There are many ways to clear a kitchen of party guests, but professing a love of lists is surely one of the quickest.
This is a shame, because lists are not simply about order (I say as Party Guest #1 finishes insulting the host with fridge magnets, sidles for the door); lists, and especially fictional lists like the examples here, demonstrate a very particular kind of chaos.
Their practical origins can’t be denied, of course. The earliest known writing is in the form of lists: tablets of Sumerian accountancy (Party Guest #2, himself an accountant, racks up ancient symbols on a dinner plate, nods eagerly). Lists were the dawn of literacy, for the first time allowing thoughts to amass beyond any single thinker and feed into a collective intellect. Lists are the vessel of knowledge.
In this they hint at something bigger than the mere written-out ingredients for a flan or the motivational phrases Party Guest #2 will chant to himself in the mirror tomorrow morning. Every list is in a sense the beginning of the Total List, the one which makes up – which is – the world.
Umberto Eco loves lists. He makes a distinction between practical, or finite, lists – the operational everyday ones – and poetic, or infinite, lists. This latter type he calls infinite because something in the unreality and aesthetic quality of the poetic list can seem to touch on a kind of endlessness. We might imagine this in how the writer chooses and orders a fictional list’s items, selecting from the great imagined Everything of potential objects and ideas to include. ‘The only true purpose of a good list,’ says Eco, ‘is to convey the idea of infinity and the vertigo of the etcetera’.
To my mind the difference between practical and poetic lists is perhaps not so distinct, with poetic lists potentially being made of practical things and practical lists at times, without any intention, being highly poetic. Infinity hides in any list. But Eco is right to highlight the unreality of some lists as something people find compelling, from the role call of the devils in Paradise Lost and witches’ ingredients in Macbeth to the year’s summary in Bridget Jones’s Diary; from the catalogue of ships and captains in the Iliad to the chorus of women’s names in ‘Mambo No 5’.
These examples typify one of the main roles of fictional lists: eulogy. That is, a form of worshipful and unrelenting praise. (Unless you read Lou Bega’s sexual odyssey as an ironic ode to loneliness and/or STI confessional, which no one’s stopping you from doing.) Religious lists take this to its extremity, where the lists are not just static bits of information but a practice where the significance is as much in the reading or speaking, the meditative feeling of enunciation and repetition. Examples include the journeys of the Israelites in the Torah and the rampant Lou Bega-esque begatting of the Book of Genesis.
The linguistic historian Walter Ong says:
This sort of aggregation derives partly from the oral drive to use formulas, [and] partly from the oral mnemonic drive to exploit balance (recurrence of subject-object-predicate produces a swing which aids recall and which a mere sequence of names would lack).
That’s ‘subject-object-predicate’ as in ‘Israelites-departed-Succoth’. The repetition of a pattern, in this case grammatical, helps imprint things in the mind. As Lou Bega would attest, the important thing is the rhythm; the substance of the words takes a back seat as the words themselves, their shapes and sounds, become a means to the end of a religious tranquility/ecstasy/boredom. Eco also highlights this musical aspect as important when recalling the litanies of Saints: ‘what matters is not which names are present or absent, but the fact that they are rhythmically enunciated for a sufficiently long period of time’.
So the idea of lists being something more than repositories of information is old indeed. Like any other form of expression, they have a role in not just causing one to know more but also in defining the edges of what one doesn’t know. Lists, though, have that straight-faced accountant’s demeanour which makes them fertile ground for playing with reality.1A shopping list and a poem look, from a distance, identical.
The non-specialist may assume the lists of the abbey’s ecclesiastical volumes in Eco’s The Name of the Rose to contain invented books. After all, why bother digging around for real books when those mentioned aren’t significant to the story? But Eco has since said that every book named is real and would have been in circulation at the time. He bothered because he was building something which, like the novel’s shadowy abbey and its monks, sees individual truths stacked into something treacherous.
