In praise of slow learning in literary studies
The errors of universities diagnosed by Milton in Of Education are arguably just as prevalent in the utilitarian educational context of today, where much seems designed to deny students the time it takes to attain to delightful knowledge. With that in mind, this essay means to address questions concerning the pacing of an education in English. I want to suggest that literature, in its untimeliness, speaks in special ways to the slow learner, which ought to be valued and nurtured: and that cognitive delay—not getting it straight away—is actually conducive to the deepest, longest-lasting kind of learning in literature. Examples from Eliot’s Four Quartets, Montaigne’s Essais, and Geoffrey Hill’s poetry will illustrate the argument, alongside some reflections on the reception of literature, in criticism and in teaching and learning practices.