Series | Sequence of more or less complex discursive elements that appear to belong to a similar level, class, or movement—lists, inventories, enumerations—and whose linearity can be used to support rhetorical and aesthetic agendas.

A wide range of social situations display a taste for rankings, groupings, and associating ideas, processes which allow for a variety of worlds to coexist in one series. This collection’s list gives a glimpse into the diversity of this process: what are the different forms of series that exist, and what can be said of the “list effect”?

A series can be built from two elements placed side by side, allowing one to extract shared properties from them such that a third element can be imagined or predicted. A series is often considered to be complete once it has reached three elements (see La vieille antienne). In this sense, the creation of series is so deeply engrained in linguistic practices that one can regularly hear others build them by placing two elements together followed by a generalizing word like “etc.,” or by saying, for example, “Forget about food that’s on sale; it’s all full of pesticides, and it’s real shit” as in Vous ne contrôlez rien, or, in some cases, even the interlocutor can produce and propose a third possible element.

Adhering to convention

The most obvious type of series is a series built by conventionally organized forms of enumeration, like numbering (see Compte, Hana, tul, set, net), the alphabet (see A for Atomic, Aleph, beth, ghimel), or like that found in a textbook. The Chris Burden's Atomic Alphabet is distinct from the four other cases in that it makes an aesthetic use of conventional order: each letter of the alphabet is associated to a word, as in cheerleading traditions (“B for Bomb,” “G for Gorilla”). Through this method, combined with a simple and systematic syntactical form, two lists are made from one.

Why lists?

Aesthetic uses of series can also take less conventional forms while still associating elements side by side to create a whole (see Tout autour, I Come From, A la vie éternelle, and La pontire). This aesthetic dimension can be combined with an argumentative aim, as in this excerpt of a televised face-off between Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Nicolas Sarkozy, or in this press conference on the steps of a courthouse (see also b/node/10207, Le Théâtre-Texte, La discipline n'est pas toujours institutionnelle, and Ça va venir).

Open or closed

A series can be understood to be closed (like alphabets) or open like a list of examples, as in this announcement where Coluche speaks to a panel of possible electors—a case in which a series constitutes something completely open, referring to those we would never usually think of speaking to (see also Petite leçon d’argot, Le crétinisme, Pousse ton derrière, De tout mon amour, Vous ne contrôlez rien, Y’a la chimie, la bureautique, and J’encule les punks).

Series in becoming

Series can also use enumeration to transmit an operation to be followed or in the process of taking place, like this cooking recipe shared on the steps of an apartment building, a body’s movements described by a qi gong master, a genealogical history, the reading of obituary notices, thanks at the end of a concert, searching for a word or idea (see Une théière, une cafetière and Une grosse Bertha, une Black Maria), or this inventory of sensations shared by a child.


Chicken or beef

Mic soundcheck before a Five Finger Death Punch Concert, Casper, WY, 2012.

Om de halve finale af te ronden

Announcement of the program at the Queen-Elisabeth-de-Belgique International Music Competition, 2018.

Par vos ambitions, par vos rêves

Emmanuel Macron, inaugural address of Station F, 2017.

Everybody must be loved

Idi Amin Dada, excerpt from a Council of Ministers, 1970s.

Jusqu’au jeu où je mettais mes doigts

Elie Hay, excerpt from a story of hypnosis, recording by Joris Lacoste, 2008.

Porté aux nues par la superstar

Nikos Aliagas, excerpt from The Voice season 6, 2017.

Après l’échec de monsieur Le Pen

François Asselineau, video posted on the UPR website, May 7, 2017.

Toute la panoplie d’accessoires

Camelot on the market of Choisy-le-Roi, YouTube, 2015.