241 Things

1000 Things is a subjective encyclopedia of inspirational ideas, things, people, and events.

Read the most recent articles, or mail the editorial team to contribute.

Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

Chris Johansen

What do artists read? The following artists share their favourite books.

Chris Johanson
I don't have a favourite book but I do read.

Annette Messager
The dictionary.

Alexandra Leykauf
This is impossible to answer… but let's say Chris Ware: Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth.

Ken Lum

Ken Lum
My favorite book is a children’s book that I actually reread a few years ago when I bought it again to read parts to my youngest niece: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Marcel van Eeden
Gerrit Achterberg, Ode aan Den Haag, De ballade van de gasfitter, Spel van de wilde jacht.

Annette Messager

Marlene Dumas
The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

Gabriel Lester
Boris Vian, J 'irai cracher sur vos tombes (Ik zal op jullie graf spugen/I Shall Spit on Your Graves).

Chris Ware: Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth

Kimberley Clark
How to Make Love Like a Pornostar by Jenna Jameson.

Alicia Framis
La Dislocation, Benoit Goetz.

Marcel van Eeden

Jamy Shovlinn
Everything from Georges Perec.

Amalia Pica
The Order of Things, Michel Foucault and The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano.

Amalia Pica

Christian Holstad
The telephone book.

David Shrigley
The dictionary, it is the one I keep going back to.

Ryan Gander
The Adventures of the Black Hand Gang by Hans Jurgen Press.

David Shrigley

The following texts result from Nabokov's teachings at universities around the USA:

Select four answers to the question what should a reader be to be a good reader:

  1. The reader should belong to a book club.
  2. The reader should identify himself or herself with the hero or heroine.
  3. The reader should concentrate on the social-economic angle.
  4. The reader should prefer a story with action and dialogue to one with none.
  5. The reader should have seen the book in a movie.
  6. The reader should be a budding author.
  7. The reader should have imagination.
  8. The reader should have memory.
  9. The reader should have a dictionary.
  10. The reader should have some artistic sense.
Scene from Nabokov's Lolita

The students leaned heavily on emotional identification, action, and the social-economic or historical angle. Of course, as you have guessed, the good reader is one who has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense–which sense I propose to develop in myself and in others whenever I have the chance.

Incidentally, I use the word reader very loosely. Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. And I shall tell you why. When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. When we look at a painting we do not have to move our eyes in a special way even if, as in a book, the picture contains elements of depth and development.

Nakobov in 1919

The element of time does not really enter in a first contact with a painting. In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting. However, let us not confuse the physical eye, that monstrous masterpiece of evolution, with the mind, an even more monstrous achievement.

A book, no matter what it is—a work of fiction or a work of science (the boundary line between the two is not as clear as is generally believed)—a book of fiction appeals first of all to the mind. The mind, the brain, the top of the tingling spine, is, or should be, the only instrument used upon a book.

Most of us would reach for the dictionary to find a description for “nothing”, so here goes nothing:

1

Nothing is: nothing (pronoun) is not anything, not a thing: nothing. But is there more to it? The term nothing makes its appearance in the works of many great thinkers and philosophers. Like Socrates, for example who said, “I only know one thing: I know nothing.” In this context, nothing refers to knowledge, in other words, that which is not tangible. But isn’t nothing the intangible immaterial?

2

Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Nothing has no centre and it borders on the nothing”. He situates the “nothing” as an endless given. What would I do with absolutely nothing? Before “something” exists there must first be “nothing”. Could you describe this as a cause and effect reaction? In today’s society, one must be sure to do “something” to stand out. But doesn’t this great collective desire for “something” not simply heighten our desire for the “nothing”? “Although one can profit from something, we can only find that which is useful in nothing”, according to Lao-Tse3.

Tom Friedman, Erased Playboy Centrefold

Let’s get this straight. At this point, I’m convinced that “nothing” indeed, is intangible. But I do think that “nothing” becomes tangible when it is the starting point for an idea. The absence of “something”, or in other words, “nothing”, acts as a foundation, and creates the urgency to fill the space of that which is lacking substance. Does “nothing” really exist?

