Absurd Catalogues: The Functions of Lists in Postmodernist Fiction


Lists proliferate in postmodernist narratives, that is, the self-reflexive kind of fiction that reached its heyday in the second half of the twentieth century. This article seeks to determine the functions of these catalogues. First, they serve a metafictional or self-reflexive function. The lists in postmodernist fiction involve stylistic peculiarities through which the text reflects upon and thus foregrounds its status as fiction. Second, they highlight the limits of our compulsive need to impose order on chaos: postmodernist narratives present us with disorganized catalogues to ridicule our pattern-seeking minds, that is, our human attempts to create order and meaning. Third, they convey a certain attitude to life: the catalogues in postmodernist narratives celebrate variety and plurality by illustrating that individual entities cannot (or should not) be forced into a rigid system of order; the lists in postmodernist fiction thus invite us to adopt a playful attitude which closely correlates with the capacity of “letting things be” advocated by Zen masters.