In Search of Lists
By Bix Gabriel, Editor, Enumerate
The nuns who taught me catechism in Sunday school had high expectations — and wooden rulers they didn’t hesitate to use. No matter that we, the students, were six years old, we had to memorize and recite the story of genesis beginning with On the first day, God said let there be light, and ending, on the seventh day, with the creation of the day of rest. Then, as now, I recall only the first and the last events in this enumeration of how the universe came to exist.
Still, I have to admire the ingenuity to use the form of a list — wrapped in a story — to explain something as vast as the creation of the universe, of life. Whatever your beliefs, writers of the bible were on to something. Lists make the infinite and the unfathomable somehow calculable. They impose order.
“We like lists because we don’t want to die,” said Umberto Eco in an interview. He was talking about the human need to escape the idea of death by contemplating things which are inestimable. Things like the sky, like love.
I too see lists as a way to stay alive. But not because we’re avoiding the thought of death. For some of us, lists are about defining, naming, ascribing meaning, testifying, a way to be seen, to write ourselves out of the margins, to locate and dislocate ourselves. Lists are also a means to re-define, to correct, and counter erasure; Sojourner Truth’s Aint I A Woman, comes to mind.
As does Valeria Luiselli’s An Essay in 40 Questions, which is, in a way, the opposite of definitive; it’s an exploration, a way to chart the unknown, and question our certainties.
When I joined The Offing as a reader for Fiction back in 2015, I was asked the question: What should good fiction do? with the note Spoiler Alert: all answers are correct.
My answer was:
A. Make me feel something.
B. Captivate me with its language
C. Surprise me in some way
D. Stay with me
E. All of the above.
Now, as editor of Enumerate, I’m surprised to see that my criteria haven’t changed much. In addition to writing that resonates with and celebrates our mission, I’m especially keen to see work from first-time authors, writers from the global south, writers experimenting with form; I would love to read and consider stories, creative non-fiction, prose poems, essays, hybrids, multi-genre and multimedia pieces, questionnaires, catalog entries… the list goes on.