When I look around me, I see many concrete things, but I don’t see a sign of “nothing”. Is “nothing” not just a term that humans have devised? Maybe we created the “nothing” so that we have a word for the incomprehensible and the unfathomable, an idea translated into vocabulary. Is “nothing” simply a made-up thing that we’ve grown accustomed to?

The Nothing

The villain from the film The NeverEnding Story: a dark cloud that engulfs all.

4

Artistotles said that everything that exists within the mind has first existed within the senses. Haven’t we just talked each other into the concept of “nothing”?

For example, when I look at the sky, I ask myself if this is “nothing”. No. The air is made of particles, molecules, and these are made of atoms. Has science, then, spoiled our mystical idea of “nothing”?

The thought of a complete vacuum is exciting. But science has rationalised this concept and to told us that this is impossible.

Martin Creed, Work No. 227 The lights going on and off

So if an external “nothing” is impossible, what does this say about an internal nothing? Is it possible to not think or feel anything? These are questions that I still struggle with.

But I can share my own experience. I can’t think of “nothing”. There is always something going on in my head. If I tell myself to sit quietly and think of “nothing”, I’ll only think of the word “nothing”. Feeling “nothing” seems like even less of a possibility. “Nothing” must then also be impossible internally. But what, then, remains of “nothing”?

“Nothing” is intangible. “Nothing” can be the start of “something”. “Nothing” can become “something”. “Nothing” could be just a man made word. “Nothing” can be a thought or a feeling. “Nothing” does not really exist: simultaneously the meaning of the word itself. In the end, this text is much ado about nothing.

As entries, strike-throughs, spelling mistakes, re-entries, question marks, lists within lists, bullet-points, dashes, personalised bullet-points, squares, asterisks, circled entries, bold entries, ambitious entries and already-done entries are scattered across the page, the mind moves quicker than the pen to create this masterpiece in its initial form. Margins, the bottom of the list or the space in between the lines are an opportunity to add information that could not keep up with the mind or that were simply forgotten. At times, these secondary entries will appear in a different colour where an alternative writing tool has had to be used.

The creator of a list has no intention to design their thoughts but merely to order them visually in tangible form. The back of a card, an old envelope, some scrap paper, a notebook, a smart phone, a saved email draft, a train ticket or a post-it note provide the canvas for this mind montage to be drawn out.

The activity of list-making is both common to all yet entirely individualistic.There is a sense of urgency attached to something that is created on-the-go or in between activities and maybe it is the extent of this pressure that when making a list, normal writing conventions are ignored. Baselines are misused, words are written across them rather than on them; the ascenders on letters become muted; the descenders have added flamboyancy and the margins are no longer a no-go area for words but a place to fill with words, additional thoughts, numbers, sketches and question marks.

In a moment’s pause, a second thought is given to putting these thoughts into better order or form, perhaps in order of priority or alphabetically.This can be done at a later date. Sometimes, a complete re-draft of the list might be necessary. If it is a list of that type it can be prepared to make sense to others. It is at this point a design element might be added: colour coding, font selection, margin widths and line lengths.

There is an unspoken hierarchy to the various forms of lists that surround us in our daily lives.Train times, shopping lists, gift lists, hate lists, wish lists, to-do lists, today’s food specials, contents pages, registers, stock lists, missing lists, menus and guest lists. The different forms of lists are matched and paired with a tried and tested format. Registers are done alphabetically; shopping lists by memory, train times chronologically etc.

When a list finds itself in the hands of someone other than its author, different aspects of it might be scrutinised. The graphologist looks at the space between the lines and the curves or flicks of the letters, the size of the capital letters, the margins around the texts and the slant of the handwriting. The artist dreams up the story that precedes the list and what might follow. The curious looks around to find its owner. And others disregard it.

When an individual has shown extraordinary qualities or talents, the contents of a list they have made might become valuable to others. The lives of great scientists, musicians, actors, writers or designers are retraced and dissected by making their diaries or notebooks public. Whilst the content of their home is on show so is the content of their minds. Private information, messily scrawled across the page with changes and errors, supposedly give insight into a frame of mind. A laundry list suddenly reveals secrets of their lifestyle, an unseen side to their character.

