On Lists & List-Making

a list is a numbered thing, a conversion of thought to action, but in the future, always in the future

I shall read this and this and this and this and this

a list is a projected image of a future, all-knowing self, smiling in the knowledge of all that is behind her (does she have a list?)

listless (adj.) mid-15c., from Middle English liste “pleasure, joy, delight”

reading list, to-do list, packing list, christmas list, shortlist, new year’s resolutions, blacklist, hit list, 50 ways to leave your lover, 19 Cats in Exactly The Wrong Place

the Ten Commandments

list of words about lists: distil, mundane, meaningful, ordered, timetable, uncertainty, final, purpose, idealism, consolidation, stability, confusion, resolution, ownership, compulsive

Susan: List of things I like, List of things I dislike, list of where I’ve been, list of books to read, list of words, music heard, records to buy, Hindu gods, list of best films 1-228 (trails off)

Susan announces she does not believe in god or life after death in point a) of a list

lists are a form of therapy, of self-awareness, of self-definition

writing something just so you can cross it out makes you feel good about yourself

in Susan’s journals, littered with lists, she says that she “creates herself”

we want things we cannot have

control, immortality, knowledge, neatness, tidiness [classification]


the list goes on

we seek to control the wild and writhing monster of all of the world, try to wrench its irrepressible body into a box, by writing bits down in numbered bullet points

I want to know all of it, I want to understand all of it

“the vertigo of lists” “the giddiness of lists” “poetics of catalogues” (Eco)

the list is hand wringing, anxious, desperate but it is also intellectual ambition, it is drive, it is purpose, it is hopeful. Resolutions, plans, the mundane mixed with the magnificent, with the seedlings of a thought or idea, a twinkle in the eye of a life. Blinking and dropping and formulating and classifying and ordering. Step by step by step a small thing becomes something larger. Step one step two step three

mind-wandering magic, a trigger to the unconscious, fruitful associations

concrete poetry

“dredged out of the lopside of your brain”                         “a fabulous mulch”

the list as delusion

we seek to capture our thoughts, to preserve a flash of juicy and crackling inspiration; we fear the loss of the mind should we neglect to write it down next to numbers or black spots

is not a great thinker merely one more…

  • able
    • practiced
      • inclined to organise a particular aspect of the world into numbered bullet points? This means this leads to this means this leads to this therefore this?

everything changes; thoughts are not immutable, they are unfixable like the world

a list is memory, trying (pointlessly?) to hold on to something fleeting

bullet point – snap(shot), the shutter clicks down and we try to freeze a fleeting instant, all around the frame disappears, it is not fixed, it looks different each time we look; unattainable, naïve, illogical, brilliant, pathetic, surreal, nonsensical, pointless, fascinating

I look wistfully at my lists

Clare Robson completed her Masters in the History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of Oxford last year. She now works and writes lists in London. She writes about art at clare-robson.co.uk and tweets @clargrob

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