Lists, Fuck Yeah!


Umberto Eco, one of my favourite brainy writerly dudes, talks with Speigel Online about lists and why they’re so important to us. A couple of extracts…

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.


I realized immediately that the exhibition would focus on lists. 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.

I’m like him, I dig lists. But football and the other thing I’m less keen on.

It’s really worth a read, if you don’t already love lists you might change your mind.

4 thoughts on “Lists, Fuck Yeah!”

  1. awesomeness – makes perfect sense of our need to create the illusion of sense for ourselves.

    Since our brains are big pattern recognitions thingies, we impose patterns everywhere in an attempt to make the world more like the inside of our heads – see maths, logic, language, the classification of elements and animals, and, at the extreme, madness.

    of course, you could argue the shapes inside our heads are themselves the product of the patterns in the world, which they then reflect in their reflective apperception, but this gets circular quite quickly ;)

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