Saturday, 28 November 2009

Lists & Mortality

In a recent Spiegel interview, Umberto Eco postulates that we make lists to avoid thinking about death (the article is fascinating, read it here). The accumulation of stuff, our collections, our drive to create routine and order out of utter chaos, is a cry for security in an unknown universe. I often think of the cosmic joke, the fact that we're born into a world that holds no answers about where we come from and where we're going (if you catch my drift). I like the juxtaposition of the ethereal and commonplace, and it tends to be a reoccurring theme in my writing (a taste of a poem below).

Eco's also curating a new exhibition at the Louvre in Paris on the essential nature of lists, poets who list things in their works and painters who accumulate things in their paintings.

Some excerpts from the interview:

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. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart's librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists -- the shopping list, the will, the menu -- that are also cultural achievements in their own right.

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.

A poem entitled: Cover-up

Scents of patchouli, verveine and lilac
stir, pace and circle like a testosterone-injected pit-bull
at the bottom of stone-encrusted crystal
refusing to crawl and creep slowly to the edge,
to jump into the chamber of experience.
Existing solely to fill the gaps,
to conceal the putrid stench,
camouflage the intoxicating smells:

a rotting apple, yellow pools that sway in broken brown eggshells, moldy discarded bread crusts, shriveled red onions, slabs of rejected fat still shiny with grease, orange cigarette butts caked with dust, shredded ConEd bills, wrinkled and stained Sunday papers, crusted beige prophylactics, ripped toilet paper soiled with red kisses, rusting banana peels, coffee grains and plastered pieces of fettuccine
that give the black plastic an interior design,

all of it neatly concealed & held together with thick dark Glad easy-tie bags.
Evidence covered and closed,
only the scent remains.

I also came across this interesting piece by artist Simon Evans, called Everything I Have, which is basically a list of everything he owns, further underscoring this theory of lists and feeling alive.

Definitely casts a new light on the things to do list...

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