Welcome to The Free Lance Academy -- home of Slow Reading Lists.

The Free Lance Academy is an activity of The Free Lance Academy Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation whose main purpose is to create opportunities for serious, committed intellectual inquiry outside the university, primarily by means of online media such as internet mailing lists.

 The mailing lists of The Free Lance Academy have been moved to the YahooGroups. The YahooGroups website is: groups.yahoo.com.

The easiest way to manage your participation in the lists operated at YahooGroups is to visit the YahooGroups website. You can also read the archives and even post messages from that website. However, if you prefer to manage you participation by means of e-mail, that can be done also. The following are the e-mail commands supported by the egroups.com software. As you can see, the command is part of the address, so it doesn't matter what you put in the message or on the subject line. In each of these addresses, you would substitute for "listname" the actual name of the list you wish to affect.

listname-subscribe@yahoogroups.com - subscribe to a list.

listname-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com - unsubscribe from a list.

listname-digest@yahoogroups.com - switch your subscription to digest mode.

listname-normal@yahoogroups.com - switch your subscription to normal mode.


 Personally, I hate rules. The purpose of the lists at this site is to foster serious, thoughtful conversation. Where people keep that purpose in view and address one another with mutual respect, rules are generally unnecessary. However, breakdowns do happen, and sometimes people take -- or give -- offense. In that event, here is what I ask you to remember:


In the belief that the most effective way to learn something is to teach it, another of the principal aims of The Free Lance Academy is to provide opportunities for teaching, especially for people who might not otherwise have such an opportunity. If you would like to become a discussion leader of any list hosted by The Free Lance Academy, please contact Lance Fletcher, the President of The Free Lance Academy, at: lance.fletcher@freelance-academy.org.


Archives of messages posted prior to the move to egroups.com, and other relevant materials, may be retrieved from http://www.freelance-academy.org. If you have any trouble retrieving materials, or have recommendations for materials or links that should be added, please contact me at: lance.fletcher@freelance.academy.org. Archives of messages posted since the move to YahooGroups may be obtained from each list's "list center" at YahooGroups .

 Lance Fletcher

[last revised: 8-26-2003]


 The following is adapted from the original announcement of my "slow reading lists" which was posted in various places on the Internet in about Feb., 1994.


 Each of these mailing lists is intended to support serious philosophical inquiry -- not mere historical scholarship -- but original, philosophical thinking, generated and sustained by careful, slow readings of the works of a single philosopher or a single work of philosophy. These lists are intended to be more than occasions for talking ABOUT some important thinkers. It is my hope and intention that the announcement of these lists will be taken as an invitation to join in conversation WITH some of the most powerful thinkers who have ever lived. Not merely to learn what they thought, but to think with them and learn from them. These lists are also intended to be fun, and anybody who has a problem with that should not subscribe.

 Of course, what actually happens will depend on what the subscribers do and say. But for me the launching of these slow reading lists is a kind of experiment, an experiment designed to explore the hypothesis that this form of computer-mediated communication may be peculiarly well-suited to fostering the recovery of a certain art of conversation: that in which listening holds at least an equal place with speaking.

 RESPECT FOR AUTHORIAL INTENT: The idea of authorial intent has come in for some disparagement in recent years. Let me be clear that the subscribers to these slow reading lists will be invited to participate in readings which are supremely respectful of, and attentive to, authorial intent, however impossible that may be to ascertain. We will not, I hope, spend our time arguing abstractly about hermeneutic theory. Instead, I propose that we use these lists to give a practical demonstration of the power of respect for authorial intent. Subscribers are invited to explore the possibility that a respectful reading of books that are thoughtfully written, whatever their age, is an exceptionally powerful means for generating new ideas relevant to the issues of the present day. And we hope to find that reading with respect for the intent of the authors of our study texts also tends to generate conversations in which we are attentive and respectful toward one another.

