Umberto Eco on what makes an idiot

In an interview published in Speigel yesterday, Umberto Eco argues, among other things, that humans create lists because we’re afraid to die.

He also talks about his library, which the interviewer thought to contain about 30,000 volumes:

I’m afraid that, by now, it might actually be 50,000 books. When my secretary wanted to catalogue them, I asked her not to. My interests change constantly, and so does my library. By the way, if you constantly change your interests, your library will constantly be saying something different about you. Besides, even without a catalogue, I’m forced to remember my books. I have a hallway for literature that’s 70 meters long. I walk through it several times a day, and I feel good when I do. Culture isn’t knowing when Napoleon died. Culture means knowing how I can find out in two minutes.

My favorite lines were the last two, when he declines to make a list of things he loves or does not love:

If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you’re an idiot.

memento Mori, “To This Favour” by William Michael Harnett, originally uploaded by pirano.

1 Comment

  1. leelee says

    Umberto has his ideas about lists and I have mine. I think his idea that humankind is encumbered by lists because we fear death is wrong. I’ve heard of the “Bucket List, ” a compilation that lists what we need to complete or pursue before our demise. Well, the rest of our lists are sparked by a distinct need to be in control. Lists give us control to remember facts and figures that we would forget, otherwise. Lists help me know that my addled brain is controlling my own and my families need. I don’t think that it’s necessary to probe to the depth of Jung or some other psychiatrist. My lists keep me on track, organized and sane. They help me organize my art studio and my art buyers . I would be lost without the help of my “ to do lists”. Artists tend to be scattered. Umberto please re think what you said about lists. Hey, even a Bucket list would give me something to look forward to the bitter end. Lists are just part of surviving in the twentieth century.


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