‘We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die’
The headline was glib enough that I waited several days before actually reading it, but Spiegel’s interview with Umberto Eco does turn out to be worth it.
SPIEGEL: But why does Homer list all of those warriors and their ships if he knows that he can never name them all?
Eco: Homer’s work hits again and again on the topos of the inexpressible. People will always do that. We have always been fascinated by infinite space, by the endless stars and by galaxies upon galaxies. How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn’t have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopping describing the sky, simply listing what they see. Lovers are in the same position. They experience a deficiency of language, a lack of words to express their feelings. But do lovers ever stop trying to do so? They create lists: Your eyes are so beautiful, and so is your mouth, and your collarbone … One could go into great detail.
SPIEGEL: Why do we waste so much time trying to complete things that can’t be realistically completed?
Eco: We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.
Interviews and breathless features about Eco are popping up everywhere because he has been a “Special Guest Curator” at the Louvre. The resulting show,
“The Infinity of Lists,”  is open through Dec. 13. Previous Special Guest Curators include Robert Badinter, Toni Morrison, Anselm Kiefer and Pierre Boulez. The Special Guest Curator program is absolutely not a publicity stunt. As Jean-Marc Terrasse, Eco’s handler at the Louvre for the last two years explains in The Art Newspaper:
Umberto Eco is an ideal guest for many reasons. He is a man who has worked in all the artistic disciplines and who thinks at great speed and has thousands of very lucid ideas. He is a particularly interesting personality because he has a very clear, erudite vision of the art world, combined with a particular ability to marry high culture and pop culture, the sublime and the profane, the arcane and the new.”
The Louvre’s next Special Guest Curator is film director Patrice Chareau.
 Actually, the show turns out to be called “Vertige de la Liste.”