I think it was Roland Barthes who asked the question whether a shopping list should be considered part of a writer’s work. This thought crossed my mind with the title of Morrissey’s foray into prose as his book has the word Lists in the title. Judging by some reviews that novel is already on several lists of some kind or another.

Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantragruel probably started the idea of lists. For Kundera that book is the Ur-novel, so it probably did begin lists. Gargantua and Pantragruel has lots of lists, tripe and clothes are early ones. The consequence of all the tripe is spelled out in all the digestive processes of excessive indulgence. Another list master, the Marquis de Sade, used them in his ritualistic fantasies of degradation.

Lists comprise a large part of various sections in Ulysses. This feature may be the basis of a doctoral thesis, or two, or three, or more. Online, I found The Alimentary Lists in Ulysses. Endless names of councilors or some botanical items in Ireland run for pages; its effect is slightly deadening each time another list runs over a page, like hearing a hand beating a table.

Minute detail adds texture and realism to a description, except when it becomes hyperbole. The significance of lists can be to exaggerate, be ironic, to poke fun at the academic style, something Beckett does well in his various recitations of pseudo-knowledge, but in Ulysses it does seem at times as if Joyce was kibitzing: write a few lists and then go out for a glass of wine.

I am not sure a shopping list belong to the collected works, although it’s true that letters are, and a shopping list may, like a letter, provide insight into daily routines: dry cleaning, food preferences and alcohol consumption, but perhaps the thing that makes its inclusion problematical, is that, like a phone directory, a shopping list lacks an obvious narrative, however many items or characters there are.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.


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