In the summer of 2015, I taught a week-long course for Naropa’s Summer Writing Program titled The List as Literature: the art & practice of accumulative enumeration.
The course description was as follows:
We will transform the ubiquitous practice of list making (to-do lists, grocery lists) into art. We’ll catalog the kinds of sunlight, number the animals, collect words & worlds. Students will be provided a lengthy reader, including lists from Homer to Bernadette Mayer. We will read Brainard’s I Remember aloud, Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too silently. In making our lists we will remake the world, cross it all out, begin again.
Here’s a list of what was in the List Class Reader:
“Jubilate Agno” (Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry])
The first few pages of This is Not a Novel
In Place of Thought
Excerpted from The Interrogative Mood: A Novel
sections from The Pillow Book
“Failures in Infinitives”
“First Turn to Me”
from MILLE ET UN SENTIMENTS
from Homer’s Iliad
The opening of TRACTATUS LOGICO-PHILOSOPHICUS
“Verb List Compilation: Actions to Relate to Oneself”
“Nothing in That Drawer”
from “Starting from Paumanok”
“Things That Go Away & Come Back Again”
from Fast Speaking Woman
“Things To Do On Speed”
“10 THINGS I DO EVERY DAY”
André Breton translated by David Antin
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
“Twenty-six Ways of Looking at a Blackman”
“Poem Beginning with a Line by Frank Lima”
“If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso”
A few list assignments:
Make a list of ten things you’ve done that after a little reflection produce a strange mixture of shame and satisfaction.
Make a list of as many instances of you having voted as you can remember. This should include everything from national presidential elections to online surveys about the best places to buy waffles in Santa Cruz. For each item, write a short anecdote. Learn something about yourself in the process. Turn this knowledge into a ballot.
Make a list of every encounter with an insect that seems somehow memorable.
Begin my making a list of specific instances when you were first made aware of the concept of race. Compile as many of these as you can. Once you’ve exhausted your memory here, continue to list moments in your life in which race played a role, no matter how minor or seemingly unimportant. Think of as many as you can. For now, though, this should simply be a list, shorthand for a specific moment, an anecdote. This list should be long. In fact, it could be endless. You’re probably still writing it.
Think of an object you’ve owned for an extended period of time—a shirt, a coin, a particular hat, a necklace, a pocket knife, a pen, etc. Make a list of as many events as possible in which it was present. It doesn’t matter if its presence was totally innocuous and unimportant. In fact, it’s much better if this is the case. Now, make a list of as many pieces of advice as you can remember that have had a significant impact on you. Maybe something your mother used to say. Maybe some small literary quotation you deploy whenever the opportunity arises. Maybe a bumper sticker on a car your uncle used to drive. It’s okay if this list is just one or two, so long as it’s comprised of what you actually took to heart. Now, write a paragraph for each of the events on the first list. Narrate them briefly, including mention of the object, even if only to say it was in your pocket, around your waist, hanging on the wall. Put these paragraphs together. There, you’ve written an essay. Title it verbatim with one of the bits of advice from your second list.