November 2014

Micah McCrary

nonfiction

The Missing Pieces by Henri Lefebvre, translated by David L Sweet

Lists are a way of taking inventory, a way of discovering not only what we have but also what we've lost. They're also one of the oldest forms of writing, stretching back to the ancient Sumerians, who, ignorant of their cultural impact, influenced the way succeeding civilizations chose to communicate.

Henri Lefebvre's The Missing Pieces (Les UnitÚs perdues), translated by David L. Sweet, capitalizes on the list form. This inventory is certainly not one of things possessed, but rather a gathering of things so far gone we might have otherwise never known they were there in the first place. "James Joyce and John Milton wrote their masterpieces," Lefebvre writes, "Finnegan's Wake and Paradise Lost, while losing their sight," or "On the Road: the final, seven meters of Jack Kerouac's original typescript were eaten by a dog," are items on Lefebvre's list that show us the missing pieces: bits of information we find we're surprised to learn but that should have been, seemingly, obvious all along.

Like Roland Barthes (A Lover's Discourse), Walter Benjamin ("One Way Street"), Joan Didion (The White Album), or Maggie Nelson (Bluets), Lefebvre doesn't merely use but is supremely conscious of the list form -- a book like The Missing Pieces could potentially have been written differently, presented as a series of vignettes with a little explication accompanying each missing thing, or as a patchwork of quotes, getting the exact words of those who've made us aware of what's gone missing. "Several pages in this text," Lefebvre writes in a "Remarks" section following the book, "were published in serial form every half-year in the journal IF, from 2001 to 2004." He additionally notes that much of the information gathered for the book was taken "from biographies and autobiographies or from print newspapers," or collected from "statements from writers and painters, statements published here as a mark of respect for those men and women." This book thus rightly appears as a list, not only as a way of honoring as many informants as possible, but as a way of showing us Lefebvre's composition process.

More missing pieces: "As a student, Ezra Pound wrote a sonnet every day and destroyed all three hundred and sixty-five poems at the end of the year"; "The name of the imbecile who interrupted the life of Roland Barthes and the novel Vita Nova by the latter, victim of the hit-and-run"; "Ten thousand five hundred films made with nitrate film before 1950 in the United States have self-destructed." There's no guarantee that, even in Google's age, without Lefebvre's book we wouldn't be totally lost when searching for these facts. But this isn't the point of compilation -- the point is to look at the list both in parts and as a whole, a synecdochic examination of the fact that, as human beings, we overlook. 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.

The Missing Pieces by Henri Lefebvre, translated by David L. Sweet
Semiotext(e)
ISBN: 978-1584351597
88 pages