What is a List?

by Martha Rust

A list
is a list
is a list …

In his New York Times essay “The Joy of Lists,” Arthur Krystal explains that as a list “purist,” he is of the belief that “a list should aspire to ‘listhood.’” A “true list,” he goes on to say, “ought to at least look like a list.”[1] Krystal doesn’t specify what that look is, but does he need to? When we picture a list in our minds, most of us probably see a column of words or short phrases. Words or phrases arranged vertically, often accompanied by dots or numbers: this is the iconic list, the look of “listhood.” While what a list looks like may thus go without saying, it begs a question that is more difficult to answer: What is it about a list that causes it to be so closely associated with a specific visual form? Or put more simply, what is a list? The following is a list of imaginative answers to that question drawn from a survey of writers writing about lists. As they suggest, whatever lists are, there is much more to them than words. Continue reading “What is a List?”

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