 WHO SHOULD SUBSCRIBE TO THESE LISTS? This invitation is intended for any person who is willing to live for a time with more questions than answers. These are not intended to be academic conversations, at least not in the modern sense of that word. Persons outside the university environment are very welcome. Our intention is to conduct readings that are rigorous, yet so fundamental that no previous interpretation will be presupposed. If we presuppose any interpretation as given, then to that extent we are not keeping our promise to think for ourselves. If those of us who have read a lot already conduct our discussions with sufficient rigor, I am confident that they will be accessible to subscribers without professional background; AND the presence of non-professional subscribers, provided they are not shy about revealing their ignorance, will be a contribution by helping to ensure that we do not omit anything that requires thought. I would be most pleased if the subscribers to these lists were people united in the conviction that the authors whom we shall read have something vital to teach us, something that will make a difference in how we live, and that by reading and conversing we may teach one another.

 WHY A GROUP OF LISTS? To enhance the possibility of generating a community of discourse. Philosophy is not a single conversation. It is, I submit, a network of conversations. We move in and out of these conversations; some are more continuous than others, some more inclusive than others. One of the things that makes a network of conversations into a community is the likelihood that we will encounter some of the same people in different conversations. If philosophy involves finding connection among things that seem at first completely diverse, consider the philosophical power that is available when different people are able to combine their different perspectives on the same different conversations.

 WHAT DO I MEAN BY "SLOW READING?" The phase, "slow reading," is taken from Nietzsche. In the preface to Daybreak he writes:

 "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 precisely for 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!"

 "I AM A TEACHER OF SLOW READING." When I was a classroom teacher I took this as my motto, and I would quote it to my students at the beginning of every class. And what I meant was, That is the nature of philosophy. For me philosophy IS the teaching of slow reading.

 How does one begin slow reading? You don't. You discover that you have already begun. That is the nature of slow reading. It begins, not with reading, but with slowing. When we begin slow reading, we have already been reading. We are like travelers who have been speeding down the highway when we realize that we have not completely understood a roadsign which we have already passed, and it suddenly occurs to us that we may be going in the wrong direction.

 The first lesson in slow reading is to develop the capacity to simply be present to the words on the page; to allow the words to simply BE there, and to take note of the fact that they ARE there -- before deciding what they mean. This is something that most students are completely unaccustomed to doing. If you doubt this, make the following test: Read a sentence of eight or ten words to a group of students -- to anybody -- and ask them to reproduce the sentence word for word. My experience has been that almost everybody responds by telling what they thought the sentence meant -- in different words, not the same -- and in the process, anything incongruous, perplexing or ambiguous -- anything, in short, which might be an opening for learning to occur -- tends to be disregarded. Obviously this is not a lesson that any of us can claim to have learned sufficiently. We are so preoccupied with deciding what the sentences we read and hear MEAN, and especially with deciding whether WE agree or disagree, whether WE approve or disapprove, that we generally do not pause to take note of what the sentences SAY. This rush to interpretation and judgment is strongly encouraged by most of our educational practices.

 Even with the best of intentions, most of us find it extraordinarily hard to "simply be present to the words on the page; to allow the words to simply BE there, and to take note of the fact that they ARE there -- before deciding what they mean." Why is that? Well, perhaps it is because it seems that this is not DOING anything. The words, we feel, are perfectly capable of being there on the page without any help from us. They don't need any permission from us to BE there, so we feel pretty silly pretending that WE are LETTING them BE there on the page. But remember that many of us also feel silly standing in front of a painting, just looking at it, without trying to say what it means.

 Perhaps we need to consider again what it is to read. Nowadays most of us have learned to suppress vocalization as we read, and some of us can even read without moving our lips, but I am willing to bet that, for each one of us, when we first learned how to read, reading meant reading out loud. That is, speaking, REPRODUCING, the words exactly as they are on the page. In the first moment of reading, the reader is an actor who unavoidably becomes the voice of the author. So that is where we begin.

