The Infinity of Lists

Author(s): Umberto Eco

General Art

Best-selling author and philosopher Umberto Eco is currently resident at the Louvre, and his chosen theme of study is "the vertigo of lists." Reflecting on this enormous trove of human achievements, in his lyrical intellectual style he has embarked on an investigation of the phenomenon of cataloging and collecting. This book, featuring lavish reproductions of artworks from the Louvre and other world-famous collections, is a philosophical and artistic sequel to Eco's recent acclaimed books, "History of Beauty and On Ugliness," books in which he delved into the psychology, philosophy, history, and art of human forms. Eco is a modern-day Diderot, and here he examines the Western mind's predilection for list-making and the encyclopedic. His central thesis is that in Western culture a passion for accumulation is recurring: lists of saints, catalogues of plants, collections of art. This impulse has recurred through the ages from music to literature to art. Eco refers to this obsession itself as a "giddiness of lists" but shows how in the right hands it can be a "poetics of catalogues." From medieval reliquaries to Andy Warhol's compulsive collecting, Umberto Eco reflects in his inimitably inspiring way on how such catalogues mirror the spirit of their times.


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'A lavish, curious catalogue about catalogues ... Eco has always had an eclectic, esoteric mind, and a meander around the byways of his brain is a joy indeed' Scotland on Sunday. 'A characteristic product of this extraordinary writer and polymath: learned, sparkling, insightful, provocative, packed full of intriguing and arcane information' Mary Beard in the Guardian. 'Flaunting his extraordinary erudition but flaunting it modestly ... the book is gorgeously illustrated, a beautiful object ... its creamy pages are a pleasure to turn, its various typefaces are not just elegant but appropriate to the needs of the text, its illustrations a joy to study, its translation impeccable' Gilbert Adair in the Spectator. 'This might be the perfect third book for the desert island: the only one which could be installed there along with Shakespeare and the Bible and find an equal number of fascinated, disparate readers. It is the ultimate dippable book' The Tablet.

Umberto Eco's first novel, The Name of the Rose (1982), was a huge bestseller which brought him worldwide acclaim. With his subsequent works of fiction, philosophy, literary criticism and semiotics, he has been recognised as one of Europe's finest thinkers. He is currently President of the Scuola Superiore di Studi Humanistici and the University of Bologna. Alastair McEwen is the translator of some of Italy's finest living writers, including Alessandro Baricco, Antonio Tabucchi, Sandro Veronesi and Fleur Jaeggy.

Introduction. The shield and its form. The list and the catalogue. The visual list. The ineffable. Lists of things. Lists of places. There are lists and lists. Exchanges between list and form. The rhetoric of enumeration. Lists of mirabilia. Collections and treasures. The Wunderkammer. Definition by list of properties versus definition by essence. The Aristotelian telescope. Excess, from Rabelais onwards. Coherent excess. Chaotic enumeration. Mass media lists. Lists of infinites. Exchanges between practical and poetic lists. A non-normal list. Appendix.

General Fields

  • : 9781906694821
  • : maclehose
  • : MacLehose Press
  • : January 2009
  • : 170mm X 240mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Umberto Eco
  • : Hardback
  • : 1
  • : en
  • : 700
  • : 408
  • : 5-colour illustrations