Write a list, save your life

by | Nov 22, 2009 | Blog, Memoir | 2 comments

Umberto Eco by Michael Weiss
I’ve recently come across this fascinating interview with Umberto Eco on the occasion of a new exhibition he has curated at the Louvre in Paris. The exhibition is about the nature of lists, poets who list things in their work, and painters who accumulate things in their paintings. As a list-maker from wayback, to hear Eco state that “the list is the origin of culture” was music to my ears.

I don’t know that the lists that mushroom around me bear much relationship to the sort Eco would write or invent, but I’ve put his new book, The Vertigo of Lists, on one of them: my ‘must-read’ list.

A few highlights from the interview:

The list is the mark of a highly advanced, cultivated society because a list allows us to question the essential definitions. The essential definition is primitive compared with the list.

We like lists because we don’t want to die.

Google makes a list, but the minute I look at my Google-generated list, it has already changed. These lists can be dangerous – not for old people like me, who have acquired their knowledge in another way, but for young people, for whom Google is a tragedy. Schools ought to teach the high art of how to be discriminating.

Culture isn’t knowing when Napoleon died. Culture means knowing how I can find out in two minutes.

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