I have been thinking about time recently, more specifically, as a virginity scholar, the first time. This post is very much about an idea that is growing slowly, too slowly. Throughout my doctoral studies, I have had the great fortune of studying under the supervision of some really engaging academics, namely, my supervisor who has been writing about some of the ideas that are floating around in my mind. My supervisor is also a fan of “experimental teaching” methods and thus when we, as a class, read Proust, none of us had read Proust. What would happen if a group of students and the professor had never read the text being considered?
To these ends, I have been thinking about the question of slowness and reading, writing, living, etc. Carl Honoré in his book In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed observes that:
These days, the whole world is time-sick. We all belong to the same cult of speed. Standing in that lineup for my flight home to London, I begin with the questions that lie at the heart of this book: Why are we always in such a rush? What is the cure for time-sickness? Is it possible, or even desirable, to slow down?” (3)
These questions strike me as provocative and worthy of consideration. Why does time have such an influence over quotidian life and how does one overcome the cult of time/speed? One of the most striking examples from his book, or perhaps only striking because of the space from which I write, is when he writes:
In 2000, David Cottrell and Mark Layton published 175 Way to Get More Done in Less Time. Written in breathless, get-on-with-it prose, the book is a manual for maximizing efficiency, for acceleration. Tip number 141 is simply: “Do Everything Faster!”
And in those three words, the authors neatly sum up what is wrong with the modern world. Think about it for a minute: Do Everything Faster. Does it really make sense to speed-read Proust, make love in half the time or cook every meal in the microwave? Surely not, but the fact that someone could write the words “Do Everything Faster” underlines just how far we have gone off the rails, and how urgently we need to rethink our whole way of life. (36)
I find his challenge interesting precisely because, like the author, I have this compulsion to do things quickly – read the book quickly, write the lecture quickly. But aren't there things that we want to slow down so as to prolong our enjoyment of them, our experience of them?
Romance novels, however, at least those that I have been reading lately about a virgin’s first time, seem to thrive on this slowness. We are slowly led through the development of the relationship between the protagonists. If one looks at a novel like Last Virgin in California by Maureen Child or The 39-Year-Old Virgin by Marie Ferrarella or The Last Male Virgin by Katherine Deauxville, things often move slowly, glacially so, in the novel. The hero or the heroine will realise that, as Anke Bernau writes in Virgins: A Cultural History, "virginity is not so much a fixed state or condition, as a journey one must undertake" (67). The whole point of the novel is the very long journey involved in losing one’s virginity, indeed, a very slow process. The paradox of romance reading, however, is that most readers read quickly (as Janice Radway noted in Reading the Romance). Regardless, I am interested in the idea of slowness whether it be in the act of reading (reading slowly) or in the act of narration (slowing down narrative). The paradox noted above seems like an interesting place to begin when we think about speed, slowness, and romance reading (of course, there is also something to be said about romance writing and slowness, but that is perhaps best left for another time).
Honoré's book covers many areas of concern ranging from food to medicine, work, leisure, sex, cities, and mind body. Perhaps, however, I can take comfort when Honoré writes:
Fast Thinking is rational, analytical, linear, logical. It is what we do under pressure, when the clock is ticking; it is the way computers think and the way the modern workplace operates; it delivers clear solutions to well-defined problems. Slow Thinking is intuitive, woolly and creative. It is what we do when the pressure is off, and we have the time to let ideas simmer at their own pace on the back burner. It yields rich and subtle insights. (120)
To these ends, I continue to think -- too slowly for my liking -- about the very notion of speed, reading, and, in particular, slowness and romance.