Far beyond this in meta-textual witchery are the lists in Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves, including a footnote descending the side of page after page listing the architectural styles and buildings which the house at the centre of the story does not resemble. Opposite is another footnote running upside-down and backwards on the same pages which lists the architects relating to those buildings. It’s confounding firstly in the sense that one has no idea if all of those hundreds of entries are real or if falsehoods are mixed in, and more powerfully in the sense that it only serves to make the house in question more opaque and sinister by expanding the description of what it isn’t.
The scope of each entry in a fictional list will of course change the texture of the information it dumps mercilessly on you. Weighty examples of fuller-entried lists are the ten-page endnote detailing the filmography of James O Incandenza in Infinite Jest, and Ishmael’s DIY study of whales in Moby-Dick. The latter is particularly pleasing because at the end of the list Ishmael notes that there remains undescribed a ‘rabble of uncertain, fugitive, half-fabulous whales’ which include ‘The Bottle-Nose Whale; the Junk Whale; the Pudding-Headed Whale; the Cape Whale; the Leading Whale; the Cannon Whale; the Scrag Whale; the Coppered Whale; the Elephant Whale; the Iceberg Whale; the Quog Whale’ – and, wait for it – ‘the Blue Whale’.
This is the first known mention of the blue whale anywhere (by this name), and was recorded by Melville as ‘half-fabulous’. We now know it to be real and the largest animal ever discovered. Moby-Dick is effusive in information on whales and whaling but, as Danielewski does with the house in House of Leaves, information is used as a way of creating an abyss within which its true subject somewhere lurks, massive yet unseen. The scientific systematisation of whales serves, in the gaps the reader is left with, to connect them even more with the fantastical, and Melville knew this. The blue whale’s inclusion in that sub-list elucidates this point better than he could have hoped when writing it, as if we’re watched something drift across the line between myth and reality.
This example shows how systematisation, seen often as the most coldly practical use of lists, is more than a mere arrangement of bits of knowledge: the arrangement itself is part (perhaps even the larger part) of the knowledge being described.2Both aspects, of course, have an appeal to the magpie, the scavenger/builder. As to whether that knowledge is by this process revealed or created is a contentious thing, this being the flashpoint between – to light our thinking pipes for a second – structuralism and its unruly offspring.
For the poststructurally inclined, lists and sub-lists of, say, zoological taxonomies (the animal kingdom, and within that the phylum, then class, order, family and genus) are equal, say, to the real number system (real numbers, and within them the rational numbers, then integers, whole numbers, natural numbers) in being structures overlaid by the observer as a means of understanding what’s there. The structure itself is not ‘real’, or inherent to the subject, yet will be our only view on to it. But this doesn’t matter as long as the structure remains ‘accurate’ – which is to say, useful. Branching lists are the frameworks beneath these structures which, since being examined directly, have caused much furrowing of brows within philosophy and perhaps not nearly enough in the sciences, since we are here talking about the foundations of knowledge.
Playing with these philosophical structures has produced some of the strangest and, in their way, most important lists. In Jorge Luis Borges’s essay ‘John Wilkins’ Analytical Language’ there is a list accredited to a Chinese encyclopaedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. The list is given as an example of systems of organising the world which rely not on order but on chaos. It concerns animals and is almost certainly made up by Borges, inserted into the essay as a sort of performative piss-take, given the essay’s subject of the highly systematic ‘universal language’ invented by John Wilkins, and Borges’s feeling that such a grand endeavour will inevitably by full of conjecture and basically quite silly.
Borges can’t just send up this theory with a simple reductio, though; there is more going on in his ‘Chinese encyclopaedia’ list than in what it was invented to counter, especially in the entries ‘(h) those that are included in this classification’ (surely a deliberate reference to set theory and the infamous ‘Cantor Set’ – the set which contains itself), and ‘(l) etcetera’ (which, bear in mind, if possible to do without your head turning inside out, is not at the end of the list but it’s own entry).
