door mat, charm bracelet, stone, bone, strawberry, all my diamonds and clothes, honey, Windex, bells, golden petals, brand new white tee, dandelions, yellow cake, my favourite jeans, coffee, teddy bear, ice cream, ribbon, photos of us, her red dress, milkshake, music box, knife, donuts, a whole lot of gel and acrylic, camera, a broken rose, Asscher-cut pink and white engagement ring, gumdrops, sunflower, ketchup, glitter, Jimmy Choos, fries, my phone, medicine, Bacardi, mascara, mistletoe, tears, candles, gelato, black Cavalli shades, super glue, expensive lingerie, weed, cherry wine, two Lego blocks, meteorite, money, mini skirt, puppet,
As an exercise in list making I started an inventory of objects found in Mariah Carey lyrics, using the archive at lyricsfreak.com.
I decided to only include objects mentioned in lyrics sung by Mariah herself, not by anyone else who features in her songs – so Nicki Minaj’s M&Ms and Jay-Z’s piece of paper were not included.
It was then supposed to be a cold, mindless process of extraction and accumulation, but I soon had to make choices; creating a list of objects meant coming up with some sort of provisional definition for what sort of thing an object is.
I needed boundaries. Should fire, rain and rainbows be listed as objects? They all appear several times in Mariah’s songs, but they seemed to lack sufficiently hard boundaries.
I thought of James Joyce listing all the objects in Leopold Bloom’s drawers, and I decided to only include things that could be found in a drawer. A drawer in Mariah Carey’s bedroom.
The contents of the drawer had to be detached, containable, not too big. So all the beds and all the doors were off the list, along with all the luxury cars, the roller coaster, the private jets and jacuzzis, the orange clouds, the winding road, the hills and plains, the stars, and the moon that appears in various phases in different songs.
Several plant specimens – dandelions, sunflower, mistletoe – made it onto the list, but I left out living things with central nervous systems, like butterflies, your body and my body.
Bodies and butterflies are, according to certain definitions and contexts, objects. We can also imagine them fitting into a drawer. So why exclude them?
If Mariah sung ‘touch my corpse’ rather than ‘touch my body’ I would have considered it an object – likewise if the butterflies were dead I could have pinned them down as objects. But I imagined that when the drawer was opened you and I would climb out, and all the butterflies would fly away… I couldn’t contain or predict the living bodies, so I didn’t include them.
Body parts (feet, forehead, waist, wings) were also left out, but tears were included since they are by definition expelled from, and therefore no longer part of, the body.
It’s still not entirely clear that tears should be listed as objects in this drawer. Tears tend not to be delineated material things for very long: they seep, vaporise, get wiped away, and generally aren’t stored in containers the way Windex, for instance, is.
Money is another contentious inclusion, since most money now has no physical manifestation, no hard objecthood.
Money and tears: formlessness, liquidity, absorption, evaporation, no bodies.
When caterpillars turn into butterflies their bodies break down into goo, before emerging with wings and completely reorganised brains and nervous systems. But despite the radical deformation and transformation, butterflies can carry memories from their pre-butterfly days: biologists have found that butterflies will avoid odours that they learned to associate with mild electric shocks when they were caterpillars. Where are the odour-memories kept?
The process of writing up the list of objects started as a process of establishing boundaries. The container was to be delineated before its contents were filled in, and all the contents seemed to be demarcated physical units with hard edges that push out the other.
But then, once the objects are put together the boundaries between them open up and the exclusionary operations can start to come undone. When I read the list of objects now, things are softened, gooey, sticky, floating, seeping, porous, coming together, becoming other.
Lists are both conjunctive and disjunctive; they shatter things to bits while they gather bits together. Ketchup mixes with glitter; diamonds and Lego blocks are covered in honey; Bacardi seeps into the mascara…
This is part of a text I wrote on ‘lists, inventories, enumerations, catalogues, itemisations, etc.’, as part of a guest edited section for the first issue of Oberon. The section I edited also features contributions by Gianmaria Andreetta, Simonne Goran, Paul Thek, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and others. Subscribe to Oberon here.