This paper considers the practice of learning-by-heart and argues for its relevance to learning, to thought (as defined by Gilles Deleuze) and as a way of turning towards the ‘new’ or ‘the future’, via the operation of repetition. It considers two modes in which rote learning can be productive and provocative—firstly, when the content itself is something worth retaining, and secondly, when the actual process of the learning itself and then the repeating align themselves with the criteria of ‘practice’, as framed by the author here. In the face of rote learning’s reputation as an out-moded pedagogical tool, the paper argues that it inhabits a paradoxical and productive site, whereby what begins as a repetition of the same, can open towards pure repetition (as Deleuze frames this notion), and facilitate inventiveness and a courting of the new. In this way, poetry, and the learning of it by rote, constitute a unique constellation, disputing the platitude that learning is ‘only discovering what one already knew’ and instead proposing that learning is closer to an awesome ordeal, one that leads to concepts and collisions that did not exist before and cannot be predicted in advance.
A consideration of 'learning by heart' and its contribution to thought and change