You are only occasionally fascinated by an insect, a stone, a fallen leaf, a tree: sometimes you spend hours dissecting it: the roots, the trunk, the branches, the leaves, every leaf, every rib of every leaf, every branch again, and the unending play of the indifferent shapes that your eager gaze solicits or conjures up: a face, a town, a maze or a path, coats of arms and cavalcades. As your perception gets sharper, more patient and more versatile, the tree shatters and then reforms, a thousand shades of green, a thousand leaves, identical and yet all different. You think that you could spend your whole life in front of a tree, never exhausting and never understanding it, because there is nothing for you to understand, just something to look at: when all is said and done, all you can say about this tree is that it is a tree; all this tree can say to you is that it is a tree, a root, then a trunk, then branches, then leaves. You can’t expect to extract any further truth from it. The tree has no moral to offer you, no message to impart. Its strength, its majesty, its life – if you still hope to draw some meaning, some courage, from these outworn metaphors – are only ever images, neat illustrations, as useless as the tranquility of the fields, as the still waters which, reputedly, run deep, or the courage of the little paths that don’t climb very high but do so all alone, or the smiling hillsides upon which bunches of grapes ripen in the sun.
Georges Perec, A Man Asleep.