In an interview for Der Spiegel, philosopher and writer Umberto Eco said, “We like lists because we don’t want to die”

He has a book out called The Vertigo of Lists based on an exhibit he curated for the Louvre museum. It’s point is described as an examination of:

…the Western mind’s predilection for list-making and the encyclopaedic format. In fact his central thesis is that in Western culture a passion for accumulation is recurring: lists of saints, catalogues of plants, collections of art, all show how in the right hands there can be a ‘poetics of catalogues’.

Lists are interesting because they tend to be concise and describe immediate needs or situations. Everything from photo albums and recipe collections to medical histories and details on resumes  provide lists and catalogues of lives lived.  Imagine a list or catalogue of one’s life starting from the very beginning. There could be sub-lists along with it.

  • Birth
  • -location
  • -participants
  • Week 1
  • -activities
  • -encounters
  • etc.

It would be incredibly long. And as things pass or change other things would be added and earlier things stricken off. So much flows through. Lists may be an attempt to stave off death in that they remind us of that flow. They are way points along the journey. Pauses to inventory the moment.

From the same interview Eco also said:

“If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you’re an idiot.”

Or very much asleep.


3 comments on “Lists

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Lists « Smiling Buddha Cabaret --

  2. Walter J. Ong has suggested that the making of lists is a distinctively *literate* activity and that such abstractions are not used in pre/non-literate cultures. (I’m citing the discussion of his work by Donald Lopez in Elaborations on Emptiness, p.32f). I haven’t had time to follow this up. It either means that Indian oral culture was completely unique in the level of it’s sophistication (and abstraction), or they started using writing a lot earlier than they let on. Certainly there must now be a question mark over whether the texts we have inherited “are the end products of an oral society”.

    I’m also still pondering Bhikkhu Anālayo’s recent article about the distinctions in the way memorisation worked in Vedic and Buddhist Milieu, and contemporary research on memory. “The Vicissitudes of Memory and Early Buddhist Oral Transmission”, Canadian Journal of Buddhist Studies, 2009, vol. 5 pp. 5-19. He also discusses the Buddhist uses of lists.


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