The other day, a local historian, Gaye Le Baron, wrote a column in our daily newspaper about the need to occasionally slow down in this ever-faster and faster world. She went back in time two or three centuries, pointing to the ever-increasing emphasis on getting things done fast – noting how a journey that once took weeks, even months, now takes hours; how a letter that crossed the oceans by boat and continents by wagon train, has been superseded by telephone calls and telegrams, e-mails and now texting and chat. Practitioners in business, law, medicine, most of the white-collar professions and most of the trades, rush from place to place, and job to job, grabbing an occasional bite to eat at a fast food place. Farmers grow many times the crops and many times the beasts in the same season it once took. Ads are filled with promises of greater speed and efficiency for automobiles, housecleaning paraphernalia, just about everything. One of our most popular illegal drugs is even nicknamed “speed.”
I remember interviewing a wonderful pair of elderly sisters in Craftsbury, Vermont years ago. Laura and Augusta, in their eighties or nearly so, and with a keen awareness of and interest in their family’s history that went back to pre-colonial times (their ancestor was one of the best-known of the damsels kidnapped by Indians), recalled with some sadness traveling on a country road that had once been dirt and now was paved. It’s not that they didn’t appreciate the greater efficiency of travel it afforded, it was that they could no longer feel the road as they once had – its bumps and curves, the way it lay across the land one way and then another.
Some of us hoped that the Italian slow food revival would infect the culture in other ways, but so far it seems it hasn’t had much influence. Many of us enjoy a gourmet meal, but most of us probably chew just as fast.
Nevertheless, it seems to me that a painting takes about as much time to paint as it always did. Even if there’s a lot of frenetic music around us, it takes about the same length of time to sing a song or play a symphony. Poems are as outside of time as they always have been. Books – well, it depends on the kind of book – there a lot of three-week wonders out there about celebrities, new diets, and making more money faster. But there are also novels that took ten years, five years, even more. Perhaps the arts are more akin to flowers and fruits that take as long as they ever did to mature.
Of course, the arts also make use of the new technologies with all their speed. but I think the artists are more interested in how it helps them make their art, than in the speed with which they can do it.
Years ago, when I was just a college student, I saw a Scandinavian film that moved very, very slowly – I think it was the one where someone very dead and in a coffin was brought back to life. Mostly, I just remember it was mesmerizing. I’ve always been someone who had to move quickly and sometimes constantly; some of my slower contemporaries beg me to slow down. So far I haven’t been able to do it. But wouldn’t it be interesting, just for the sake of variety, if there were more events and places where everything was slowed, like slow food and old Scandinavian films? More slow movies, slow music, even slow computer games? Who knows what wonderful things might emerge from that?