Celebrating the Missing Pieces

Henri Lefebvre draws attention to the missing pieces of destroyed, lost or incomplete works of art.

Empty theater

Negative space can itself be a form of artistic creation.

Photo by Fotolia/fotoseba64

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A literary vanitas of sorts, The Missing Pieces(Semiotext(e), 2014), by Henri Lefebvre and translated by David L. Sweet, catalogs the artworks, films, screenplays, negatives, poems, symphonies, buildings, letters, concepts and lives that cannot be seen, heard, read, inhabited or known about. Rather than reminding us of the death that inhabits everything humans create, he confers an almost mythic quality on the enigmatic creations he records.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

About ten thousand Verdier Editions books were lost during the floods in southern France on November 12 and 13, 1999; the editor had stocked his books in Lagrasse, a disaster zone • Valery Larbaud, who kept a journal all his life, destroyed most of it; some years survive, mostly 1931-1932 and 1934-1935 • In a fit of rage, Egon Schiele’s father, stationmaster at Tulln, burned all of his son’s drawings representing railroad cars • Ernst Pfeiffer, the last companion and confidant of Lou Andreas-Salomé, dies keeping the secrets that she did not want revealed • Friedrich Dürrenmatt burns the final version of The Tower of Babel on December 13, 1948 • At Arezzo, The Legend of the True Cross by Piero della Francesca; sixty square meters of the fresco were completely lost, twenty square meters were saved • Jude Stéfan sent his first manuscript to Maurice Blanchot; accepted by Gallimard, the manuscript was left in a taxi by Jean Paulhan • It’s All True, a film shot in Brazil in 1941 by Orson Welles, was never completed • Rudyard Kipling, who spent a good portion of his life working on The Book of Mother Maturin, ended up completely abandoning it • The composer Max Deutsch mercilessly destroyed his musical scores, having chosen to leave no trace other than his teaching • Sophie Calle: her childhood bed burned up in a fire • After the crash of 1929, Howard Fast moves to the south of the United States; he produces six novels about his experiences, destroying five of them and finally publishing the sixth, Two Valleys, before the age of nineteen • Diego Rivera came to New York to undertake a commission at the Rockefeller Center; in his mural he depicted the triumph of Marxism over capitalism and drew a portrait of Lenin; his mural was destroyed • In 1913, the first ready-made by Marcel Duchamp appeared: Bicycle Wheel; the “original” is lost • The Field of May by Pierre Oster; missing a comma on page 124, line 7, after “until here”•


Reprinted with permission from The Missing Pieces by Henri Lefebvre, translated by David L. Sweet and published by Semiotext(e), 2014.