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.
The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th century. My novels, by the way, are full of lists.
I can’t remember any lists in The Name of the Rose, but oh, how I loved that book. I was reading it in London when working on a magazine. Got to the Tube stop by the office and instead of going up to work, I sat on the platform to finish reading it. To finish the last 200 pages.
Do read more about Eco’s rather well worked out opinions on why we do To Do lists or any other kind of lists in this interview from Spiegel magazine.