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Lists in Literature and Culture: Towards a Listology (LISTLIT)


The Research Project "Lists in Literature and Culture: Towards a Listology" (LISTLIT) is funded by a Starting Grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) (SH5)

01.04.2017 - 31.03.2022 under grant agreement nr. 715021


Principal Investigator: Eva von Contzen


The project investigates the cultural practice of lists and list making and its manifestations in narrative texts from antiquity until the twenty-first century. The simple form of the list has been remarkably constant for centuries: as a practical device, lists have been a prime instrument for classifying, organizing, and categorizing the world since the early high civilizations. Lists are tools of the mind: in visualizing human beings’ thinking, they are indicative of cognitive processes. In literary texts, list structures have been employed at least since antiquity. Embedded in narrative texts, lists challenge the received parameters of how narrative texts work. The manifold configurations of lists in literature and their enmeshment with the practical usage of lists in a given period take centre stage in this project. How are lists as a tool for thinking and organizing the world in everyday life and lists in literature intertwined?

The study of lists in the trajectory of cognition, narration, and practical usage provides a risky and challenging alternative approach to narrative forms and functions, reader engagement, and the aesthetics of literature. Situated at the heart of the intersections between cognitive theory, cultural history, and literary history, this project significantly advances our understanding of how literature and list making as a cognitive tool and cultural practice are interrelated. The diachronic trajectory spans more than two millennia: starting with ancient epic, LISTLIT covers classical and medieval examples of lists, the early modern period, the eighteenth and nineteenth century novel, and modernist as well as postmodernist fiction. The questions of how the list functions in a particular historical and generic context, and how the textual configurations are enmeshed with the practices of list making and thinking outside of literary texts at a specific point in time form the basis for the project. By scrutinizing the practices of list writing in and beyond literary texts, the project establishes a ‘listology’, that is, the systematic and diachronic study of lists and listing structures in cultural productions.