Rote Memorization


Some people memorize poetry, and some people memorize song lyrics or rap lines (which is really just a kind of poetry anyway); some people memorize movie or TV show lines and some people memorize jokes and one liners. Overall, in the end, everyone either knows someone who has an extensive listing or memorized content – or, they even do it themselves.

But why? Why do people feel such a drive to memorize and recite content? After all, who doesn’t get a thrill learning and singing along to a favorite song? Or who doesn’t have a flush of happiness at being able to drop a line from a favorite TV show at the appropriate point in a conversation? Why are people almost seemingly programmed to love memorizing and reciting content?

This isn’t something that can be said to be a recent phenomenon. TV and radio have not suddenly caused people to be more interested in committing spoken lines to memory. The Bible, for instance, started off as an oral tradition. Epic stories, such as The Odyssey and The Iliad started off as spoken tales that were memorized and passed along, person to person before being committed to writing. The Qur’an is still memorized by the faithful and devout, and is meant to be read aloud – as are psalms.

But memorization can’t be just about fulfilling a religious need, though. Plenty of people with no faith at all still memorize snatches of poetry they love. So where does this drive come from? Is it simply a way for us to further connect to something? Do we feel more religious if we memorize our texts? Do we believe ourselves to be better fans of The Simpsons if we can quote entire episodes?

Maybe memorization is just a way for us to feel connected , creatively, to the object we love. When we memorize a joke and tell it, we are in ways making that joke a part of us. By memorizing a poem, are we breaking down the boundaries between ourselves and the texts? Are we making the overall art a greater part of ourselves?

If so, it’s uniquely beautiful in a way. When seen in this light, memorization isn’t just some rote thing we do because we are bored or because we have too much free time. Instead, memorization becomes a way for us to engage in art and creativity – it becomes a way for us to identify with what we love. In a way, we become a part of whatever it is that was memorized.

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