But the other impulse, much exercised by Renaissance encyclopaedists in picture and in text, is mystical: a revelation from broad sampling. So a trip through the welter of detail (say an eclectically stocked botanical garden or a menagerie) might yield an epiphany of cosmic “Wow”: the harmonic connection ties the discrepancies of the world together with a single ribbon of meaning. OK, this may not happen when you peruse a bulb catalogue, or the Yellow Pages, or the Top Hundred vampire movies, but don’t say that I – or Plato – didn’t warn you if it does. In the meantime, especially in these lean times, why not just lie back and wallow in Eco’s bath of superabundance, and enjoy what he calls the motiveless “poetics”, by which he means, he eventually confesses, the pure joy of aimless excess. After all, how can you not be thankful for a book that supplies both a complete list of the names of angels – including, naturally, Iachoroz, Onomataht and Xanoryz – and Rabelais’ comprehensive guide to the wherewithal for wiping one’s bum? But be warned, Yuletiders, geese are involved.
more from Simon Schama at the FT here.