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Louvre's Exhibit Devoted To Lists

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

If you've had trouble coming up with a list of New Year's Resolutions this year, you might find some inspiration at the Louvre. The Paris museum has an exhibit devoted entirely to the theme of lists and why they're so important. Eleanor Beardsley sent us this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Italian writer Umberto Eco calls the list the origin of culture. He says humans attempt to grasp the incomprehensible through things like catalogs, dictionaries and museum collections. We like lists because we don't want to die, says Eco, who has devoted his latest book, "The Infinity of Lists," to the theme. Under Eco's tutelage, the Louvre Museum has put together a program of concerts, conferences and an exhibit devoted to role of the list in art, literature and culture. Marie-Laure Bernadac is the chief curator of the art exhibit.

MARIE: There's this kind of obsession in the list, because a list is never exhaustive. Sometimes they actually think that the method and the regularity of the list will help to control the chaos of emotion, of what is special of life.

BEARDSLEY: Bernadac says the Louvre has found lists and hieroglyphics on ancient pieces of Egyptian art. The list, she says, appears from the very beginning of humanity as soon as man was able to write.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "BOLERO")

BEARDSLEY: James Joyce and Homer used lists, and composer Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" is an example of a list in music, says Eco, who describes it as going on forever. Speaking at the Louvre in December, Eco drew a distinction between practical lists and poetic lists.

UMBERTO ECO: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: As he read from Renaissance writer Rabelais' list of fouls, fishes, serpents and wild beasts, Eco said the poetic list doesn't really have to exist, but should be tasted for its own sensations and read like a mantra.

ECO: (Through Translator) The practical list, like the phone book, can also be read like a poetic list. It all depends on your intentions. If you ask me what book I'd bring on a desert island, it would be the phone book, because with all those millions of names, I could invent stories and characters in unlimited quantities and combinations.

BEARDSLEY: Such ideas are a bit esoteric for some of the Louvre's New Year's Eve visitors. Frenchman Philip Von Temps(ph) says lists may help you remember things, but they stifle creativity.

PHILIP VON TEMPS: (Through Translator) The human being should not need a list because he should try to create his day as it comes. Lists impose codes on us and keep us from dreaming.

BEARDSLEY: Duwan Ramos(ph) a visiting art student from Puerto Rico, says memory is his list. Ramos says he carries around in his mind the places he's gone and the people he's known.

DUWAN RAMOS: It's kind of a circle. It never ends. Your list just refreshes itself and you take some things out and you put some things in. But it's always the same thing. It never ends.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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