This is a weird thought I had today while reading a very challenging book called Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. This book has a high-brow blurb (this will give you a taste for the density of the actual text) which reads:
In Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, Ian Bogost develops an object-oriented ontology that puts things at the centre of being – a mode of thought in which nothing exists any more or less than anything else, in which humans are not the sole or even primary elements of interest. And unlike experimental phenomenology or the philosophy of technology, Bogost’s alien phenomenology takes for granted that all beings interact with and perceive one another. This experience, however, withdraws from human comprehension and becomes accessible only through speculative thought based on metaphor.
Hopefully you are still reading. I kind of get what the book is about. Basically, Bogost is arguing that things are important. Things are just as important as we are. We can’t understand things completely through our own eyes. We need to act as aliens from outer space who would come to this world afresh in order to get things.
There is one part of the book that looks at the concept of the ‘list’, or as he says ‘a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma’. I love lists. The book illustrates the clever ability of lists to create an ontological categorization by using a list Roland Barthes makes of things he likes. It goes thus:
I like : salad, cinnamon, cheese, pimento, marzipan, the smell of new-cut hay (why doesn’t someone with a “nose” make such a perfume), roses, peonies, lavender, champagne, loosely held political convictions, Glenn Gould, too-cold beer, flat pillows, toast, Havana cigars, Handel, slow walks, pears, white peaches, cherries, colors, watches, all kinds of writing pens, desserts, unrefined salt, realistic novels, the piano, coffee, Pollock, Twombly, all romantic music, Sartre, Brecht, Verne, Fourier, Eisenstein, trains, Médoc wine, having change, Bouvard and Pécuchet, walking in sandals on the lanes of southwest France, the bend of the Adour seen from Doctor L.’s house, the Marx Brothers, the mountains at seven in the morning leaving Salamanca, etc.
He also listed things he doesn’t like.
I don’t like: white Pomeranians, women in slacks, geraniums, strawberries, the harpsichord, Miró, tautologies, animated cartoons, Arthur Rubinstein, villas, the afternoon, Satie, Bartók, Vivaldi, telephoning, children’s choruses, Chopin’s concertos, Burgundian branles and Renaissance dances, the organ, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, his trumpets and kettledrums, the politico-sexual, scenes, initiatives, fidelity, spontaneity, evenings with people I don’t know, etc.
I love these lists because they are more than just mere lists of words and phrases. They are poetic. They give away much more about the man who was Roland Barthes as a collective than each object considered individually would give away. A list is like a daisy chain. The items in the list may seem unconnected but they become connected just by virtue of being together (joined by commas). This is related to the fact that the human brain loves narratives and loves connections. It creates connections even when they don’t exist. If I write a random list of objects, the reader will imagine a narrative and relationship between the items.
My random list: socks, paint brushes, Dr Who, cat, hat, wine, ironing board, another cat, curtains, TV remote, data stick, bowl, cat in bowl, magazine rack, speaker, dressing gown, iPad, laptop, fingers, book, another book, fireplace, easel, painting, meow, window.
How do these objects relate to one another? Does the mind create its own answer to this question? There is actually a relationship between all these objects in my list but it is perhaps difficult to guess what it could be. Please do try to guess!
I make lost of lists, mostly to-do lists. They replace my memory. I keep my to-do list by my bed. Here is one of them from July.
What does my list say about me?I have lots of things to do, perhaps. Most of the items are work-related and this is actually a short list. Most of my to-do lists are much longer.
I will finish this blog entry with my own Roland Barthes lists of likes and dislikes. I think everyone should make such lists.
I like: cats, books, cheese, sleep, sheep, Christmas, chocolate, autumn, coffee, red wine, mulled wine, the smell of pine needles, clean duvet covers, things, lists, routine, friends, snow, driving towards Shrewsbury along the M54 on a misty evening, poems, cycling, Zumba, tomatoes, pesto, pasta, Top Shop, the 1970s, parties, purple, nostalgia, Facebook, my children’s whit, debates, champagne (but not too much), the sea, art, George Shaw, Downton Abbey, being liked etc.
I don’t like: vomit, the sound of vomiting, the smell of vomiting, sprouts, narrow mindedness, cruelty, jazz, adverts, queues without a book, being too hot, being too cold, telephoning, cat hair up my nose, fat, lard, The Simpsons, dirty toilets, anxiety, being lost, sweat, too much order, tidy houses, bad writing, grammatical errors (except my own), political extremes, intolerance, toe nails, insomnia, bad atmospheres, misunderstanding, being disliked etc.
These are just lists. But what picture of me does the reader get? Do the words ‘I like’ and ‘I don’t like’ made the difference? Without those words would the lists be meaningless? Are these lists poetic? What makes them poetic? I think it is the connectedness of the items that creates the whole picture and makes them poetic. I wasn’t trying to be poetic but then I believe that poems are very easy to create out of random words.
My high-brow book also introduced me to this video.
I love this video. It is just a list of things and their common theme is the shop. I want to do a similar video about my corner shop: Asda.
There is scope for a study of lists. What would other people’s lists look like? Perhaps here are the seeds of a future art project.