I came across an interview with Umberto Eco, while looking for a line he wrote about the good fortune of having your hobby be your job. I’m currently tackling the issue of how there are multiple career trajectories that lead people into nonstandard work, tourism, and how larger forces of deindustrialization and service labor affects the world of the walking tour guide. Anyway, this wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but it’s close and interesting enough. It also gets at why I really believe that walking guides are doing intellectual work in the streets.
TAIJE SILVERMAN: You’re likely in a single paragraph to describe Superman, Santería, California’s wax museums, Communism, and the Middle Ages, and make them all seem effortlessly connected. How do you keep so much information in your head at once? Is your tendency to cross-reference so wildly an intuitive one, or is it more that you are just having fun?
UMBERTO ECO: Well, I know a lot of people who keep more information in their head than me. And live happily forever!
I think the moving element is a curiosity. If you are curious, you absorb what you see and you keep it in your memory. And in learning it, you feel pleasure. Even though it can be tiring. This problem, I know, belongs to the privileged person like me. Many of my fellow human beings work, and then when they are free they cultivate a hobby. For people like me, the job is the hobby. They’re the same thing. So you can work even during the night, and still have fun. I know this is a privilege. A lot of people cannot do it. They are obliged to work, perhaps at an office, making calculations. And then they might read a book.
The other side of the story is that if your job is the same as your hobby, you can, unfortunately, never have the pleasure of sitting down and reading a book. Because even when you read a book, you’re speculating about it as if it were your job. So you lose some of the pleasure which other people might get. But in general, I think, yes: the fact of identifying two sides of your activity is a real fortune.
TAIJE SILVERMAN: Are you constantly making connections between everything?
UMBERTO ECO: [Laughs] No! I spend my time stopping myself from making connections. Trying not to exaggerate.