Tuesday 12 January 2010

The Infinity of Lists

Happy New Year to all!

Everywhere you look at the moment there are lists - lists of the best films of the noughties, best albums, books etc etc. I love reading lists, and the abundance of them in all forms of media shows that I'm clearly not alone in this. However I'd never really considered list-making (something I also love and find great satisfaction in doing) as a quest for immortality, or a means of blotting out our inevitable decline and death. Hmmn, maybe not such a cheery way to start the New Year after all!

The need and desire to classify, order, and arrange things/objectives/actions/animals/concepts is common throughout the world, in time and space. It's also fun, and satisfying - I like nothing better than a list of 'things to do' that I can then go through and score out as I achieve my goals, or a list of 'top 30 films of the decade (as in Sight and Sound this month) that makes me want to rush out and buy all the films so I can debate the merits of the list.

The concept of lists as a way of denying our mortality is something that is explored in an exhibition currently showing at the Louvre. 'Mille e tre' (the infinity of lists) organised by Umberto Eco examines the development of the concept of a list through history and examines how its meaning changes with the passage of time. In a fascinating interview with Der Spiegel, Eco discusses the idea of lists as a means of attempting to define or grasp infinity and things that are inexpressible. Eco - "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." Later in the interview he goes further than this, when he is asked why people waste so much time trying to complete things that can't be realistically completed, his answer - "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.

I wonder if I'll find many lists in the Lindsay Anderson Archive? I haven't come across many yet, just a few brief notes on the backs of letters, phone so-and-so, reply to this etc - not really full blown lists. But then the whole nature of the collection, the fact it was so well organised whilst he was alive, illustrates his desire for classification, for order.

Myself, one of my New Year's resolutions was 'make more lists' - a resolution I'll take great satisfaction in sticking to!

N.B. Thanks to The House Next Door for notice of this exhibition, and in general, for a really fascinating and fun blog

1 comment:

  1. It's funny, because I used to be a compulsive list-maker and now I have kind of stepped away from it somewhat. Still, I have to have some order in my life and can't abide clutter.