At the heart of The List is chaos, a non-knowledge which cannot be known, a dangerous demand for willful ignorance from its readers.
At the heart of it, that is exactly what the list also demands. It demands an instant of pure faith in the word of victims, in the worlds of victims, of unconditional belief that nobody who gives a name could be lying. At the heart of it, this is where the seductive power of The List lies.
Lists are not perfect. Lists do not have to have a beginning or an ending. What else do we make lists of?
Of the pros and cons of heartbreaking decisions.
Of unfulfilled wishes.
For checking you haven’t forgotten that one last thing.
Of a few of your favourite things.
Of actions to cross off.
Of places to be, people to meet.
Of failures and successes.
Of the dead, or of the living.
Lists are literature, and in this case This List is a literature of desperation. It is a list of the desperate curated by the desperate, for the desperate. The List is a chronicle of the death of due process, the imperviousness of the ivory tower.
“In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.”
~ Michel Foucault, ‘The Order of Things’
The List is unthinkable, and yet, it is remarkably the only possible way of thinking about this, so remarkable in fact, that it seems ridiculous in its simplicity. And so ridiculous, that it seems natural to ridicule The List and The Listmaker.
The List is non-narrative, in fact, it is anti-narrative. It resolutely rejects narrativizing, a chronology, a sequence of events, protagonists and antagonists, plot, rationale, even characters. The List is the unreliable narrator we are forced to trust, and thus its host has to be scripted as unreliable as well.
The List can only appear in an era of Buzzfeed Listicles and product Listories, of Excel spreadsheets and Access databases, but on a social media post, the individual cells and numbers, the distinct units that compose a list lose their integrity and are subsumed within The List as a whole. It is The Whole List that speaks to the reader, and The Whole List is a warning, a cautionary taxonomy that is without narrative — and it is the reader who has to read it and render it meaningful in the context of the names. The Whole List then is a master narrative of suspicion and caution.
More than anything else, The List is an inevitable turning of our backs to the system, to institutions, to authorities, who have nothing but failure injected over and over again in their very veins. I don’t romanticize this as rebellion, or revolution, or attribute any kind of self-inherent radicalism to this rejection. Because The List is also a rejection of truth, or at least, the kind of meticulously documented, regimented and disciplined truth.
“No,” said the priest, “you don’t need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.”
“Depressing view,” said K. “The lie made into the rule of the world.”
~ Franz Kafka, ‘The Trial’
The List is simply necessary. The List is the lie made into the rule of the world.
The genius of The List is that there is also no way Brahmin-savarnas can respond to it without looking ridiculous.
You attack the format, you look absurdly pedantic;
You attack the maker, your caste-location is in the spotlight;
You demand proof, you look like an asshole;
You ask survivors to out themselves; you still look like an asshole;
You ask women to have faith in due process, you look like a hypocrite;
You say it is unfeminist, you look exclusionary;
You stay silent, you look complicit;
You defend yourself or the other savarna men named, you look like a rape apologist;
You align yourself with Kafila feminists, you look like a sycophant;
You write 8,000-word defenses on the blog you founded and curate, you look narcissistic;
Basically, EVERYTHING one tries to do, their obnoxious Brahmin-savarna privileges become glaringly obvious. The only choice is to be honest, to be self-reflective, and to own it.
Franco Moretti notes in the Slaughterhouse of Literature that “form is precisely the repeatable element of literature: what returns fundamentally unchanged over many cases and many years… literature repeats itself.”
[Editing to add that Franco Moretti has now been accused of rape — writing and reflecting on the violence in the List itself now requires a constant revisionism.]
There will be more than just one of These Lists. Already, a second one emerged, which strained the savarna academic limits of the first. The Second List also challenged and transgressed the anti-narrativity of The List on another level. Neither did it have a collection method articulated like the first, nor did it seem to have a singular host, despite the alias underneath which it appeared. The Second List emerged through a Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi collective, and The Listmakers seemed to be plural, and this might not be significant in any other way beyond suggesting the stability of a singular desperate literature has unravelled.
Both Lists have also already disappeared. Their lack of publicness are now forcing conversations into the realm of What Next? I have no answers. But I also was never asking that question. It was the Kafila feminists who asked that question. The same feminists, one of whom had long ago stressed “the need to respect the victim’s views on how she wants to deal with the situation,” but who now sees feminism as having been irreparably damaged. While I don’t share the optimism of some who think that this is a “networked feminism 2.0,” I think The List was a useful disruption, an urgent response to a problem that has never been urgent for the establishment. It is a blip in the system, a wrinkle in the universe, which for a few brilliant moments reveals the Emperors and Empresses naked, but will now have no choice while they reclothe themselves to disappear into the dark corners of social media.
I also remain perturbed that names on The First List have likely been predominantly furnished by savarna women — and this is pure speculation. But if it is mostly Brahmin-savarna women that have contributed to it, then there needs to be a sombre conversation about what this means. What does it mean that this large collective of Brahmin-savarna women is allowed to stay anonymous, while a queer Dalit person has voluntarily been (and stayed) visible with these names? What does it say about us as a group of victims that can escape the post-accusation trauma of “due process,” while the Dalit host of The List endures hate messages and death threats? And in sheer contarst, how many people of Bahujan castes repeatedly endure sexual harassment/assault with no protection of anonymity?
If this is so, we have to know we are complicit in our anonymities, no less than the Delhi feminists. And as savarna women we not only need to commit to Bahujan women leading conversations around gender and patriarchy (it’s long overdue), we also need to center Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi thinkers, activists, and authors in our writings on feminism. This has to be at the core of our liberatory struggles, not the mourning over the Menons and Krishnans we have read and followed for years.
But for now, I will take the rage of the many women who have been aghast at the response of their role models, who have refused to let them off the hook, who like Priyamvada Gopal says are: “a younger generation who are quite rightly saying to my generation: yes, we learned from you but we ain’t taking your censorious shit without talking right backatcha.”
Yes, they are. The political just got especially personal. And this is something to warm our hearts and keep the fire going.