Tuesday, February 8


The second object was even stranger. When Grifalconi extracted it from its padded case, Valène thought at first that it was a large cluster of coral. Grifalconi shook his head. In one of the attics in Château de la Muette he had found the remains of a table. Its oval top, wonderfully inlaid with mother-of-pearl, was exceptionally well preserved; but its base, a massive, spindle-shaped column of grained wood, turned out to be completely worm-eaten. The worms had done their work in covert, subterranean fashion, creating innumerable ducts and microscopic channels now filled with pulverized wood. No sign of this insidious labour showed on the surface. Grifalconi saw that the only way of preserving the original base -- hollowed out as it was, it could no longer support the weight of the top -- was to reinforce it from within; so once he had completely emptied the canals of their wood dust by suction, he set about injecting them with an almost liquid mixture of lead, alum, and asbestos fibre. The operation was successful; but it quickly became apparent that, even thus strengthened, the base was too weak, and Grifalconi had to resign himself to replacing it. It was after he had done this that he thought of dissolving what was left of the original wood so as to disclose the fabulous arborescence within, this exact record of the worms' life inside the wooden mass: a static, mineral accumulation of all the movements that had constituted their blind existence, their undeviating single-mindedness, their obstinate itineraries; the faithful materialisation of all they had eaten and digested as they forced from their dense surroundings the invisible elements needed for their survival, the explicit, visible, immeasurably disturbing image of the endless progressions that had reduced the hardest of woods to an impalpable network of crumbling galleries.

-- Georges Perec Life: A User's Manual
Translated by David Bellos