The

Author

Paul Auster

Life & Works

 

 

by

Manuel Pollak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Writing is no longer an act of free will for me,

it’s a matter of survival"

– Paul Auster –

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

I. Preface *

II. Biography *

III. Bibliography *

IV. Postmodernism *

V. Works *

V.1 Visiting New York, New York: The New York Trilogy *

V.1.1 Summary *

V.1.2 The Ontological Quest for Identity: An Attempt of Interpretation *

V.1.3 An Examination of the Identity of Author and Character and Their Relationship within the Narrative Structure of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy *

V.1.4 Escaping From The Locked Room: Overthrowing The Tyranny of Artifice in Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy *

V.1.5 When Walls Weaken or Nostalgia for Unity *

V.2 Walking on the moon: Moon Palace *

V.1.1 Summary *

V.1.2 The Novelist Out of Control *

V.1.3 Chapter’s Survey *

V.1.3.1 Chapter One *

V.1.3.2 Chapter Two *

V.1.3.3 Chapter Three *

V.1.3.4 Chapter Four *

V.1.3.5 Chapter Five *

V.1.3.6 Chapter Six *

V.1.3.7 Chapter Seven *

V.1.4 The Meanings of the Moon in Moon Palace *

VI. Autobiographic Context in Auster’s Works *

VII. Interview by Fiona Ehlers for ‘Der Spiegel’ *

IX. Source Materials used *

 

I. Preface

 

 

Celebrating his 55th birthday this year, Paul Auster has written a lot of books, poetry, essays, translations and articles. He started work as an author in 1967 but his first book was not published until 1974. Since this date he has given his audience a lot of food for thought. He hasn’t retired retire until today and recently released his new novel Book of Illusions.

"Sidelights Paul Auster is one of four most intellectually stimulating fiction writers," observes reviewer Joseph Coates in the Chicago Tribune, "but his reputation outside a small cult is based on a fuzzy perception that he is some sort of genre writer (mysteries? science fiction?) with cryptic pretensions."

Although Paul Auster already began to publish his work in the mid-70ies he laboured in relative obscurity. This went on until his New York Trilogy, a trio of postmodern detective stories, completely changed everything completely for Auster. The first book ‚City of Glass’, rejected by seventeen different publishers, was finally issued by Sun & Moon Press in 1985. Immediately it attracted far more attention than Auster’s earlier work and promoted the interest in the two remaining books. From now on Auster emerged step by step out of his former obscurity. Finished in 1987, this trilogy marked him as a talent to be remembered. Now critics awarded his work with highest praise: "As a novelist, Paul Auster has gone beyond excellence and given the phrase ‘experimental fiction’ a good name. . . . Auster has created bona fide literary works, with all the rigor and intellect demanded of contemporary literature."

Paul Auster comments on being a poet: "Anyone who becomes a poet is always, in some relationship to his world, an exile." And: "In this most Christian of worlds all poets are Jews. In other words, an outsider." To write, he says, you have to be out of the world. "Anyone who is making art of any kind is out of the world. You can’t be in it in order to do it."

This idea is at the centre of all of his work – an attempt to identify the world as part of literature, and not literature as part of the world. To undermine confidence in the idea that there is such a thing as straightforward reality. To reveal how only fiction can explore the mysterious levels of life hidden in our rational mind. So many of his novels resemble the telling of a dream conveyed with all its inconsistencies, its aimlessness; uncanny tales, balanced somewhere between the unspeakable and that which must be told.

"And it is a compulsion", he says. "Writing is a strange machine, one that he is not in control of. I’ve never had an idea for a story in which I set out to prove something. I have never wanted to write a story about anything – the isolation of modern man, for instance. What happens is that something that wasn’t there the day before is here today. I have lots of ideas, and most of the time I spend pushing them away, looking for an excuse how not to do something. Then, sometimes, the idea is so compelling it won’t go away. Simply, one gets gripped and you enter an imaginary world. In the very process of writing, you become someone else". Maybe it is this, finally, that makes him so elusive. It is not his intention. "I am not very good at this," he says, "as you see. But I am trying hard. It’s as if every attempt to get at the man draws you only closer into his imaginary world.

