In the beginning were lists

Umberto Eco has been invited by the Louvre in Paris to curate an exhibition. He has chosen lists as his organising principle.

Making lists is often derided as a cop-out: something that we do instead of actually creating or making something. Lists have recently been called a degenerate case of essay.

It seems that Umberto Eco would disagree. He believes that lists are the origin of culture.

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.

Reading the rest of this interview makes me wonder if there is really a clear distinction between curation and creation or whether the two are inextricably linked. I strongly suspect that behind every act of creation lies a long history of curation, which is effectively the act of making lists. Every truly amazing musician I have known has had an equally amazing record collection. Good writers almost always have a fantastic library. In the world of user experience design, there are numerous examples of pattern libraries. Everything is made out of something, and we tend to collect before we create.