The list doesn’t destroy culture, it creates it

Food for thought when one is tempted to skip over the more boring sections of, say, the Book of Numbers.

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. … We also have completely practical lists—the shopping list, the will, the menu—that are also cultural achievements in their own right. …

The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it. 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.

from “Umberto Eco: We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die,” interview by Susanne Beyer and Lothar Gorris, SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International, 11 November 2009 :: via The Morning News

Originally published at

Add Your Comments