Festina Lente (“Hurry Slowly”)
“Drink your tea
slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis
on which the
toward the future.”
There have been countless times I thought to return. One reader called me the “errant blogger,” another, the “lackadaisical aesthete.”
Whatever the case, I return feeling like an arriviste making the fashionably late entrance to the party, only to discover everyone else has already left.
How and why did I leave at all, I wonder. I’m not entirely sure, nor can I commit to little more right now than a fleeting visit, but with autumn all around me and the days dwindling down, I feel the need, the compulsion really, to remind myself and, perhaps, acquaint a few of you, with a small shift in what passes for my own ‘banalities of the quotidian.’
Interestingly, it is a concept and a popular phrase of the Middle Ages that has me in its grip — “Festina Lente” or “Hurry Slowly.”
The origins of this beautifully mellifluous expression “Festina Lente” is the wonderful paradoxical motto of the Venetian renaissance publisher, Aldus Manutius, who, history tells us, adopted it from the classical scholar, Erasmus, also known by the sobriquet “Prince of the Humanists.”
And how very humane Erasmus was in creating a mantra of life he could not possibly have foreseen at a time when the only evidence of speed was born by the beasts bearing mounted knights in combat. As societies moved faster and faster across the span of the ages, who was to notice all that was being lost when delicate things were not treated with respectful slowness, when the tempo of life encouraged people to experience things in their full magnificent complexity.
Who might one day imagine a world where days were little more than blurs and lifetimes were missed in their entirety.
In honor of that time, before life was lived on the run with a rush toward forgetting, I thought a day devoted to a deep slow read was just the thing to break me away from my digitally crazed addictions.
I chose Milan Kundera’s appropriately titled “Slowness: A Novel” for obvious reasons. In his own inimitable style, Kundera ruminates on the lost art of living. We have become such unrecognizable creatures that we no longer can appreciate the small, the inconsequential, the nuanced, he seems to say.
Despite Kundera’s own personal disclaimer about the novel’s seriousness, (he proudly claimed the book had “not a single serious word in it”) reviewers were more astute in suggesting Slowness resonated with “a profound meditation on contemporary life,” where “the connection between our era’s desire to forget and the way we have given ourselves over to the demon of speed,” have changed us irrevocably.
To explore this idea Kundera tells the story of a midsummer’s night in which two tales of seduction, separated by more than two-hundred years, interweave and oscillate between the sublime and the comic.
In the present we have the trappings of an over cranked world, keeping us jittery, hyper vigilant and so focused on the destination, we fail to notice the journey. In the past, we have the drifters of yesteryear who, with their easy indolence, symbolized the leisurely pace of the times.
Kundera retells the story of Vivant Demon’s 18th century novel Point de lendemain, which describes one long, slow night of seduction and lovemaking between a young chevalier and an older woman, during which very little is lost. The seductress creates the tensions to build and relax symphonically over the course of the night “giving the small span of time accorded them the semblance of a marvelous small architecture…for what is formless cannot be grasped, or committed to memory. Conceiving their encounter as a form was especially precious for them, since their night was to have no tomorrow and could be repeated only through recollection.”
While the senses are fully sated for the romantic, there is much for the philosophical, as well. We encounter a narrator and his wife, who are taking an unplanned holiday, driving down a country highway in search of a romantic château. Impatient, the narrator inquires:
“Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared? Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folksongs, those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another and bed down under the stars?”
Slowness: The Novel is typical Kundera: whimsical and thoughtful, unfocused and insightful. While no profound revelations are apparent, when the last word is read, there is a satisfaction to be had in knowing that here is a rather concise description of our time-starved, image-obsessed, future-shocked world, in a most eloquent form.
A marvelous book to read and savor very, very slowly.
The 16th Century French Poet Nicolas Boileau captured it beautifully in his Art of Poetry:
one hundred times
Image: “A Man seated reading at a Table in a Lofty Room” c.1630, Art Connu
Quote: Thich Nhat Hanh
Sculpture: Borghese Hermaphroditus, Louvre Museum