Excerpts + Thoughts: Life A User’s Manual (Georges Perec)

“Cinoc, who was then about fifty, pursued a curious profession. As he said himself, he was a “word-killer”: he worked at keeping Larousse dictionaries up to date. But whilst other compilers sought out new words and meanings, his job was to make room for them by eliminating all the words and meanings that had fallen into disuse.

When he retired in nineteen sixty-five, after fifty-three years of scrupulous service, he had disposed of hundreds and thousands of tools, techniques, customs, beliefs, sayings, dishes, games, nick-names, weights and measures; he had wiped dozens of islands, hundreds of cities and rivers, and thousands of townships off the map; he had returned to taxonomic anonymity hundreds of varieties of cattle, species of birds, insects, and snakes, rather special sorts of fish, kinds of crustaceans, slightly dissimilar plants and particular breeds of vegetables and fruit; and cohorts of geographers, missionaries, entomologists, Church Fathers, men of letters, generals, Gods & Demons had been swept by his hand into eternal obscurity.”

[This seems to be the antithesis of what Perec’s trying to accomplish in this book. He’s trying to document the minutiae, to impress upon the reader that behind everything and everyone in this random Paris apartment block among countless others there is a story to be told and a context to be appreciated, richness beneath apparent mundanities.]

But pretentious literary analysis aside, I was thinking about how much I would hate to be a word-killer. The notion of making a living out of the fall of entities depresses me immensely – to do a proper job you would first have to become familiar with their genesis, their emerging into common parlance, then stagnation, then obsolescence. And after all this your job wouldn’t be to document lives but to cement over them.