A Highbrow Defense of Lists

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The Atlantic Wire has traditionally enjoyed lists. But like slideshows (which have been branded a "scourge" of online journalism), lists have taken a bit of a beating as they've become ubiquitous. For those who are becoming list-weary, we'd like to point you to an article by More Intelligent Life's Jeremy Dauber, who not only notes the allure of the list, but writes an almost stirring justification of them. Of course, he does take as his example a rather highbrow list to start with--1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Here are a few of his key points in his defense of lists, made--of course--in list form:

  • Lists Offer Authority, Even If  You Don't Know Who Made Them - "The fact that I have no idea who these people are [that made the list] or whether their opinions are any good doesn’t matter. The list works its authoritative magic in some large part by confirming my own knowledge and prejudices."
  • Lists 'Fight a Rigorous Holding Action In the Battle Against Cultural Entropy and Chaos' - "A well-ranked list, however, can have all of the intellectual heft of a graduate seminar without the pain of that final paper, and at a much cheaper price."
  • Lists 'Catalyse Your Creative Ingenuity' - "Lists—like the Locus Science Fiction Awards, with titles long out of print; or even the '1001 Movies'—send you into more remote territory, far from the good people at Amazon and well beyond Netflix. So you stretch."
  • Lists 'Are Fundamentally Optimistic' - "Lists give the impression of finitude, of the possibility of completion and coherence. Yet the prospect of completing them seems designed to be impossible...There is comfort in this—in what is always enticingly beyond reach."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.