Philosopher Michel Foucault, who liked taking the piss, said:
That passage from Borges kept me laughing a long time, though not without a certain uneasiness that I found hard to shake off. Perhaps because there arose in its wake the suspicion that there is a worse kind of disorder than that of the incongruous, the linking together of things that are inappropriate; I mean the disorder in which fragments of a large number of possible orders glitter separately in the dimension, without law or geometry…
It was declared that Borges’s list ‘transgresses the boundaries of all imagination’ by Foucault3For whom the bits of information can be freed of the stuff which binds and limits them., and that it ‘challenges all criteria of congruity’ by Eco. This is good going for a list of dogs and pigs.
And Foucault’s laughter is not insignificant. Literary lists are a sort of challenge to the reader who is expecting prose; they are antagonistic, and often comically so. Appearing on ‘Desert Island Disks’, Eco chose as his single volume to take away to the imagined desert island (beyond the obligatory Bible and complete works of Shakespeare) the New York phone book. A joke, yes, an antagonism to the format of the show, but a joke without glibness: he chose that enormous list because it ‘contains all the names of the world, and there you can imagine an infinite series of stories with infinite characters’.
The names in the phone book represent something immeasurably grander than the material sum of each. This is like Walden‘s list of building supplies for a lake-side shack indicating the cost of freedom (twenty-eight dollars), and Robinson Crusoe‘s lists of materials recovered from the wrecked ship meaning survival. A core mechanism of fiction is the everyday turning into the huge, the majestic, and lists can show this more acutely than anything, precisely for being so stripped down. GK Chesterton wrote that Defoe’s novel ‘owes its eternal vivacity to the fact that it celebrates the poetry of limits, nay, even the wild romance of prudence. Crusoe is a man on a small rock with a few comforts just snatched from the sea: the best thing in the book is simply the list of things saved from the wreck. The greatest of poems is an inventory.’
In their form, lists can combine this emotive power of poetry with the intellectual power of that dusty, underloved and endlessly relevant discipline, rhetoric. ‘Anaphora’, for example, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a clause; ‘asyndeton’ is the omission of certain conjunctions in order to quickly repeat certain types of words, such as verbs. Julius Caesar used both devices when he said, ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’. We remember it because it employed enumerative or ‘list-style’ rhetorical techniques to poetic effect.
In Virginia Woolf’s great treatise of emancipation, A Room of One’s Own, she at one point notes a list drawn from the index of the British Museum library, using again the trick of never naming the subject of the list while building up the material around that subject until the absence of its name strikes a certain violence upon the reader’s mind. The references stack into a list of misogynist stereotypes; the missing word, it becomes clear, is ‘women’. Woolf’s list personifies the genius of the essay more broadly in that it’s superficially playful, never quite overstepping the prescribed boundaries into aggression, but it’s playfulness is so sharp that it becomes almost toying, and so hugely powerful. The subtly (and perhaps, in its reserved equivocation, the Englishness) of this passive power allows it to run deeper and strike more damagingly at those strictures she rails against, because it’s only at the last that her targets would realise they are just that. ‘Why are women, judging from this catalogue, so much more interesting to men than men are to women?’ she says. Ouch.
A classic rhetorical method for making an argument is irony, and lists can work well to overload a reader with a certain sense or idea until it seems in some way corrosive. American Psycho uses oppressively detailed lists of clothes and music to evoke the hyper-materialism of 1980s New York and reduce anti-hero Pat Bateman’s world to the desirous inhumanity in which it is so natural for him to kill. In White Noise, a novel also very much of the ’80s, characters list brands and slogans to evoke a sort of spiritual reverence, new consumer litanies which see, as in American Psycho, materialism aligned with death.
Excess is necessary to these sorts of lists, battering the reader with something until it becomes clear that it’s not nice to be battered. But some lists, and so some writers of lists, revel without apology in their self-indulgent (though not un-fun) greed for notions and objects. The purposely excessive list runs like the joke with the interminable punchline, coaxing the listener through waves of laughter then tedium then laughter again, without having changed the substance of what’s going on. The contents of Leopold Bloom’s kitchen drawer in Ulysses are a well known example, again cataloguing and revelling in the everyday. The contents of Tyrone Slothrop’s desk in Gravity’s Rainbow are another case, probably a direct reference to the former and with equally everyday yet singularly described contents.4The ‘bureaucratic smegma’.
