Wednesday with Words – Memory and Imagination

Oh the plans of man….my reading list has had a bit of a shift in order. A book that I have been wanting to read is finally in my hands. Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen  is not a new book; it was published in 2010. Unfortunately my library does not have it within the county library system. I finally requested it via inter-library loan and have enjoyed what I have read so far.

And there is the trouble. A good book is a dangerous thing. In the wrong hands, it is like a bomb housed within a couple of red pasteboard covers. It can blow the world wide open; it can, if it’s Dante’s Divine Comedy, blow the reader as high as heaven. It carries within it the possibility – and it is always a possibility – of cracking open the shell of routine that prevents us from seeing the world.

Normally I am a quick reader no matter what text is in my hand. I have quickly found that using a Commonplace Book has really helped me to slow down and really savor what I am reading. It is very easy to feel rushed and compelled to get through a chapter as quickly as possible. I have nine children to parent and guide, books to pre-read, laundry to fold, a baby to rock….I need to finish the chapter quickly and move on.

No. No, I don’t. I can linger, study, and enjoy little snippets if necessary. One small bite here and there… a bit of literary grazing….yes, I think books might become a very dangerous thing for me now. Very dangerous, indeed.

A quote dealing with the importance of a child reading and not memory being the most important:

How, then, to do away with the Facts? The first thing is to keep the memory weak and empty.

That may sound counterintuitive. ‘We don’t teach by rote memorization,’ say our educators today, raising their chins in pride. ‘We prefer to teach critical thinking. We prefer to tap into the imagination.’

So long as teachers keep harping on that one string, we won’t have to fear that our schools will turn out the next Dante or Mozart. That is because a developed memory is a wondrous and terrible storehouse of things seen and heard and done. It can do what no mere search engine on the internet can do. It can call up apparently unrelated things at once, molding them into a whole impression, or a new thought. The poet T. S. Eliot understood this creative, associative, dynamic function of a strong memory. The developed imagination remembers a strain from Bach, and smells spinach cooking in the kitchen, and these impressions are not separate but part of a unified whole, and are the essence of creative play. Without the library of the memory – which the Renaissance poet Edmund Spenser compared to a dusty room full of wonders in the attic of the mind, where a wise old man pores over his books, and  a little boy called Anamnesis, “Reminder,” sometimes has to climb a ladder to go fetch them – the imagination simply does not have much to think about, or to play with.

The only bad thing? Because this book was inter-library loan, I have a short window to read it. All other reading has been bumped down the list so I can finish this one by mid-February. I am looking forward to many more days of interesting reading and writing. Why did I wait so long to implement a Commonplace Book for myself?

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