this was going to be my end-of-the-year best of list, until i met umberto eco
There seems to be nothing bloggers likes to do more this time of the year than bombard their readers with lists. Their favorite albums, songs, books, films, food, trends, TV shows, video games, comics, hotels, cars, stores and anything else they can come up with. Websites seem to not be able to control their enthusiasm for them (ahem), which is probably an extension of what newspapers and magazines have been doing forever.
Umberto Eco is a world renowned novelist, medievalist, philosopher, semiotician and literary critic. My sixteen year old kid has been reading his books, which are way beyond my intellectual capacity. (I just had to spell check intellectual. Twice.) At the end of last year, The Lourve in Paris (as opposed to what…the Lourve in Hoboken?) installed an exhibit from Eco of ancient and contemporary graphic works that traced the evolution of the concept of a list through history, and examined how its meaning changes with the passage of time.
In an interview, Eco said:
“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.
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.
We like lists because we don’t want to die. I like lists for the same reason other people like football or pedophilia.”
Now as you might imagine, there are those that disagreed with Eco, or at least wanted to add their two francs. On his website. I found this comment:
“A penchant for list-making tends to be Aspergery and adolescent. For example, the urge to make lists of favorite movies or songs or books are an attempt to assert one’s identity in terms of products consumed. This urge usually declines with age, in favor of attempts to understand why you like some things and other people like other things, although there are prominent to this maturation process.”
And another one:
“Perhaps lists, at least the “top ten” variety, have their origins in the dominance hierarchies of social animals. It represented a need to know one’s place within the group and keep track of others’. We have evolved a mental hammer and everything in the universe looks like a nail, as we seek to impose one-dimensional well-ordered rankings on an intricately interlocked multi-dimensional universe. In this sense, lists are indeed primitive.”
For myself, as a No Depression serial blogger, I too have done a few lists in my time here but I’ve also taken shots at them. My problem with them is similar to my feelings about award shows, which tend to pronounce some works of art more worthy than others simply by the act of exclusion. I’ve left several comments on the ND Readers’ Poll post that we should expand the list beyond just twenty. Infinity seems perfect to me, especially in this internet universe. But 42 is a good number, as is 88 and 121.
On the other hand, I admit that I learn a lot from reading lists…usually discovering music, books or films I’ve missed throughout the year. Because it’s impossible to keep track of it all, and we all should welcome a little help. And on this site in particular, there are so many people whose opinions I’ve come to respect and look forward to reading, and I’m grateful for both the forum to post and the time people take to share their thoughts.
The funny thing is, when I sat down this morning to write (while ignoring the to-do list my wife left for me next to the coffee pot), it was going to be an end-of-the-year list. But I got sidetracked and ended up with this instead. The good news: I just checked Google and in the last 24 hours there were 18,800 blogs that posted “best of” year end lists. The bad news: today is only December 10th.