In the relentless enumeration of these passages there is an affection deeper than that for language, as the format cuts away the syntax which typically strings language together: these lists are the rawest love of words.
Of course, all lists are foremost lists of words, and sometimes this is enough, the steady aural aerobics of syllables stretching and curving in the mouth, each appearing suddenly, without the warning of a common theme. The search for themes, though, is the most immediate and natural reaction we have to lists, and possibly to any phenomena at all. The more disparate the objects of a list, the less intuitively organisable, and so the more chaotic things will seem.
But a curious thing is that, the more disparate the objects, in a sense the broader and more encompassing must be the theme which joins them; the less sense a list makes, the more it approaches the Total List. After all, if everything that’s perceivable can be described, to greater or lesser degree, with words, then to list is to begin building a picture of nothing but the entire world.
For the immensity of lists we need look no further than Walt Whitman. Like the Israelites’ journeys in Numbers, Whitman’s listing is often geographical, roving birdlike over a new Promised Land. There is an epic, preacherly quality to how his poetry yells the names of towns and tracts of American wilderness, as if the names alone are enough to shake a kind of euphoria from the earth. Scholar Detlev Schumann puts it best: ‘Whitman’s countless and endless enumerations of practically everything under the sun and much above it suggest the vastness of existence itself; nothing short of the Cosmos can serve as a common denominator.’
It’s uplifting to be given such a view, but in the everythingness of lists Eco spies a bit of a downer:
We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.
And so far as the ‘long lists of lots of stuff’ conception of listing goes, he is right. But in considering the peculiar vastness of lists I think to focus on the ever-growing end of a list, Eco’s ‘vertigo of the etcetera’, is to be looking in the wrong place.
As ever, Borges can point us in a different direction. In his short story ‘The Aleph’ he describes what is seen through a small object which contains infinite space. And because the description of what’s seen inside is avowedly a list of the universe, it is at the same time comprehensible and mad. It’s a mere page, dwarfed by lists of Joyce and Eco, but because Borges, I think, has such a supreme sense of the infinite space between the objects in his list, the space which is manifest through the objects’ diversity and wild specificity, he evokes something more beautiful and terrible than any notion of limitlessness found at the ‘end’ of a list.
One could say that Borges’s ability to negotiate the space between the items of a list is a clue to the concision of his writing more generally, of how he can evoke a novel’s worth of ideas within a four-page story – yet without it feeling rushed or compressed. One might call this a roundabout way of acknowledging that, originally, he was a poet.
And it would come as little surprise to a poet that, in maths, the magic of infinity lies not beyond but between numbers. With this in mind we might imagine the universe of stuff that can lie between, and is suddenly conjured by, two artfully chosen objects of a list5This stuff is left unstated and so made transmutable – all the more so when the objects of a list are disparate in what they’re about, broadening the potential of what lies between yet still held by the list’s system of meaning. – like points on the number line, like the stanzas of a verse. A list of two can be bigger than a list of thousand, a million.
A music teacher once said to me, when I was a kid and thought that the object of learning an instrument, of learning anything, was virtuosity, that it’s not about the notes you play, it’s about the notes you don’t. Being a mulish little idiot I wrote this off as cheap Mr Miyagi-type nonsense, but years later I saw he was right.
Lists are vessels of knowledge, but in the sense that they are about what they do not contain. In the list of everything, each new item is significant in that it hints at the ever greater magnitude of what is not in the list – but should be. Lists therefore shrink as they grow. They are a lesson in our inability to know and see everything at once, and in this they work as an important philosophical exercise. The fun-to-say list stretches the tongue like the ‘chaotic’ list stretches the brain.
I believe this has been the role of the fictional list until now, but things are changing.
