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I came across a mentioning of a speed-reading method devised by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832) in the (delightful) German novel Risiko (DE, EN) by Steffen Kopetztky. Goethe has a similar status in Germany as Shakespeare does in English-speaking countries (and beyond). The relevant paragraph reads as follows:

Stichnote erklärte ihm die, wie er wußte, auf Goethe zurückgehende Technik des Schnelllesens, die ihm einer seiner Lehrer auf der Torpedoschule in Flensburg beigebracht hatte und bei der es darum ging, sich vom Lesen einzelner Wörter zu lösen und stattdessen die ganze Zeile zu erfassen. So wie man sich ja auch während der Volksschule vom mühselingen Zusammenbuchstabieren der Wörter befreit habe und diese mit einem Blick erfassen, so sei es auch für die Breitseite eines gesetzten Textes möglich, diese in einer Zusammenschau zu lesen, wie ein Bild, das man ebenfalls als Ganzes betrachten und begreifen könne, ohne zuvor jedes Detail genau bestimmt zu haben.

Translation courtesy of Google Translate:

He said that, as he knew, Goethe's technique of quick reading, taught by one of his teachers at the torpedo school in Flensburg, was about getting away from reading single words and instead capturing the whole line. Just as one had freed oneself from the laborious spelling of words during elementary school and grasped them with one glance, so it was also possible for the broadside of a set text to read it in a synopsis, like a picture that one also sees as To be able to look at and comprehend everything without first having determined every detail.

My question is this: Did Goethe ever suggest such a method for speed reading and if so, where can further details be found? A preliminary Internet search makes me think this is a literary invention by Kopetztky, but then Goethe lived long before the invention of the Internet.

migrated from psychology.stackexchange.com Oct 3 '18 at 9:53

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  • @StevenJeuris I wasn't certain whether it fits here (best) either, but why Skeptics SE? Before posting I had been searching for SE sites concentrating on "self improvement" or "self hacking" (normally not my cup of tea), but this had led nowhere. – Drux Oct 3 '18 at 3:03
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    Skeptics.SE would be a good choice as you are questioning the accuracy of information held within an article/book you have referenced. In my view, this kind of question fits well in Skeptics.SE – Chris Rogers Oct 3 '18 at 6:22
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    Interestingly enough, he did say this: "The good people know not what time and trouble it costs to learn to read. I have been employed for eighteen years on it and cannot say that I have reached the goal yet". – Laurel Oct 3 '18 at 22:18
  • Drux: The quoted passage is a bit ambiguous, and I don't have enough context or German to clarify. Perhaps you can help. It seems to say Goethe learnt his technique from a teacher - i.e. Goethe didn't invent it. Perhaps, though, Goethe ran the "torpedo (?) school" and the teacher was one of his employees. The Wikipedia biography doesn't seem to be consistent with either theory. – Oddthinking Oct 3 '18 at 23:53
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    Oh, thank you. I totally misread this. So we have an 2015 novel with a character who learnt a speed-reading technique in the 1910's that the novelist attributes to Goethe. We do allow claims from fiction, but only if it is clear the author intended the reader to literally believe the claim in the real world, not just in the fictional universe. I can't judge this one. – Oddthinking Oct 4 '18 at 12:19

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