The Infinity of Lists

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Overview

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 ...
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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Eco's short and often pithy chapter introductions, the gorgeous displays of exemplary art, and the generous experts from original texts are a tour de force of curation."
ForeWord Magazine

"....a very beautifully produced illustrated volume from Rizzoli, and there’s a positively Millerian moment in it."
National Review

"...a splendidly illustrated monograph, The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay (Rizzoli) ...is, in essence, a tour through art, literature, and music based on the theme of lists, an investigation of the phenomenon of cataloging and collecting. Additionally, Eco maintains that the impulse to accumulate, to collect, is a reoccurring passion in Western culture."
The Morning News

Michael Dirda
Eco obviously recognizes how much he's left out and admits in his introduction that this mixture of essay, anthology and illustrated catalogue "cannot but end with an etcetera." Still, if hardly definitive, The Infinity of Lists is nonetheless a superb sampler, with something instructive or amusing on every page—and plenty of examples of the charm and shock accompanying any good list.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780847832965
  • Publisher: Rizzoli
  • Publication date: 11/17/2009
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 352,449
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco, semiotician at the University of Bologna, is widely known as one of the finest living authors whose best-selling novels include The Name of the Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before, and Baudolino.

Biography

Back in the 1970s, long before the cyberpunk era or the Internet boom, an Italian academic was dissecting the elements of codes, information exchange and mass communication. Umberto Eco, chair of semiotics at the University of Bologna, developed a widely influential theory that continues to inform studies in linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, cultural studies and critical theory.

Most readers, however, had never heard of him before the 1980 publication of The Name of the Rose, a mystery novel set in medieval Italy. Dense with historical and literary allusions, the book was a surprise international hit, selling millions of copies in dozens of languages. Its popularity got an additional boost when it was made into a Hollywood movie starring Sean Connery. Eco followed his first bestseller with another, Foucault's Pendulum, an intellectual thriller that interweaves semiotic theory with a twisty tale of occult texts and world conspiracy.

Since then, Eco has shifted topics and genres with protean agility, producing fiction, academic texts, criticism, humor columns and children's books. As a culture critic, his interests encompass everything from comic books to computer operating systems, and he punctures avant-garde elitism and mass-media vacuity with equal glee.

More recently, Eco has ventured into a new field: ethics. Belief or Nonbelief? is a thoughtful exchange of letters on religion and ethics between Eco and Carlo Maria Martini, the Roman Catholic cardinal of Milan; Five Moral Pieces is a timely exploration of the concept of justice in an increasingly borderless world.

Eco also continues to write books on language, literature and semiotics for both popular and academic audiences. His efforts have netted him a pile of honorary degrees, the French Legion of Honor, and a place among the most widely read and discussed thinkers of our time.

Good To Know

Eco is a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, though in 2002 he was at Oxford University as a visiting lecturer. He has also taught at several top universities in the U.S., including Columbia, Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern.

Pressured by his father to become a lawyer, Eco studied law at the University of Turn before abandoning that course (against his father's wishes) and pursuing medieval philosophy and literature.

His studies led naturally to the setting of The Name of the Rose in the medieval period. The original tentative title was Murder in the Abbey.

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    1. Hometown:
      Bologna, Italy
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 5, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Alessandria, Italy
    1. Education:
      Ph.D., University of Turin, 1954

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    "We Like Lists Because We Don't Want to Die."

    Most of us will anchor our familiarity of Umberto Eco with his great novel "The Name of The Rose" (1980) and the subsequent novels of "Foucault's Pendulum", "The Island of the Day Before", and "Baudolino". But others may know of Eco's forays into assorted essays (On Literature) and then with in-depth multidisciplinary analyses of art, literature, and culture (e.g., History of Beauty, On Ugliness). Uh oh, just a moment here, I have just created a "list" of sorts in order to capture (not completely, but a start) the works of Umberto Eco, which symmetrically and ironically (perhaps not) is the focus of Eco's latest work, The Infinity of Lists (which has the title "The Vertigo of Lists" in the UK). What is it about us and our predilection for lists (or listmaking?)? At his website, Eco has the provocative opening sentence of, "We Like Lists Because We Don't Want to Die." Hmm, that is quite the hook, and in this elegant and aesthetically pleasing volume (published by Rizzoli International Publications - and it saturated with illustrations - a feast for the eyes!), Eco taxonomically weaves in works of art and literature to indicate his unique perspectives. You will find "coherent excess" and "chaotic enumeration" in the book along with Rimbaud, Neruda, Dali, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Joyce, all manner of collections, litanies, and cabinets of curiosities. In his quest (perhaps infinite in goal, but not humanly possible) to record and study ALL lists, Eco has intellectual fun with the reader to suggest he was not "omniscient" and thus many things were left out of his selections (of course) and the book must certainly end with "an etcetera"..but I simply would ask Professor Eco: How could you overlook Carl Linnaeus?

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 20, 2010

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