Memorization

I’m finally getting around to reading Ranciere’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster, and I’m finding it really exciting and helpful. Of particular interest is his emphasis on memorization as a form of intellectual emancipation. Thinking ahead to my Heidegger class for next year, it occurs to me that if I could get every student to memorize one important paragraph from Being and Time, they could conceivably wind up being ahead of a student who passed an exam on the best-ever lecture course in terms of actually understanding how to read Heidegger.

My colleague Aron Dunlap has suggested incorporating a memorization component into our literature class next semester, and while I was open to the idea before, now I’m positively intrigued. Have any of you incorporated memorization into your teaching, specifically of poetry? What were your experiences?

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3 Responses to “Memorization”

  1. Andy Catsimanes Says:

    “To learn by heart is to afford the text or music an indwelling clarity and life-force. Ben Johnson’s term, “ingestion”, is precisely right. What we know by heart becomes an agency in our consciousness, a ‘pace-maker’ in the growth and vital complication of our identity. No exegesis or criticism from without can so directly incorporate within us the formal means, the principles of executive organization of a semantic fact, be it verbal or musical.”

    ~George Steiner “Real Presences”

  2. Robert Minto Says:

    Yes, boo-hurrah for memory-work. I’m actually incorporating it heavily into my next semester’s intro-to-philosophy course. I was inspired by George Dreyfus’s The Sound of Two Hands Clapping.

  3. arwenmitchell Says:

    I was required to memorize poetry in one class in undergrad. I could talk at length as to why it’s amazing. I should’ve made my humanities lit class do it. It would also be amazing. Close reading in a whole new way…


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