...I finally believe it’s the reader who writes the book, and not the writer."

This report is intended be a collection of material available on Paul Auster rather than a complete essay of about fifty pages. I tried to collect important material on this author in order to provide basic information for the interested reader who wants to know more without starting a search for secondary literature. I found out for myself that books about Auster are very rare. The only source that I used was the internet (cf. VIII. Source Materials Used), where I found high level university essays from which I took over and adapted that it could be understood by the average reader.

Of course, there is much more material on Paul Auster than mentioned here but this report should provide a general overview of the author’s life, work and person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

II. Biography

 

 

Paul Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey on 3 February 1947. He is a contemporary American novelist of Jewish origin. His father, Samuel Auster, was a landlord, who owned buildings with his brothers in Jersey City. His mother, Queenie Auster, was some 13 years younger than her husband. The family was middle-class, the parents’ marriage an unhappy one. Queenie had realized, even before the end of the honeymoon, that the marriage had been a mistake, but her pregnancy made escape impossible.

Auster grew up in the Newark suburbs of South Orange and Maplewood. When he was 3½ years old, a younger sister was born. By the time she was five, her psychological instability was becoming apparent, and in later years she would be debilitated by mental breakdowns. Auster, meanwhile, began to feel, as he discloses in his memoir Hand to Mouth, like „an internal émigré, an exile in my own house."

In 1959 his parents bought a large Tudor house in their town’s most prestigious neighbourhood. It was here that Auster’s uncle, the skilled translator Allen Mandelbaum, left several boxes of books in storage while he travelled to Europe. The young Auster read the books enthusiastically, and his developing interest in writing and in literature further accentuated his sense of separation from his parents. Auster further benefited from Mandelbaum’s proximity when he began writing poems as a teenager: "He was very hard on me, very strict, very good," Auster recounted in a Publishers Weekly interview.

In his early teen years, Auster’s parents regularly sent him to summer camp in upstate New York. It was here that, in late July 1961, Auster saw a fellow camper killed by a lightning strike. Auster narrowly escaped electrocution himself.

Auster attended high school in Maplewood, some 20 miles southwest of New York City. His summer jobs included a stint as a waiter at summer camp. He also worked at his uncle Moe’s appliance store in Westfield, New Jersey. At the end of Christmas vacation in his senior year, his parents announced that they were divorcing. Auster was not surprised. His mother moved, with his sister and him, to an apartment in the Weequahic section of Newark. His father – perhaps because the divorce agreement stipulated that his mother be given half of the proceeds of the house if it was ever sold – remained in the large house until he died.

Instead of attending his high-school graduation, Auster headed for Europe. He visited Italy, Spain, Paris, and, in homage to James Joyce, Dublin. While he travelled he worked on a novel he had begun in the spring 1965.

He returned to the United States in time to start at Columbia University in fall. The summer after his freshman year he worked as a groundskeeper at a hotel in the Catskills, and during his sophomore year he was fired, his first day on the job, by a company that produced educational filmstrips. In early 1966 he began his relationship with Lydia Davis, the daughter of writer-teachers Robert Gorham Davis and Hope Hale Davis.

In 1967 Auster again left the USA to attend Columbia’s Junior Year Abroad in Paris. Disillusioned by the program’s routine, undemanding academic requirements, Auster quit college and lived until mid-November in a small hotel on the rue Clément. When he returned to New York, a sympathetic dean reinstated him at Columbia.

Auster’s undergraduate years at Columbia coincided with a period of social unrest, though Auster was only peripherally involved in the politics of the time. He published articles on books and films in the Columbia Daily Spectator and the Columbia Review. He supported himself with a variety of freelance jobs, and at one point was interpreter for a speech given by Jean Genet. He made the acquaintance of the novelist H.L. Humes, who temporarily took over Auster’s living quarters. In June 1969 Auster was granted a B.A. in English and comparative literature. The following year he received his M.A. from Columbia, where the literature of the Renaissance had become his primary field of study.

