Walter Benjamin thoughtfully stated that “the work of memory collapses time” and it’s probably even more the case today than it was in the past. Writing, reading, and eventually memorising are complex activities that position our existence in relation to time. The process of memorisation in particular is probably the hardest, most conflictual, demanding and frustrating of all of them. Our memory is often unreliable and sensitive to outer influences. Can we trust it enough with the vital task of learning?

Secrets of Life - The Human Machine and How it Works: Perception through Impression, 1970 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.

Secrets of Life - The Human Machine and How it Works: Perception through Impression, 1970 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.

Memorising is a constant mental struggle that becomes even more evident if we contrast it to how easily accessible everything is. With on-the-go knowledge at our fingertips, why should we memorise?

The process of memorisation as a pedagogic tool is quite tumultuous, and we’re immediately confronted with failure and rejection. Our brain refuses to remember the words we’re trying to commit to, and the initial frustration turns into anger. If we take memorising poetry in school for example, we’re also faced with the performative aspect of memorisation. We stand up in front of the entire class and are expected to flawlessly recite what we´ve prepared. Insuccess is never a private failure.

Forget Me, 2005 by Julião Sarmento.

Forget Me, 2005 by Julião Sarmento.

In its evolution, memorisation experienced a spatial and mental dislocation. It used to be a process that would mostly take place in our minds. However, in today’s Western society we have the privilege of having immediate 24/7 access to anything we need, thanks to a constant flow of images and information, outsourcing our memory to our laptops and networked devices.

We seem to have lost our attention span and concentration for classic memorisation to successfully take place. Rather, our Western stream-culture seems to be often geared to forget rather than remember – think of Snapchat. On the other hand, we are often objects, rather than subjects of memory making. Google, for instance, remembers for us, but it also remembers things about us, things we ourselves are encouraged to forget.

Secrets of Life - The Human Machine and How it Works, 1970 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.

Secrets of Life - The Human Machine and How it Works, 1970 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.

Typist from the series ‘Matter and Memory’ 1944, by Jean Dubuffet.

Typist from the series ‘Matter and Memory’ 1944, by Jean Dubuffet.

Granted, memorisation is still an active process, but not always a voluntary act. Advertising is the best example of this mechanism, with subliminal messages absorbed and information stored and recollected according to a logic we do not control. So how are we training our memory if memorising is a lost art? People might not be able to recite poems on the spot anymore, but memorisation might not be a totally defunct practice after all. Rap artist Kendrick Lamar has nearly 9 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and chances are that plenty of them have his songs on repeat and his lyrics ingrained in their memory.

Perhaps the key to memorisation is being able to establish an emotional link with things we try to remember. As long as they resonate and can serve as a medium of contestation and identity development, like rap music, our creative output can still generate awareness so that it’ll be worth remembering. In times when our minds are threatened by atrophy and uniformity, it might be that rap music will save our brains.

Words: Claudia Manca

Copy edited by Elena Stanciu