The List

The Uses and Pleasures of Cataloguing

Robert E. Belknap

View Inside Price: $65.00


October 11, 2004
272 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
3 diagrams
ISBN: 9780300103830
Cloth

Also Available in:
e-book

A literary critic lovingly explores the ancient practice of list-making in literature

“I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden. Increating this list, and many others that appear in his writings, Thoreau was working within a little-recognized yet ancient literary tradition: the practice of listing or cataloguing. This beautifully written book is the first to examine literary lists and the remarkably wide range of ways writers use them.

Robert Belknap first examines lists through the centuries—from Sumerian account tablets and Homer’s catalogue of ships to Tom Sawyer’s earnings from his fence-painting scheme—then focuses on lists in the works of four American Renaissance authors: Emerson, Whitman, Melville, and Thoreau. Lists serve a variety of functions in Emerson’s essays, Whitman’s poems, Melville’s novels, and Thoreau’s memoirs, and Belknap discusses their surprising variety of pattern, intention, scope, art, and even philosophy. In addition to guiding the reader through the list’s many uses, this book explores the pleasures that lists offer.

Robert E. Belknap is instructor of English at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh, North Carolina.

"The only study of its kind to focus exclusively on the list and list-making in American Romantic writing, and the first to give full attention to its multifaceted literary design and various aesthetic and philosophical motives. Readable and engaging, it should appeal to students and those interested in the topic of the list generally."—Alan Hodder

"Smart, illuminating, based on wide reading, and beautifully written."—Lawrence Rosenwald, author of Emerson and the Art of the Diary

"Against the tyranny of rankings, Robert Belknap proposes a more democratic taxonomic system: the list. A spirited account, centered on Melville, Whitman, Thoreau, and going back to the Sumerian tablets."—Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University

“Robert Belknap’s The List is an authentic contribution to the genre of Catalog in the literature of the American Renaissance. It is particularly illuminating on Walt Whitman, the greatest master of Catalog since Homer. I expect The List to have a lasting effect upon the study of American imagination.”—Harold Bloom

"Belknap has written an engaging survey of lists, listing, and textual catalogs, paying particular attention to their significance in literary production during the American Renaissance. . . . The enormous expressive range of these lists and catalogs . . . also makes a compelling case for their integral role in fashioning American cultural sensibilities."—Robert N. Matuozzi, Libraries and Culture