A high lottery number saved Auster from having to worry about the Vietnam draft, and instead of pursuing a Ph.D. he took a job with the Census Bureau. During this period he also began work on the novels In the Country of Last Things and Moon Palace , which he would not complete until many years later. His stepfather Norman Schiff got him a job as utilityman, and then messman, on a tanker called the Esso Florence, which made its way between the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

In mid-February 1971 Auster left once again for Paris. He supported himself there with a variety of odd jobs – minor literary tasks, operating the night time switchboard for the Paris bureau of the New York Times, translating the North Vietnamese Constitution. He made the acquaintance of a film producer for whom he worked on several miscellaneous projects, and he went to Mexico for one month to assist the producer’s wife on an abortive book project about Quetzalcoatl. The Mexico trip turned out to be, Auster says in Hand to Mouth, "among the grimmest, most unsettling days of my life."

On 6 October 1974, Auster married Lydia Davis but this marriage was supposed fail.

Auster and Davis worked on book translations – most of them, with the exception of a Jean-Paul Sartre collection titled Life/Situations, exceedingly pedestrian.

Auster worked on two more poetic sequences, Wall Writing and Disappearances, and contributed reviews and essays to the New York Review of Books, Commentary, Harper’s, and elsewhere.

On 14 January 1979, the morning after he had completed White Spaces, one of Auster’s uncles phoned to say that Auster’s father had died during the night. The inheritance that Auster received, though by no means enormous, was instrumental in the continuation of his career. Auster explained to McCaffery and Gregory that "for the first time in my life I had the time to write, to take on long projects without worrying about how I was going to pay the rent."

Auster’s final original collection of poetry, Facing the Music, was published in 1980 by Station Hill Press. The same year – as well as the same publisher – saw the publication of Auster’s prose work White Spaces. Auster had by now completed Portrait of an Invisible Man – an extended meditation on his father’s death that would form the first half of The Invention of Solitude – and during 1980 he would begin work on Invention’s second half, The Book of Memory. What Auster would later call the "uni-vocal expression" of his poems was beginning to give way to the self-contradictory expression of prose, and the poet was on the verge of transforming himself into a novelist.

By early 1980 Auster had moved from his dismal lodgings on Varick Street to an apartment in Brooklyn. There he worked on The Book of Memory and on a bilingual anthology titled The Random House Book of Twentieth Century-French Poetry. It was here that a pair of wrong-number phone calls intended for the Pinkerton Agency planted the seed that would become City of Glass.

On 23 February 1981 Auster attended a poetry reading at the 92nd Street. There he met Siri Hustvedt, a tall woman of Norwegian ancestry, born in Minnesota in 1955. Auster and Hustvedt very quickly fell in love and were married on Blooms day.

In 1985 Paul Auster started with his New York Trilogy, which was published as a collection of three volumes not before 1990. He finished City of Glass, one year later, in 1986, Ghosts, and in 1987 the last volume, The Locked Room. Although being rejected by seventeen publishers City of Glass finally ended Auster’s obscurity as a writer and handed over its success to the following two books.

In 1986 Auster had taken on a position as lecturer at Princeton University – a post he would continue to hold until 1990.

Next to the taut structures of his previous novels, Moon Palace, published in 1989, seemed like one of the "large loose baggy monsters" that Henry James referred to in his introduction to The Tragic Muse. Despite its comparative bulk and wandering narrative, Auster’s "Bildungsroman" was held together by a complex web of associations linking the personal development of its protagonist, Marco Stanley Fogg, with the movement of American history. When the critical history of Auster’s oeuvre has at last been written, it may be Frederick Jackson Turner’s famous essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" that provides the best explication of Moon Palace.

By this time, Auster and Hustvedt were living in an apartment in the Park Slope neighbourhood of Brooklyn, and Auster’s writing was done in a studio about a block away. The couple now had a daughter, Sophie, and Hustvedt’s name was filtering into the periphery of the literary world’s vision with published fragments of the novel that would become „The Blindfold" and her 1987 translation, in collaboration with David McDuff, of Norwegian scholar Geir Kjetsaa’s biography of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Auster’s 1990 novel, The Music of Chance, developed the basic motif of his failed Laurel and Hardy play. The novel proved an unexpected challenge to write, and underwent major changes while in progress. Auster finished The Music of Chance, his novel about men building a wall, on 9 November 1989 – the same day the Berlin Wall fell. The Music of Chance, nominated for the PEN/Faulkner award the year after its publication, attracted the interest of several people in the movie industry.

