Friends of Lento

Gino Severini, Red Cross Train Passing a Village (1915)

What Friedrich Nietzsche says about the “age of hurry” in 1886 is even more true today. I’m indebted to him for the concept and phrase “friends of lento.” If educators are friends of lento, we will follow the “less is more” approach, freed from the anxiety to “get everything done.” We will prioritize reading well over being well read. In Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, Nietzsche writes:  

This preface is late but not too late — what, after all, do five or six years matter?  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: — 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 deserves for itself only perfect readers and philologists: learn to read me well! — (p. 5)

lento: “prolongation” (of time).

philologist: literally, “lover of words.” One who studies literature, esp. of classical antiquity. Classical philology, the discipline in which Nietzsche was trained, was viewed as a Wissenschaft (a science) in the nineteenth century.


  • Patrick Kingsley, “The Art of Slow Reading” (The Guardian)
  • Mortimer Adler & Charles VanDoren, How to Read a Book
  • James Sire, How to Read Slowly
  • Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
  • John Miedema, Slow Reading
  • Thomas Newkirk, The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement

One thought on “Friends of Lento

  1. Pingback: At Lulworth Cove a Century Back | Bensonian

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