Where once a chief task of consciousness was the search for information – the behaviour of particles, the whereabouts of the cat – technology carries us into an age where the task is instead to sift through the flow of information before us: a million streamable quantum physics lessons to choose from, infinite cats. We don’t even compile the lists ourselves; we sit while automated aggregators trawl and scrape, sating us with endless feed while our search terms are quietly logged, later beckoning sultry targeted advertisements while around us bots patrol and probe. The web’s spiders skitter through the HTML of this very essay to archive it deeply among the page-ranking systems which govern the internet, the most complex list imaginable, and in turn issue the imperatives of our lives. Google’s search algorithm is our Ark of the Covenant.
Consider then what will be required to respond to the ranked psychoses of this new listable scrolable age. The fictional list would no longer be a niche tactic; it, or mutated forms of it, would be fundamental to the art which describes it. Information art. On the page we can perhaps glimpse this in Wallace’s short story ‘Datum Centurio‘, in which the word ‘date’ (as in a romantic liaison) is arranged in a series of definitions in a futuristic dictionary made of strange slang and jargon mixed with product names and notes on format ‘compatibility’. Developing across the definitions is a sense of the dense sexual narcissism which dating is to become in the progressing twenty-first century. Wallace chose to describe this through the form of a list with allusions to ornate and unexplained referencing systems – jumbled and loveless information.6These systems, like language itself, are anchored by and in a sense about their common roots: ‘date’ shares an etymological root with ‘data’. In the late ’90s, ‘Datum Centurio‘ was considered unreadable. It gets more readable by the year.
But paper will hold only a static imitation of what could well emerge across the current social media platforms and whatever takes their place. It won’t be the contrived flash fictions and Twitter micro novels we imagine now but something skewed and uncomfortable, threaded through multiple platforms (or things which don’t constitute platforms at all), produced by unattributable combinations of humans and simulators; it will be non-linear, unending, spinning itself across the forgotten corners of the internet like a rogue bohemian web crawler. It will at first seem incomprehensible to everyone except those – probably kids – who make it. It won’t be trusted.
This can be said with reasonable surety because, while this shift is new and exciting, merging ourselves with the collapsed horizons of digital communication, it is a shift like all shifts. Scepticism of its substance and value will be as it was with the invention of the computer, of the moveable type printing press, of accountancy tablets7Plato famously preferred spoken language, the written word being for him little more than a personal memory aid, incapable of ‘containing’ reality beyond that of the writer – and so pointless, even dangerous.. These arguably represent the greatest shifts in human consciousness – and every one of them revolving around the ‘technologising of the word’, as Ong put it. Another one is under way, and my bet is placed: list-fiction will be a central part of how we respond to it.
First, Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parent’ tears;
Next Chemos, the obscene dread of Moab’s sons,
From Aroer to Nebo and the wild
Of southmost Abarim…
With these came the, who, from the borderingflood
Of old Euphrates to the brook that parts
Egypt from Syrian ground, had the general names
Of Baalim and Ashtaroth…
Belial came last; than whom a spirit more lewd
Fell from heaven, or more gross to love
Vice for itself…
Third Witch: Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.
Correct lottery numbers 42 (v.g.)
Incorrect lottery numbers 387
Total Instants purchased 98
Total Instants winnings £110
Total Instants profit £12 (Yessss! Yessss! Have beaten system while supporting worthwhile causes in manner of benefactor)
1471 calls (quite a lot)
Valentines 1 (v.g.)
Christmas cards 33 (v.g.)
Hangover-free days 114 (v.g.)
Boyfriends 2 (but one only for six days so far)
Nice boyfriends 1
Number of New Year’s Resolutions kept 1 (v.g.)
An excellent year’s progress.
Bridget Jones’s Diary
First the Boeotians, led by Peneleos, Leitus, Arcesilaus, Prothoenor and Clonius; they came from Hyrie and stony Aulis, from Schoenus, Scolus and high-ridged Eteonus; from Thespeia and Graea, and spacious Mycalessus; from the villages of Harma, Eilesium and Erythrae; from Eleon, Hyle, Peteon, Ocalea and Medeon’s stronghold; from Copae, Eutresis, and dove-haunted Thisbe; from Coroneia and grassy Haliartus, Plataea and Glisas, and the great citadel of Thebes…
A little bit of Monica in my life
A little bit of Erica by my side
A little bit of Rita is all I need
A little bit of Tina is what I see
A little bit of Sandra in the sun
A little bit of Mary all night long
A little bit of Jessica here I am
A little bit of you makes me your man
Mambo Number 5!
