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Living in Lists

Do you make lists? Are you one of those people who, according to caricature, have no rest until the things of their lives rest in a list? Who don’t feel even their own being until being properly listed—be it by Google or by Post-It? Or else, perhaps, are you one of those who so valiantly inhabits the present moment that living in listless (hence the word) disorder gives no trouble to your mind?

I am a list-maker—about certain things. And I’ve learned a lot about friends by observing the things that they make lists of which I don’t. In my favorite film (after Star Treks I-VI, VII), Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, I discovered that lists can be an art form, as they were in eleventh-century Japan:

Real power was in the hands of a family of hereditary regents; the emperor’s court had become nothing more than a place of intrigues and intellectual games. But by learning to draw a sort of melancholy comfort from the contemplation of the tiniest things this small group of idlers left a mark on Japanese sensibility much deeper than the mediocre thundering of the politicians. Shonagon [Sei Shonagon, a lady in waiting for the queen] had a passion for lists: the list of “elegant things,” “distressing things,” or even of “things not worth doing.” One day she got the idea of drawing up a list of “things that quicken the heart.”

In the minds of computers, lists take on a more subtle beauty, a more mechanical one. The power of a computer lies partly in its incredible quickness in making and managing lists of data.

I’d like to try a new kind of post at The Row Boat, a post of lists. This is the first of what may be many. They’ll be brainstorming sessions put onto the wondrous internet in order to invite contributions from friends and passers-by. To inaugurate it, we’ll start with a list of lists—more or less important lists that come to mind as indicators of all the different forms and all the different significances that a list can take. Please, for now and forever, offer your contributions in the comments or (if in secret) by email!

  • The six days of creation in Genesis
  • The HTML elements <ul> and <ol>, of which so many parts of websites are structured
  • Susan Sontag’s early journals
  • The programming language Scheme, or its parent LISP (List Processing Language)
  • The great Scholastic lists: deadly sins, theological virtues, sacraments, etc.
  • Some of the earliest writing on Sumerian tablets were lists of goods
  • For that matter, the Code of Hammurabi
  • The list of Eugene McCarthy
  • The Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“List of Prohibited Books”)
  • Luther’s 95 Theses
  • Shopping lists, to do lists
  • The round robin, a list without a top
  • Top ___ lists
  • Honor roll
  • “Did you make the list?”
  • Endangered species list
  • The lists of Sei Shonagon
  • Phonebook
  • The Open Directory Project
  • Santa’s list
  • The Fortune 500
  • Angie’s List, Craigslist
  • Blacklist
  • Most wanted list
  • This list (to keep things nice and recursive)

2 comments on “Living in Lists

  1. The 7 Deadly Sins (unintegrated passions) according to Blessed Isaac of Stella, a 12th century Cistercian abbot:
    Pride separates us from God, Envy from our neighbor, Wrath from ourselves. Avarice knocks us to the ground, Sloth binds us, Gluttony consumes us, Lust turns us to dung.

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