There's something about lists that has almost universal appeal. But why?
Italian semiotician and best-selling novelist Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, and a few later ones that are not as good as those first two) has curated a list-centric exhibit at the Louvre Museum and written an extended essay called The Infinity of Lists, which attempts to explain exactly that.
German magazine Spiegel has a great interview with Eco, which we've digested for you, but of course, in the form of a handy--
TOP TEN LIST OF REASONS YOU LIKE TOP TEN LISTS (according to professional smart person Umberto Eco)
10. "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."
9. "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."
8. "In the "Iliad," [Homer] tries to convey an impression of the size of the Greek army. At first he uses similes: 'As when some great forest fire is raging upon a mountain top and its light is seen afar, even so, as they marched, the gleam of their armour flashed up into the firmament of heaven.' But he isn't satisfied. He cannot find the right metaphor, and so he begs the muses to help him. Then he hits upon the idea of naming many, many generals and their ships.
7. "At first, we think that a list is primitive and typical of very early cultures, which had no exact concept of the universe and were therefore limited to listing the characteristics they could name. But, in cultural history, the list has prevailed over and over again. It is by no means merely an expression of primitive cultures."
6. "A very clear image of the universe existed in the Middle Ages, and there were lists. A new worldview based on astronomy predominated in the Renaissance and the Baroque era. And there were lists. And the list is certainly prevalent in the postmodern age. It has an irresistible magic."
5. "[Lovers] 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."
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4. "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."
3. "We like lists because we don't want to die."
2. "The list is the mark of a highly advanced, cultivated society because a list allows us to question the essential definitions. The essential definition is primitive compared with the list."
1. "Why am I so interested in the subject? I can't really say. I like lists for the same reason other people like football or pedophilia. People have their preferences."