Mambo Number 5
And the children of Israel removed from Rameses, and pitched in Succoth. And they departed from Succoth, and pitched in Etham, which is in the edge of the wilderness. And they removed from Etham, and turned again unto Pihahiroth, which is before Baalzephon: and they pitched before Migdol. And they departed from before Pihahiroth, and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and went three days’journey in the wilderness of Etham, and pitched in Marah.
These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood: And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah: And Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters. And Salah lived thirty years, and begat Eber…
De pentagogo Salomonis; Ars loquendi et intelligendi in lingua hebraica; De rebus metallicis, by Roger of Hereford; Algebra, by Al-Kuwarizmi, Punica, by Silius Italicus; Gesta francorum; De laudibus sanctae crucis, by Rabanus Maurus; Giordani de aetate muni et hominis reservatis singulis litteris per singulos libros ab A usque ad Z…
Name of the Rose
For example, there is nothing about the house that even remotely resembles 20th century works whether in the style of Post-Modern, Late-Modern, Brutalism, Neo-Expressionism, Wrightian, The New Formalism, Miesian, the International Style, Streamline, Moderne, Art Deco, the Pueblo Style, Spanish Colonial, to name but a few, with examples such as the Western Savings and Loan Association in Superstition, Arizona, Animal Crackers, in Highland Park, Illinois…
House of Leaves
Mark Z Danielewski
‘Union Of Theoretical Grammarians In Cambridge’ – B.S. Meniscus Films, Ltd. Documentary cast; 35 mm; 26 minutes; color; silent w/ heavy use of computerized distortion in facial close-ups. Documentary and closed-caption interviews with participants in the public Steven Pinker-Avril M. Incadenza debate on the political implications of prescriptive grammar during the infamous Militant Grammarians of Massachusetts convention credited with helping incite the M.I.T. language riots of B.S. 1997. UNRELEASED DUE TO LITIGATION
‘Widower’ – B.S. Latrodectus Mactans Productions. Cosgrove Watt, Ross Reat; 35 mm; 34 minutes; black and white; sound. Shot on location in Tucson, AZ, parody of broadcast television domestic comedies, a cocaine-addicted father (Watt) leads his son (Reat) around their desert property immolating poisonous spiders. CELLULOID; INTERLACE TELENT CARTRIDGE RE-RELEASE #357-75-00 (Y.P.W.)
David Foster Wallace
BOOK I. (Folio), CHAPTER V. (Razar Back).- Of this whale little is known but his name. I have seen him at a distance off Cape Horn. Of a retiring nature, he eludes both hunters and philosophers. Though no coward, he has never yet shown any part of him but his back, which rises in a long sharp ridge. Let him go. I know little more of him, nor does anybody else.BOOK I. (Folio), CHAPTER VI. (Sulphur Bottom).- Another retiring gentleman, with a brimstone belly, doubtless got by scraping along the Tartarian tiles in some of his profounder divings. He is seldom seen; at least I have never seen him except in the remoter southern seas, and then always at too great a distance to study his countenance. He is never chased; he would run away with rope-walks of line. Prodigies are told of him. Adieu, Sulphur Bottom! I can say nothing more that is true of ye, nor can the oldest Nantucketer.
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
…animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.
‘The Analytical Language of John Wilkins’
Jorge Luis Borges
Boards, $8.03½, mostly shanty boards.
Refuse shingles for roof and sides, 4.00
Two second-hand windows with glass, 2.43
One thousand old brick, 4.00
Two casks of lime, 2.40 That was high.
Hair, 0.31 More than I needed.
Mantle-tree iron, 0.15
Hinges and screws, 0.14
Transportation, 1.40 I carried good part on my back.
