The Politics of Lists Public Deposited

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  • Theorists of materiality frequently present lists of objects in which humans and human-made structures appear with natural objects and phenomena. These lists are importantly symptomatic of the theorists' political interests: to decenter humans and to de-hierarchize human and non-human relationships. At the same time, as I argue in this article, their lists also reveal their participation in and helplessness before the political structures they wish to set aside or reform. Lists, whether in materiality theories or elsewhere, are not always transparently utilitarian; instead they are a recognizable rhetorical, even poetic, device and therefore often do ideological work. After examining the list as a device, I turn to Theseus's famous catalogue of "thynges" at the end of Chaucer's The Knight's Tale. In grouping humans and the natural world together, this list naturalizes political hierarchy, concealing the human activity, even violence, that is required to maintain it. Read against Chaucer's list, the lists of the materiality theorists are shown to be doing something similar. By insisting on the shared objectness of all objects, they conceal human activity, in this case the human labor by which many objects are produced.

Academic Affiliation
Journal Title
Journal Issue/Number
  • 2
Journal Volume
  • 31
Last Modified
  • 2020-09-09
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Peer Reviewed
  • 1041-2573