12 November 2009

"I like lists for the same reason other people like football or pedophilia."

Umberto Eco is currently curating an exhibition at the Louvre on the subjects of "the place lists hold in the history of culture." In an interview with Der Spiegel, he talks about that and about "the ways we try to avoid thinking about death and why Google is dangerous for young people."
Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th century. My novels, by the way, are full of lists...

...in cultural history, the list has prevailed over and over again. It is by no means merely an expression of primitive cultures. A very clear image of the universe existed in the Middle Ages, and there were lists. A new worldview based on astronomy predominated in the Renaissance and the Baroque era. And there were lists. And the list is certainly prevalent in the postmodern age. It has an irresistible magic...

We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That's why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It's a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don't want to die...

Why am I so interested in the subject? I can't really say. I like lists for the same reason other people like football or pedophilia. People have their preferences.
The rest of the interview is at Der Spiegel.


  1. Remember the Book of Lists and its sequels in the 70s? Huge bestsellers.

  2. And in fact this blog is a sort of glorified "list," because (see the "categories" in the right sidebar) I use it to store my favorite books, videos of my favorite music, my favorite jokes, and other things.


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