In all, $28.12½
Walden; or, Life in the Woods
Henry David Thoreau
…in the carpenters stores I found two or three bags full of nails and spikes, a great screw-jack, a dozen or two of hatchets, and, above all, that most useful thing called a grindstone. All these I secured, together with several things belonging to the gunner, particularly two or three iron crows, and two barrels of musket bullets, seven muskets, another fowling-piece, with some small quantity of powder more; a large bagful of small shot, and a great roll of sheet-lead…
Condition in Middle Ages of,
Habits in the Fiji Islands of,
Worshipped as goddesses by,
Weaker in moral sense than,
Greater conscientiousness of,
South Sea Islanders, age of puberty among,
Offered as sacrifice to,
Small size of brain of,
Profounder sub-consciousness of,
Less hair on the body of,
Mental, moral and physical inferiority of,
Love of children of,
Greater length of life of,
Weaker muscles of,
Strength of affections of,
Higher education of,
Shakespeare’s opinion of,
Lord Birkenhead’s opinion of,
Dean Inge’s opinion of,
La Bruyere’s opinion of,
Dr Johnson’s opinion of,
Mr Oscar Browning’s opinion of,…
A Room of One’s Own
Two thousand abdominal crunches and thirty minutes of rope jumping in the living room, the Wurlitzer jukebox blasting ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ over and over, even though I worked out in the gym today for close to two hours. After this I get dressed to pick up groceries at D’Agostino’s: blue jeans by Armani, a white Polo shirt, an Armani sport coat, no tie, hair slicked back with Thompson mousse; since it’s drizzling, a pair of black waterproof lace-ups by Manolo Blahnik; three knives and two guns carried in a black Epi leather attaché case ($3,200) by Louis Vuitton; because it’s cold and I don’t want to fuck up my manicure, a pair of Armani deerskin gloves. Finally, a belted trench coat in black leather by Cianfranco Ferré that cost four thousand dollars.
Bret Easton Ellis
A long moment passed before I realized this was the name of an automobile. The truth only amazed me more. The utterance was beautiful and mysterious, gold-shot with looming wonder. It was like the name of an ancient power in the sky, tablet-carved in cuneiform. It made me feel that something hovered. But how could this be? A simple brand name, an ordinary car. How could these near-nonsense words, murmured in a child’s restless sleep, make me sense a meaning, a presence? She was only repeating some TV voice. Toyota Corolla, Toyota Celica, Toyota Cressida. Supranational names, computer-generated, more or less universally pronounceable. Part of every child’s brain noise, the substatic regions too deep to probe.8And it is. The youth uses this as it has throughout history: first destroying the language of its elders. this being the platform from which the youth will always destroy their elders’ modes of expression.)) Whatever its source, the utterance struck me with the impact of a moment of splendid transcendence.
I depend on my children for that.
What did the first drawer unlocked contain?
A Vere Foster’s handwriting copybook, property of Milly (Millicent) Bloom, certain pages of which bore diagram drawings, marked Papli, which showed a large globular head with 5 hairs erect, 2 eyes in profile, the trunk full front with 3 large buttons, 1 triangular foot: 2 fading photographs of queen Alexandra of England and of Maud Branscombe, actress and professional beauty: a Yuletide card, bearing on it a pictorial representation of a parasitic plant…
Tantivy’s desk is neat, Slothrop’s is a godawful mess. It hasn’t been cleaned down to the original wood surface since 1942. Things have fallen roughly into layers, over a base of bureaucratic smegma that sifts steadily to the bottom, made up of millions of tiny red and brown curls of rubber eraser, pencil shavings, dried tea or coffee stains, traces of sugar and Household Milk, much cigarette ash, very fine black debris picked and flung from typewriter ribbons, decomposing library paste, broken aspirins ground to powder.
Americanos! conquerors! marches humanitarian;
Foremost! century marches! Libertad! masses!
For you a programme of chants.
Chants of the prairies;
Chants of the long-running Mississippi, and down to the Mexican sea;
Chants of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota;
Chants going forth from the centre, from Kansas, and thence, equi-distant,
Shooting in pulses of fire, ceaseless, to vivify all.9And so seeking new homes which are mobile, symbolic of freedom.
