Stable/Unstable (Originally published in the Turin paper La Stampa, and in English in Other People’s Trades, trans. Raymond Rosenthal, 1989)


by Primo Levi (1919 - 1987)

An elegant, short essay by Levi the scientist, rather than Levi the Auschwitz survivor, which nonetheless turns to subtle metaphor at the end and so speaks to the stable/unstable nature of political life that an Auschwitz survivor would be sure to perceive.

Its subject is wood, a material so central to mankind’s history that some languages use the same word for ‘wood’ and ‘material’. An incident with a barrel of sawdust in a factory intrigues Levi’s enquiring mind, resistant to accepting anything as merely random or unexplained, and leads him to understanding that wood, despite appearances, ‘is anxious…to destroy itself.’

Related recommendation: ‘Toys’ by Roland Barthes (1973).

Origin: Italy

Themes: Suicide, Familiar Examined Afresh

Genres: Familiar or Personal, Scientific or Medical


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