Conversely, in “The Grimm Brothers: A List Essay,” Meriwether Clarke uses 53 ultra-short paragraphs (1-3 lines each) seemingly to remove the epic-ness of the Grimm Brothers’ legend, simply relaying fact after fact about their lives and work.
I’ve found the zoomed-in approach less common in list essays.
And the process itself of reading a bunch of unrelated essays and attempting to delineate precepts that they all follow is itself an example of the tightrope walk between narrative thought and systematic application, as each of these essays does tell a story, most of them intensely personal, and my attempt here is to figure out some analogous connections between their systematic methods of telling those narratives. That the force that drives the essay is at least as much concept as plot.
The list essay could be called a non-fiction concept story.
Each of these is reactive, starting with the men’s names (“Aaron takes me only to art films.” “Bob takes me only to movies that he thinks have a redeeming social conscience.” “Sam likes movies that are entertaining.”) and portraying herself only in her semi-romantic relationships to them.
Then, in the fourth and final section, she tells of going to the movies alone, putting her feet up, and singing along to musicals with happy endings, where “the men and women always like each other.” It is through the systematic, quantified analysis of the men she goes to the movies with that she finds her own place in the narrative. The real and the unreal in a precarious balance…But at least the final rule of usage is simple, self-contained, one you can commit to memory: Certain independent clauses exist only in the subjunctive mood, lacing optimism with resignation, hope with heartache.” “Community College” also uses this teacher’s perspective to frame his narrative in time and space, logging his students’ actions strictly from their interactions with him as their writing teacher. The title of one, “I Met a Man Who Has Seen the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and This Is What He Told Me,” is nearly as long as any of the nine sections.his past month I’ve read and re-read fifteen short pieces, each of which might be called a list essay.I say this with the confession that before last month I didn’t even know such a form existed.Perhaps rather haphazardly, I found and read the following “list essays”: In reading at these essays I tried to establish certain “rules” that the pieces seemed to share, and found that in fact this motley crew did have some common characteristics.I also should note that I’m looking at the pieces in terms of their connections to this form, not as individual pieces, so all references to them will be in terms of how they illustrate the precepts of the form. O’Banion, in which he sums up O’Banion’s admixture of the list story like this: List is the form of discourse utilized by logic or systematic thought; story is the form utilized by narratival thought…The human narrative is embedded in the systematic procedure. That the form, while contemporary, is not without antecedents.I recently discovered “Hateful Things” from the “pillow book” of 10-Century Japanese matron and snob Sei Shonagon, which as advertised is a list of things she hates, including pretentious people, inkstones that malfunction, and men who leave after overnight trysts without saying goodbye.“The Grimm Brothers” injects social, literary, and historical critique into a skeletal summary of the brothers’ lives, attempting to draw conclusions as to how they wrote the fairy tales that have become part of Western culture’s collective unconscious..In Jonathan Lethem’s “13, 1997, 21” he tells the story of watching Star Wars twenty-one times at the age of thirteen when it came out in the summer of 1977, and even the form serves the content – it’s told in twenty-one short, concentric sections. That they can be panoramic in scope or ultra zoomed in, sometimes both at the same time.Both are short, unassuming, and quietly heartbreaking, and neither says what is implied.Wilkie even starts the essay by telling the reader, “We do not talk about What Comes Out,” then clinically and unsparingly takes the reader through the process the health care workers go through in removing and disposing of it.