Four Ways Listicles Make Us Immortal, According to Umberto Eco

Italian novelist Umberto Eco, the go-to intellectual for journalists worldwide, has deconstructed the human obsession with all things listy. The bottom line for editors: Your listicles help readers brush off a terrifying universe of infinite chaos.

In this manner, the listicle is not a depressing instance of pandering but a nourishing expression of a natural and elemental part of human culture. Or at least that's what you can put on your Maggies entry. Here's how Eco (pictured) put it in Der Spiegel:

The list is the origin of culture... 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.

Making "infinity comprehensible" means, basically, facing up to our own mortality:

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.

This is why lists have been popular from "primitive cultures" to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, Baroque and postmodern periods.

So, to summarize:

  • Lists connect us with our ancestors.
  • Lists connect us with culture.
  • Lists make infinity comprehensible.
  • Lists help us ignore death.
  • Buy cranberries.
  • Order turkey.
  • Take out the garbage.

Sorry, got immortaldistracted there for a second.