Table of Contents Acknowledgements 7 Preface 9 Introduction 11 1. History: Lists and Media Materialism 23 2. Epistemology: Pop Music Charts and the Making of a Cultural Field 45 3. Administration I: The State, the Fact, and Double-Entry Bookkeeping 67 4. Administration II: The Nazi Census and Making Up People 85 5. Logistics: Listicles, Algorithms, and Real Time 109 6. Poetics: Uncanny Modernity in Heidegger, Borges, and Marker 131 Conclusion: Etcetera… 153 Notes 157 Bibliography 179 Index 191.
Acknowledgements A first book is a strange thing. It emerges from an intense solitude that, if one is lucky, is sandwiched by periods rich with dialogue, collaboration, and conviviality. I am grateful to have been so lucky.
Preface ‘We like lists because we do not want to die,’ quipped the late, great Um- berto Eco. The occasion for this remark was the opening of his 2009 Louvre exhibition, ‘The Infinity of Lists’, a dizzying exploration of listing activities over the last 5000 years. Curating the exhibition compelled the Italian polymath—who knew more than a little about such matters—to claim the list as ‘the origin of culture.’1 Eco was not the only literary figure with a fondness for the humble list form. ‘Bare lists of words are found suggestive to the imaginative and excited mind,’ wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose work is littered with enumerations.2 We also learned, upon her passing, of cultural critic Susan Sontag’s self-described list ‘compulsion’.3 Curators of the born-digital Sontag archive at UCLA were baffled by the preponderance of lists on her hard drives: topics she planned (or hoped) to write about; listed records of cor- respondence (incoming and outgoing: who wrote what and when and to whom); pages of titles of films and images (viewing reminders? a canon of her favourite pieces? things to keep in mind?) and, of course, to-do lists, those gentle giants of administration that do so much heavy lifting for us, but whose burdens weigh us down.
Introduction 1 ‘An inclusive list of media effects opens many unexpected avenues of awareness and investigation’ ‒ Marshall McLuhan2 Start with five lists from recent headlines (in no particular order): March 2014—the governments of the United States and Russia engage in a tête-à-tête over Crimea that revolves, largely, around lists. An executive order from US President Barack Obama ‘black lists’ eleven officials of the Russian government as well as ‘any individual or entity that operates in the Russian arms industry, and any designated individual or entity that acts on behalf of, or that provides material or other support to, any senior Russian government official.’3 In response, Russia releases a list of Americans no longer welcome for business, diplomatic, or leisure purposes. Neither list proves effective in addressing the immediate issue of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but both are economical nuggets of information easily digested by the 24-hour news cycle.
1. History: Lists and Media Materialism ‘“History is merely a list of surprises,” I said. “It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again. Please write that down”.’ ‒ Kurt Vonnegut, Slapstick The English word ‘list’ has a complicated etymology. Two related planes of usage converge to give us the modern sense of ‘catalogue or roll consist- ing of a row or series of names, figures, words, or the like’ (c. 1604).1 Both come from the French liste, itself an adaptation of the Old high German lista. The first plane of usage (c. 1300) denotes ‘border, edging, strip’. It later (c. 1450) came to more specifically describe the selvage or edge of a piece of cloth, or indeed any strip of cloth (such as those used to filter or drip a liquid). Extending out from cloth, the word came to describe, c. sixteenth century, any line or band conspicuously marked on a surface—a line in a man’s beard, a stripe of colour, or a scar. The second and closely related meaning, that of boundary or border, was also widely adopted in the sixteenth century, e.g. the ‘Primer of 1559’: ‘The miserable captives, which as yet be hedged in within the lists of death,’2 or Shakespeare in King Henry V: ‘Dear Kate, You and I cannot be confined within the weak list of a country’s fashion: we are the makers of manners, Kate […].’3 From here come the ‘lists’ of battle. This second sense more forcefully implies lists as containing rather than the more general line or strip of earlier usage. But both early meanings of ‘list’, as border and as boundary, demonstrate that the term has always been used to describe various cultural techniques of collection and separation.4 Though form is clearly emphasized in this history of usage, much of the small but insightful literature on modern practices of listing focuses on content. Most argue the basic premise that lists establish or entrench configurations of power, dictating not just how and who may judge, but the very ontology of discussion; as Werbin notes, the list serves.5 Others disagree, pointing to autobiographical lists as a site of emergent identities and subjectivities.6 These latter remain focused on the performance of self that occurs through list contents, e.g. the expression of one’s sophisticated taste and cultural capital through a personally-curated top-10 list. This emphasis on content over form, message over medium, arises from a general neglect of earlier, pre-modern practices of listing. Jack Goody’s consideration of ancient listing techniques in terms of form, rather than content, helped .