Starting from Paumanok
I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me; I saw in a backyard of Soler Street the same tiles that thirty years before I’d seen in the entrance of a house in Fray Bentos; I saw bunches of grapes, snow, tobacco, lodes of metal, steam; I saw convex equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand; I saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall never forget; I saw her tangled hair, her tall figure, I saw the cancer in her breast […] I saw the circulation of my own dark blood; I saw the coupling of love and the modification of death; I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon – the unimaginable universe.
Jorge Luis Borges
date l.a USAGE/CONTEXTUAL NOTE: ‘You are too old by far to be the type of man who checks his replicase levels before breakfast and has high-baud macros for places like Fruitful Union P.G.I. Coding or SoftSci Deoxyribonucleic Intercode Systems in his Mo.Sys deck, and yet here you are, parking the heads on your V.E.S.A. telediddler and checking your replicase levels and padding your gen-resume like a randy freshmen, preparing for what appears for all the world to be an attempt at a soft date’ (McInerney et seq. (via OmniLit TRF Matrix), 2068).
2. Vulgar. (see also hard date) a. The creation and/or use of a Virtual Female Sensory Array (KEY at V.F.S.A.; at Historical Note for REALITY, VIRTUAL; at TELEDIDDLER; at COITUS, DIGITAL; at POLIOEROTIC; at OBJECTIFICATION, LITERAL) for the purposes of Simulated Genital Interface (KEY at S.G.I.). b. A drive-captured and reusable V.F.S.A., to which proper names and various sexual and/or personality characteristics are sometimes applied by overwrought male users (KEY at MESH, DFX; at BABE, CYBER-; at FEMALE, HARD; at SYNDROME, V.F.S.A.-PERSONALISATION).
David Foster Wallace
From Wikipedia’s frankly life-affirming list of lists of fictional things (with specially selected entries from each!):
List of major artefacts in Dungeons & Dragons
- Military Fork of Pain (Monster Manual II)
- Ortnit’s Lance of Doom (D&D Master Set)
- Daoud’s Wondrous Lanthron (Greyhawk: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth)
List of spells in Harry Potter
- Mobiliarbus… Lifts a tree a few inches off the ground and levitates it to where the caster points his or her wand.
- Erecto… Used to erect something.10Like tents.
List of fictional medicines and drugs
- Nepenthe (Ancient Greek literature and Greek mythology): A drug that induces forgetfulness.
Possibly based on opium…11Around a bonfire of the past.
- Moon Rocks (The Simpsons) Rocks from the moon, ground up and freebased by Krusty the Clown.
List of births, marriages and deaths in Emmerdale: Deaths
- Ray Mullan (25 December 2002): Bludgeoned with a vase by Louise Appleton.
- Terence Turner (12 April 2006 ): Bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher by Adam Forsythe.
- Shane Doyle (1 December 2008): Beaten with a chair leg by Jasmine Thomas.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||A shopping list and a poem look, from a distance, identical.|
|2.||↑||Both aspects, of course, have an appeal to the magpie, the scavenger/builder.|
|3.||↑||For whom the bits of information can be freed of the stuff which binds and limits them.|
|4.||↑||The ‘bureaucratic smegma’.|
|5.||↑||This stuff is left unstated and so made transmutable – all the more so when the objects of a list are disparate in what they’re about, broadening the potential of what lies between yet still held by the list’s system of meaning.|
|6.||↑||These systems, like language itself, are anchored by and in a sense about their common roots: ‘date’ shares an etymological root with ‘data’.|
|7.||↑||Plato famously preferred spoken language, the written word being for him little more than a personal memory aid, incapable of ‘containing’ reality beyond that of the writer – and so pointless, even dangerous.|
|8.||↑||And it is. The youth uses this as it has throughout history: first destroying the language of its elders.|
|9.||↑||And so seeking new homes which are mobile, symbolic of freedom.|
|11.||↑||Around a bonfire of the past.|