Michelangelo's menu list

This information, analysis, format, or story is irrelevant to the author; the content is what is of interest to them. Their document is plagued with encryptions of coding, different methods of ‘crossing off’, ticks, strike-throughs and circles around ticks. Only some entries have numbers, where clearly an attempt at prioritising has been made. Some have dates next to them, for deadlines and finales, giving an added importance, a ticking reminder. These juxtapositions need not make sense to others.

Having been created, a list triumphantly sits at the top of important papers. It is versatile and can be used as a bookmark, a coaster or a space to sketch; it is embellished with important things, mustn’t forgets and mental notes. It ages well. Every mark on this creation is part of its existence. Folds in the page create creases across the unused printed lines; they battle with the thoughts sprawled across them. A new dimension is added to the form where the author has rolled the corners back and forth between their fingers.

A list by Charles Darwin

At the height of its usability, the list holds authority over its creator; unchecked items glare at you and make you feel guilty for the things you have not yet accomplished. A mutual resistance grows and other lists arise. Before the list has peaked it finds itself at the bottom of a bag, on a supermarket floor, wedged in a shopping basket, slotted in the corner of a sofa stuck to some crumbs, at the end of a book that was being read, in the shredder, at the back of another list, propping up a table, underneath a doodle, fallen on the pavement or sitting helplessly in the recycling bin, sitting next to the envelope that wasn’t chosen and another list that has efficient strikes through most entries.

On the off chance that a list may be revisited or found again by its creator, they might experience the sense of satisfaction that comes with being able to cross off multiple items from the list. The single action of drawing a line, or the flicking of a tick enhances the achievement of completion.

Monkey's Feast

Ferdinand van Kessel

Roland Barthes
Monkey's Feast

Ferdinand van Kessel

I was standing in a corridor when a tall, young man walked briskly passed me. Moments later he was chased by a small brunette whose every step seemed to fall into the spaces left behind him. He marched on in anger and as she furiously followed, she hissed, ‘This will be the last time, it’s over, I swear to god I will just disappear.’

Watching them rush down the corridor, I thought about how many times I had seen this exact process of emotions in others, and of course experienced it myself. We all know this story, it is constantly repeated, or at least we are all familiar with this interpretation of the story: one threatening to cut the other off whilst running after them in bewildered warning, angrily and frantically begging them to stay whilst they move away. The strange and stylised emotional language we use in situations that we cannot or do not want to express, the reformations of our true purpose in order to avoid vulnerability, and yet through all our fictions and theatricalities, our intentions, although unpronounced, are understood.

If already just in this superficial layer, in all these given understandings of this situation we can see the magnitude and effect of our interpretation on the “reality” of things, at what point do we stop interpreting, what is the actual, the non-fictional?

So many aspects of my self were suddenly laid bare before me as stories I had told myself, interpretations of people’s actions in designed sequences. The way I saw, the way I was seen and in whatever light anything is shown, are all characteristics that are open to interpretation. If we dissect this situation to all its separate parts, we see that everything occurring only exists as one thing after another, events and actions in meaningless succession; it is we who give it meaning and chronology.

I stood in a corridor. Through this same corridor, a tall, young man walked, he moved quickly and dropped his feet heavily as he did so. A small brunette also walked through this corridor. As the small brunette walked, she spoke, her words were fast and rhythmic.

“Narrative is present at all times, in all places, in all societies; indeed narrative starts with the very history of mankind; there is not, there has never been anywhere, any people without narrative … Narrative is international, trans-historical, trans-cultural; it is there, like life.”- Roland Barthes”[1]

Seven of wands

Scènes de la vie privée et publique des animaux

Used in the design of tarot cards

J. Grandville


R. Barthes, ‘On Narrative and Narratives’, in: R. Barthes and L. Duisit, New Literary History, Vol. 6, No. 2, Baltimore, US: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975, pp. 237 -272