Critical assessments of the literary catalogue often stress its desire for order, highlighting the device’s encyclopedic tendencies of inclusion, exclusion, totality, and transparency. This article offers an alternative approach, arguing that the catalogue of persons can function as a document of loss, whose formal structure produces spectral, ghostly, and even traumatic effects. Analyzing catalogues from Homer’s Iliad, Charles Dickens’s American Notes for General Circulation, and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, this essay demonstrates that the formal capacity for spectrality is an underappreciated affordance of the catalogue, through which it confronts actual historical violence. A comparative reading of Homer, Dickens, and Bolaño demonstrates that the catalogue, far from establishing mastery and transparency, is a literary device shot through with virtual effects, emergent echoes, and palpable absences. These affordances challenge the catalogue’s claims for totality while also making it a powerful mechanism for measuring history as loss.

You do not currently have access to this content.