During my senior year, I memorized all of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” If you’ve never read “Howl,” know that it takes more than thirty minutes to read aloud, and contains such gems as weeping “at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions and bad music,” and those desperate poets “who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg.”
Lines like those make me high. Of course, I knew that in high school, and I still pushed myself through two painful years of classes in math and biology at MIT just because it seemed like the right thing to do. Most MIT students don’t think much about serious work in the humanities. But I don’t just want to read poetry, and literature isn’t simply a weekend hobby for me – I want to think and write about it critically.
The writing and speaking skills I gained in MIT Literature courses have served me well in areas from everyday life to graduate school applications to my current job as a department liaison at MIT OpenCourseWare. The larger philosophical and aesthetic understanding that literature has given me goes even further.
Memorizing Ginsberg is more fun than memorizing reagents for organic chemistry. And the thing is that for me – in my life – it’s also been more useful.