Baum Mots: Lists

Huge list of Monsato vegetables

Composed of a prologue, ten sections, and a postscript, Uncommon Senses confronts head-on the notion of multiplicity (which all ambitious writers about this country have seemed to rely on — from Walt Whitman to Carl Sandburg to John Dos Passos to Thomas Wolfe to Jack Kerouac and beyond). The rapturous catalog is its organizing principle. The endlessly burgeoning list — with counterparts in everything from the Bible to the Sears Roebuck catalog to almanacs and telephone directories as well as in such writers as Herman Melville, Allen Ginsberg, and Thomas Pynchon — has always had its seductive and contagious side; this sentence shows its influence. But few artists in this country have ever tried to analyze or critique this list-making habit as a rhetorical and ideological impediment, a mode of discourse that conceals and mystifies in the process of showing us “everything.” Part of the originality and importance of Jost’s new film is that it proceeds to do just that — to critique list making even as it employs it.

– “Looking for America“, review of Uncommon Senses, 6 April 1988

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