Auster’s involvement with film, though, had not lessened his commitment to his primary craft. By the time Smoke and Blue in the Face were released (in June and October 1995, respectively), Auster had published two more novels. Leviathan, written just before he started work on the Smoke screenplay, and published in 1992, proved to be a complex, involuted novel of ideas – the most sophisticated fiction Auster had constructed in the expansive mode he had adopted with Moon Palace.

Mr. Vertigo, published in 1994, was fatally marred by the constant stream of implausibly cartoonish smart-talk issuing from the mouth of its protagonist, but sporadically, and against all odds, rose to magical heights as it described that same character’s experience of levitation.

As Auster became increasingly involved with film, an event that could have sprung from the pages of his fiction resurrected a lost piece of his past.

In 1976 Auster had translated a book by the deceased French anthropologist Pierre Clastres. The Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians painted the picture of a small Paraguayan tribe at the edge of extinction. Auster held the book in much higher regard than many of the academic works he and Lydia Davis had translated, and duly submitted the manuscript to its intended publishers. The book was never published, the publishing house folded, and the galleys were thought to be lost forever – and, in those days, Auster was much too poor to have allowed himself the luxury of a photocopy.

Twenty years later, in late 1996, a young bibliophile attending an Auster lecture in San Francisco laid a set of bound galleys before the astonished Auster; he had picked up this unique find in a second-hand bookstore for five dollars. The translation was at last published by Zone Books in 1998.

III. Bibliography

 

 

1974

1976

1977

1980

1982

1985

1986

1987

1988

1989

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1997

1998

 

 

 

 

 

Translations by Paul Auster

 

 

Articles by Paul Auster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IV. Postmodernism

 

 

The term "Postmodernism" was invented in the 1960s for the cultural theory for progression inter alia in architecture, art, literature and music. Following the era of "Modernism", "Postmodernism" is identified by subjectivism, including the existence of many different styles and by the playful dealing with historical components.

Postmodernists particularly set off against the modernist movement by supporting "Postmodernism", which gives special emphasis to local qualities in contrast to international unity.

After reading these two dictionary explanations we certainly long for some interpretation related to a greater degree of literature, and to the origin of this term. Thus I provide an academic essay for the clarification of „Postmodernism" and its relationship to Paul Auster’s novels, holding the title "postmodern thriller". It should also give reasons for Auster’s title: "Hero of Postmodernism".

 

Excerpt from the essay written by Dr. Mary Klages

Postmodernism is a complicated term, or set of ideas, one that has only emerged as an area of academic study since the mid-1980s. Postmodernism is hard to define, because it is a concept that appears in a wide variety of disciplines or areas of study, including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, and technology. It’s hard to locate it temporally or historically, because it’s not clear exactly when postmodernism begins.

Perhaps the easiest way to start thinking about postmodernism is by thinking about modernism, the movement from which postmodernism seems to grow or emerge. Modernism has two facets, or two modes of definition, both of which are relevant to understanding postmodernism.

The first facet or definition of modernism comes from the aesthetic movement broadly labeled "modernism". This movement is roughly coterminous with twentieth century Western ideas about art (though traces of it in emergent forms can be found in the nineteenth century as well). Modernism, as you probably know, is the movement in visual arts, music, literature, and drama which rejected the old Victorian standards of how art should be made, consumed, and what it should mean. In the period of "high modernism", from around 1910 to 1930, the major figures of modernism literature helped radically to redefine what poetry and fiction could be and do: figures like Woolf, Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Proust, Mallarme, Kafka, and Rilke are considered the founders of twentieth-century modernism.

From a literary perspective, the main characteristics of modernism include:

1. an emphasis on impressionism and subjectivity in writing (and in visual arts as well); an emphasis on HOW seeing (or reading or perception itself) takes place, rather than on WHAT is perceived. An example of this would be stream-of-consciousness writing.

