Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review: "The Infinity of Lists"

The Infinity of Lists (Rizzoli, 2009) is Umberto Eco's latest volume in a series of whimsical musings (On Beauty, On Ugliness) that couple short essays by Eco with an anthology of short textual excerpts and beautifully-reproduced images which complement the texts.

Here, Eco meanders through the world of lists, defining the various types (including "practical" and "poetic"); their uses in literature, essays, history, poetry, and art; and their implications for the reader/viewer. He chronicles the sorts of lists used throughout history, and how those have changed over time (coming, he concludes, to "the Mother of all Lists, infinite by definition because it is in constant evolution, the World Wide Web, which is both web and labyrinth, not an ordered tree, and which of all vertigos promises us the most mystical, almost totally virtual one, and really offers us a catalogue of information that makes us feel wealthy and omnipotent, the only snag being that we don't know which of its elements refers to data from the real world and which does not, no longer with any distinction between truth and error", p. 160).

Eco's ability to cross genres and write eloquently about everything from wunderkammern to saintly relics to Italo Calvino to Miltonic verse to Arcimboldo's art to the infinite library designed by Borges becomes more and more fascinating with every book of his I read. He's a wonder, he really is. The only think I'd have liked in this book might have been longer essays by him. The rest of it is absolutely delightful, and the excellent reproductions make it an eye-pleasing browse as well.

No comments: