully, carefully, and with pleasure.  As Laird pointed out, the culture of poetry is itself a kind of slow language movement.  You have to read poetry slowly.  It may be that the contemporary revival in poetry readership flows from a widespread intuition that we need to take care of our minds and counteract the fragmentation of Internet life.