2. Epistemology: Pop Music Charts and the Making of a Cultural Field1 ‘I’ve been around the world several times; now, only banality still interests me.’ – Chris Marker, Sans Soleil (1983) This chapter examines the function of lists as epistemological operators2 in popular culture and mass media. Its animating question is: how does the list structure the production, circulation, and reception of cultural knowledge and information? The goal is to demonstrate that lists are constitutive of fields of knowledge, and, as such, delimit communication and social action in and around these fields. I have chosen popular music charts as a case study because of their privileged status in that field. But first, a few notes on the historical role of lists in the formation of knowledge.
3. Administration I: The State, the Fact, and Double-Entry Bookkeeping ‘And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
4. Administration II: The Nazi Census and Making Up People ‘Theoretically, the collection of data for each person can be so abundant, and even complete, that we can speak at last of a paper human who represents the natural human.’ – Methorst and Lentz, Directors, Reich Inspectorate for the Population Register (1936)1 This chapter explores the Nazi administrative apparatus as a limit case study of the modern trajectory traced above. I show how various aspects of Nazi administration embody the modern compulsion for compression, calculation, and circulation. This tripartite schema is the operative logic of the Third Reich and results in an orientation towards the world that is logistical.2 With their book The Nazi Census, Aly and Roth shed light on a hidden administrative history of National Socialism that had a direct and profound influence in shaping and implementing the Holocaust as an historical event. Their extensive archival research addresses a blind spot in conventional his- tories of the Third Reich, the fact that ‘hardly anyone has ever […] questioned how people were reduced to an entry in a registration, or how bureaucratic abstraction de-humanized individuals and transported them to a new real- ity—namely, death.’3 In rare instances that statistics and other techniques of administration appear in histories of the Reich, they are typically regarded as secondary to, either, ideas in the minds that dreamed up the camps, or ideological positions that materialized as Nazi state policy. In such cases, administration is reductively conceived as a tool by which humans translate their ideas into reality. Or it is dismissed as the detritus of a vast mythic- ideological apparatus articulated via more conventional, literary forms of writing and rhetoric.4 The infrastructure of Nazi administration—including fields like statistics and forms like lists—is elided as noise in the archival channel from which conventional narrative and causal histories of the Third Reich are written. Edwin Black points to Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of European Jewry as a paradigmatic example that, though it outlines the bloodshed and violence mandated by bureaucrats, pays little mind to the specific practices, forms, and methodologies that structured such decisions. ‘In fact, the crucial minutiae of registration are barely mentioned in any of .
5. Logistics: Listicles, Algorithms, and Real Time ‘Times are more interesting than people.’1 – Honoré de Balzac In 2006, Jonah Peretti, technology director and co-founder of Huffington Post, started a modest lab for experimenting with data analytics and content circulation on the web. He was interested in understanding ‘viral culture’: the nebulous processes by which certain stories would explode online, moving rapidly and unpredictably across then-ascendant social media platforms and blogs. The project was a logical extension of Peretti’s earlier experiments with digital networks. From early in his career he had an interest in, and proclivity for, understanding the spread of viral content. A 2001 e-mail exchange between Peretti and Nike over his request to have custom sneakers emblazoned with the word ‘sweatshop’ was a high-profile early example of something from the web ‘going viral’. A few years later, Peretti pioneered the monthly ‘Contagious Festival’ at Huffington Post, an open competition with simple rules for entrants: create a website that garners the most views in a month, win $2500.2 Of these early days, he says, ‘I got really fascinated by the idea of people sharing things with each other and thought it could be a bigger network than a social media network.’3 Peretti set the project up as a lab in a basement in New York’s Chinatown and gave it the name BuzzFeed.