2. a movement away from the apparent objectivity provided by omniscient third-person narrators, fixed narrative points of view, and clear-cut moral positions. Faulkner’s multiply-narrated stories are an example of this aspect of modernism.

3. a blurring of distinctions between genres, so that poetry seems more documentary (as in T.S. Eliot or E.E. Cummings) and prose seems more poetic (as in Woolf or Joyce).

4. an emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous narratives, and random-seeming collages of different materials.

5. a tendency toward reflexivity, or self-consciousness, about the production of the work of art, so that each piece calls attention to its own status as a production, as something constructed and consumed in particular ways.

6. a rejection of elaborate formal aesthetics in favor of minimalist designs (as in the poetry of William Carlos Williams) and a rejection, in large part, of formal aesthetic theories, in favor of spontaneity and discovery in creation.

7. A rejection of the distinction between "high" and "low" or popular culture, both in choice of materials used to produce art and in methods of displaying, distributing, and consuming art.

Postmodernism, like modernism, follows most of these same ideas, rejecting boundaries between high and low forms of art, rejecting rigid genre distinctions, emphasizing pastiche, parody, bricolage, irony, and playfulness. Postmodern art (and thought) favors reflexivity and self-consciousness, fragmentation and discontinuity (especially in narrative structures), ambiguity, simultaneity, and an emphasis on the destructured, decentered, dehumanized subject.

But - while postmodernism seems very much like modernism in these ways, it differs from modernism in its attitude toward a lot of these trends. Modernism, for example, tends to present a fragmented view of human subjectivity and history (think of The Wasteland, for instance, or of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse), but presents that fragmentation as something tragic, something to be lamented and mourned as a loss. Many modernist works try to uphold the idea that works of art can provide the unity, coherence, and meaning which has been lost in most of modern life; art will do what other human institutions fail to do. Postmodernism, in contrast, doesn’t lament the idea of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence, but rather celebrates that. The world is meaningless? Let’s not pretend that art can make meaning then, let’s just play with nonsense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

V. Works

V.1 Visiting New York, New York: The New York Trilogy

 

"Three stories on the nature of identity. In the first a detective writer is drawn into a curious and baffling
investigation, in the second a man is set up in an apartment to spy on someone, and the third concerns
the disappearance of a man whose childhood friend is left as his literary executor. "

Faber and Faber

 

"Seductive metaphysical thrillers, as stylish urgent and unnerving as the best detective fiction."

Literary Review

 

 

V.1.1 Summary

 

The work that made Paul Auster’s name, The New York Trilogy is the ultimate post-modern thriller – a series of variations upon the classic detective story. Auster stakes out the well-traversed terrain of New York City and makes it over anew as a strange and compelling landscape where identities merge and nothing is what it seems.

The book contains three stories – City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room.

The first one deals with a writer of mystery stories who is accidentally involved in a case more confusing than any he might have written.

After a few phone calls late at night from someone asking for a detective called Paul Auster he finally assumes that name and decides to help the caller by taking up the case. That night Daniel Quinn’s, i.e. the writer’s name, desires come true. Not only does he assume the name of Paul Auster but also the characteristics of the hero of his own books, Max Work, which he is writing under the pseudonym of William Wilson. He has been hired by Virginia and Peter Stillman. The latter has some long lasting problems with his language and thinking and compared himself with Kaspar Hauser. Those difficulties seem to be the reason why Stillman sen. is up to kill his son – and why they need a detective. Quinn’s task is to watch Stillman sen. and to protect Peter. So Quinn starts to observe Stillman’s walks through a particular area of New York City. These walks later turn out to be a countdown for Stillman’ objective. Quinn comes to be aware of this by reading a book by Stillman sen. about language and biblical issues. In between he lost the trace of the man he should spy on and decides to watch the house of the person he has to protect. During this time Quinn reaches the peak of his capacity, the physical and mental one. He spends nearly the whole day at his current observation post – a trash can - except for a few hours of shopping and sleeping. Meanwhile Quinn has found the real Paul Auster, and when he told Quinn that Stillman sen. had committed suicide weeks before, the detective realizes that he had been watching an empty house for months. At this point we are told that the things which happened after that are not clearly known. Quinn – full of desperation – disappears, only leaving behind his red notebook, which contains the whole case, for Paul Auster.

