The Missing Pieces
88 pp., 5 x 8 in,
- Published: October 24, 2014
- Publisher: Semiotext(e)
An incantatory catalog of cultural artifacts either lost to time or never realized.
• A boarder for two years following a national funeral, Mirabeau is removed from the Pantheon and transferred to the cemetery of Clamart when his pornographic novels are discovered • A photograph taken by Hessling on Christmas night, 1943, of a young woman nailed alive to the village gate of Novimgorod; Hessling asks his friend Wolfgang Borchert to develop the film, look at the photograph, and destroy it • The Beautiful Gardener, a picture by Max Ernst, burned by the Nazis
—from The Missing Pieces
The Missing Pieces is an incantatory text, a catalog of what has been lost over time and what in some cases never existed. Through a lengthy chain of brief, laconic citations, Henri Lefebvre evokes the history of what is no more and what never was: the artworks, films, screenplays, negatives, poems, symphonies, buildings, letters, concepts, and lives that cannot be seen, heard, read, inhabited, or known about. It is a literary vanitas of sorts, but one that confers an almost mythical quality on the enigmatic creations it recounts—rather than reminding us of the death that inhabits everything humans create.
Lefebvre's list includes Marcel Duchamp's (accdidentally destroyed) film of Man Ray shaving off the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven's pubic hair; the page written by Balzac on his deathbed (lost); Spinoza's Treatise on the Rainbow (thrown into a fire); the final seven meters of Kerouac's original typescript for On the Road (eaten by a dog); the chalk drawings of Francis Picabia (erased before an audience); and the one moment in André Malraux's life in which he exclaimed “I believe, for a minute, I was thinking nothing.” The Missing Pieces offers a treasure trove of cultural and artistic detail and will entertain even those readers not enamored of the void.
Like a minimalist mosaic-requiem, The Missing Pieces makes a David-Markson-esque argument for the value of the pathos-ridden holes that artists and writers leave behind. This magnificent book demonstrates why literature demands a steady stream of innovations—and why we need to pay reverent attention to the blank and punished places where unfinished or destroyed works of art continue to make themselves heard.
The Missing Pieces is a list not only to be read an item at a time, but, as the very cover of the book itself might imply, to be viewed as a mishmash of things forgotten, and of things we need to dutifully remember.
Into a contemporary landscape of data mining and information fracking comes Henri Lefebvre's The Missing Pieces, a beautifully absurd accumulation of useless numbers and gravid blankness.... Like history's own compacted narrative, Lefebvre's economy of restraint holds countless events suspended in a semicolon.
I can't recommend it enough. The entries are short, tightly written fragments—a funny, absurd, poignant and melancholy gathering of things that once were, but are now gone.
Los Angeles Times
The Missing Pieces has as much to do with presence as with absence, and this tells us something about the canon, and—forgive me—about 'poetry in general.' I mean that no equivalent list of artworks or gains or successes could be so powerful as The Missing Pieces.