Italian author Umberto Eco was interviewed last week by the German publication Spiegel. The interview ‘We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die’ discusses Eco’s recent involvement with curating an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris. The exhibition, as the title of the interview suggests, is all about lists.
I think that many unclutterers rely on lists — to-do lists, home inventories, calendars, project management timelines — to stay organized. Personally, lists keep me from worrying about forgetting things. I’d rather think about things I’m passionate about instead of having a constant stream of to-dos bouncing around in my brain.
Eco’s thoughts about lists are much more esoteric than mine. I found his interview on the subject matter to be thought-provoking and worth reading. From the interview:
Umberto Eco: The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.
From later in the interview:
Eco: … We have always been fascinated by infinite space, by the endless stars and by galaxies upon galaxies. How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn’t have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopping describing the sky, simply listing what they see. Lovers are in the same position. They experience a deficiency of language, a lack of words to express their feelings. But do lovers ever stop trying to do so? They create lists: Your eyes are so beautiful, and so is your mouth, and your collarbone … One could go into great detail.
SPIEGEL: Why do we waste so much time trying to complete things that can’t be realistically completed?
Eco: 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.
What do you think of Eco’s thoughts on lists? Anyone else surprised by his statements or conclusions? Share your reactions in the comments.