 The intention of the teaching of slow reading (which is what I understand philosophy to be) is to subvert the customary mode of reading and to afford students (i.e. those who make us the gift of their listening) some critical access to their own interpretive activity. The purpose is not, however, to leave students with the notion that the text means whatever they make it mean. Quite the contrary! By disclosing to students their own ACT of MEANING, the practice of slow reading gives students access to authorial intent. The purpose of the teaching of slow reading is to enter into a conversation with the authors of great works -- those authors whose distinction is that they afford us the opportunity to think things that are worthy of thought.

 Here is how I used to approach this sort of thing in a class. When I would begin to teach a course on one of the important texts in philosophy, say Plato's Republic, I used to begin by saying, "As you read this book, I want you to assume that it was written by God." This often caused a certain amount of consternation and incipient revolt. Most of the students would suddenly feel that I was trying to dominate and control their minds. "You mean we have to accept what this guy says, even if we don't agree? Even if we think he is wrong?" they would ask.

 "Not at all," I would reply. "The purpose of asking you to assume that the text for the course is written by God is to give you the opportunity to learn."

 "How so?"

 "Well, if you are going to learn, and you are going to learn from the author of this text, then I suppose there must be something you have to learn from that author. Right?"

 "I suppose so."

 "And what you have to learn from the author, in this case Plato, must then be something about which you know less than Plato. It might even be something about which you have incorrect opinions or assumptions. Do you agree?"


 "Now, when you read a passage in a book and you find the passage unclear or inconsistent with what you already think, do you immediately say to yourself, "Here is an opportunity for me to learn?"

 "Well, not always."

 "'Not at all,' would be more like it! What most of us do is to say, 'That guy was confused. He is just making fallacious arguments.' Of course, in the abstract, especially when we are being polite, we say we 'know' that knowledge is supremely desirable. Somebody who took us seriously might suppose, therefore, that when the opportunity to acquire knowledge and get rid of some portion of our ignorance presented itself we would immediately jump at it, as if it were some particularly delicious food which we have long craved. But, in fact, that is not what usually happens, is it? In most cases, when the opportunity to learn is seen close up it looks distinctly unattractive. It is bad news. The reason it is bad news is that the opportunity to learn is always accompanied by the realization that we have hitherto been ignorant and mistaken. Naturally enough, we tend to avoid such discomfort by seeking to shift the blame. 'It's not my fault,' we cry, 'It's the author who is mistaken.' That, then, points us to the purpose of assuming that the author of our text is God, i.e. a being whose intention may be obscure, but who does not make mistakes. If we adopt the working hypothesis that the author of our text is God, and if we act on that hypothesis when we come to something that appears strange, confusing or wrong, attributing this to errors or ignorance of the author is not an available strategy, so we are driven to look first at the possibility that the confusion reflects our OWN ignorance."

 "But what if the author really IS mistaken? I mean, we can pretend that Plato's dialogues were written by God, but we all know that that isn't really so, and besides I don't even believe in the existence of God. So, by accepting your hypothesis, don't we run the risk of deceiving ourselves and never finding out the truth?"

 "Did I ask you to believe anything? To accept anything in the text as true? Not at all. I am not asking you to BELIEVE anything the author says. I am asking you to try to THINK what the author thinks. We are concerned with what we should do when a passage in the text occurs for us as questionable, and I am suggesting that, by supposing the author to be God, the perplexity that occurs for us in the text becomes an occasion for self-examination, an occasion for the discovery of our own ignorance. Yes, I suppose that, at the end of the day, after we have finished our slow reading, I might have to agree that the author of the text was probably a human being capable of making mistakes, not a god. But if we start out operating on the assumption that the text was written by God, by the time we reach the point where we need to consider the author's mistakes, we will have reached a thorough understanding of the QUESTIONS which the author meant to ask. If we refuse to assume the author's divinity even provisionally, we may never get so far. And perhaps that -- the knowledge of the questions -- is the real object of philosophical inquiry."

 Copyright (c) 1994 Lancelot R. Fletcher. Permission to distribute and reproduce is hereby granted, provided that the author is cited and the text is not altered. However the author prefers to be informed in advance of proposed distributions, welcomes comments and invites dialogue.