Wednesday, May 9, 2007


The lipogram is an Oulipien form in which a given letter is entirely excluded from a text. By far the most famous example of a lipogram is Georges Perec’s novel “La Disparation” (“A Void”), which he composed entirely without using the letter ‘e.’ As with any literary form, the lipogram is at its most interesting when the formal constraint and the content of the text are the most densely related. (In the case of Perec’s novel, the missing ‘e’ reflects the more ephemeral sense of need/absence/loss that, as French philosophy is so fond of pointing out, necessitates language in the first place.)

Below is Part 1 of a short lipogram that leaves out the letter ‘i’; here, the connection between the missing letter and the content of the story is relatively superficial. (Part 2 will be posted by the end of the week.)

Rough Trade

The sort of occurrence that one heard about on the news but never expected to happen to one’s self, Harold thought over breakfast. But now that the phenomenon had struck on that very street, he felt less secure. He spoke to Jane, and they agreed on an early curfew for Lauren and Amanda. Other houses must have adopted the same strategy, he speculated.

He smelled the coffee he had just poured and held fast to the aroma, an anchor for a man suddenly awake on a sea of angst. The poor Hendersons; confronted by the brute fact that the son they loved had lost a heart to the organ trade; a gruesome fate for the progeny of such decent people. Harold had waved to Mr. Henderson just last Wednesday, as they both left for work. The man had seemed happy, content, blessed by good health. And now—no, thought Harold, best not to dwell on bad fortune. He looked at the clock above the stove and saw that he had lost track of the hour. Work was soon, and he couldn’t be late when the board convened to hash out the loss the company had posted last quarter. He stood up and took leave of spouse and daughters.

Outdoors, as he paused at the car to make sure he had the proper documents on hand, a pale van slowed to a crawl at the edge of Harold’s property.


He emerged from sleep the next morn on a strange bed. The room—not the bedroom he owned, no doubt about that—had the aloof, ultra-clean smell of a laboratory. No clue as to where he was, and the total darkness was too long to abate. He stumbled out of bed to an unsteady posture and groped along the wall as yesterday’s jacket and pants clung to sweaty arms and legs. Before long he entered what he could only guess was a bathroom, and he pushed the small wall-mounted gadget that should have controlled the overhead bulb. But that was no help; he saw only an empty canvas.

After he reached for a few seconds he found a faucet and turned the knob. He heard a stream of water pour out and he began to wash up. As he splashed cheeks and nose, Harold’s hands strayed to the eye sockets, and through sense of touch revealed a horror: those organs that served so well to capture the photons that reflect the forms of the world, those globes that some say open onto one’s soul, had been stolen. Harold felt naught but unnatural canyons where eyes should have been.

At that moment he heard muffled speech approach from the left, by way of a language he couldn’t make out. Some tongue from the Balkan stretch of Europe, he suspected. Suddenly the words escalated, took on more energy; the captors must have seen the empty bed. As footsteps advanced toward Harold, he grasped desperately for a means of self-defense and found a wet scalpel. Weapon clutched tensely, he stood just to the left of the doorway and got ready.

(to be continued)

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