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Umberto Eco and the Love of Lists

by Elizabeth Ryan 


Tags: Great Writing, lists, Umberto Eco, Bookforum, Elizabeth Ryan,

bookforum-covOh the joys of enumeration. In the recent issue of Bookforum, Albert Mobilio waxes poetic about the benefits of lists and list-making with the sort of reverence only a true list lover could put forth. He touches on Umberto Eco’s book, The Infinity of Lists, but Mobilio’s own musings are surely worth the read if you’re fond of the subject. Herewith, some favorite excerpts:  

“The mind’s associative reflex is as rapid as it is circuitous, myriad things and things-to-do always unspooling in the brainpan. If you get out of bed, though, and grab a pen, you can at least slow it down by making a list. You can rank items in importance, annotate, categorize, and subcategorize—in short you can give some material shape to and make some order of what Samuel Beckett dubbed ‘the big blooming buzzing confusion.’ So somewhere between penciling ‘pick up prescription’ and ‘live a more examined life,’ a portion of calm might be found.”

“A list is an intimation of totality, a simulacrum of knowing much, of knowing the right much. We select our ten best big-band recordings, all-time basketball starting fives, mysteries to read this summer; add up the people we've slept with or people we wish we had; index our movie-memorabilia collection; count our blessings; list reasons for not getting out of bed. We jot these accounts on envelopes, store them on hard drives, murmur them under our breath as we ride home from work—it's no accident that many prayers are really nothing more than lists.”

Source: Bookforum