In the second book, Ghosts, Paul Auster continues his investigation of lost identity on a more abstract level. It is about Blue, who had been hired by White to spy on Black. White rented a room across the street of Black’s apartment. From his lookout station Blue watches Black writing and staring out of his window in a detective’s manner, which he took over from the retired Brown. Comparable to Quinn, Blue loses touch with the world and, obsessed with his task, he is brought to the edge of destruction. This is what the title is referring to; Blue has become inhuman, a ghost. All this is just the background for a mystery story also situated in New York.

"The mystery does not take place so much within the story as on some higher level; how much higher the level is, is, in fact, very much a part of the mystery."

„As this is a mystery that clearly goes beyond both itself and its genre, we cannot complain that it lacks the absolute sine qua non of the mystery - the solution that leaves no questions. We get the answer to the questions within the story; we find out who White and Black are and what they have been up to. But we don’t get the answer to the metamystery. What, in fact, did it all mean? Perhaps nothing at all. The ghosts of the title, then, would be meanings, conjured up in the fever of our shared intellectual delirium. If this is what the book is all about, it has betrayed itself into inconsistency. If the meaning is that there is no meaning, then there is a meaning. Or perhaps Mr. Auster is writing of the violence (for there is violence in the end) with which we demand that our own lives be made meaningful. In any case, what does one call a seamless little detective story that forces one to ask questions such as these? I call it nearly perfect."

The final story, The Locked Room, is about a writer whose childhood friend disappears, leaving his wife, son and writings in the former’s care.

One day the protagonist is called by the wife of Fanshawe, a friend of his, of the time when they were little boys. He is told that his friend disappeared some time ago and that he is to care for the writings left. He gets to know the woman better and they start to publish Fanshawe’s secret works which create a literary sensation. Believing him to be dead, the writer gets the order to marry this woman, Sophie, by Fanshawe himself over the phone and moves into his friend’s life. He does so and starts to write a biography about the apparently dead man. This task forces him to recall the past – the time he spent with his friend. He also needs to talk to Fanshawe’s mother again for getting any hints of her son’s intermediate life. His trace even led the narrator’s way to Paris. After his return they plan to meet each other in Boston. When the writer finally encounters Fanshawe he hides behind a closed double door but he is so near the door that it feels as if the words were being poured into the narrator’s head. In the end Fanshawe claims to commit suicide and the writer is given a notebook of his friend’s entire life. The third story of the New York Trilogy is in some ways different to the others. In The Locked Room there is the only first-person narrator in the book and "the nameless narrator, whom we are meant to identify with Auster himself, is not a detective but a biographer; which is much the same thing: a chaser of facts, details, and clues. The man he is researching is his recently vanished friend, Fanshawe, a golden boy who calls to mind the golden Fanshawe of Hawthorne’s first novel. Hawthorne plainly viewed his solitary hero as some noble and untarnished aspect of himself, and so does our narrator, who is frequently mistaken for his old pal. But this Fanshawe’s early life has been borrowed wholesale from Mr. Auster’s own, so the narrator and the object of his pursuit both represent the author. In short, we are watching the writer hunt down his own identity."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

V.1.2 The Ontological Quest for Identity: An Attempt of Interpretation

Adapted from Steven E. Alford’s Article

"Among the many puzzles in Paul Auster’s remarkable The New York Trilogy, a persistent one involves the identity of the narrator(s) of these novels. In answering the question, "who narrates these three stories?" I will demonstrate that thematically the novels develop the problematic of self-identity. Along the way I will show how questions of identity flow into questions about textuality, and undermine the ontologically distinct categories of author, narrator, and reader. Thematically, The New York Trilogy argues that the self – within the novels and without – is a textual construct, and subject to the difference and deferral inherent in language. The novels enact a series of binary oppositions – between characters engaged in dramatic psychological and physical confrontation – that demonstrates the impossibility of a pure opposition between self and other. From within every conflicted doubling a triad emerges, challenging our commonsense notions of the self.

The names and interrelations of the narrators of the three books of The New York Trilogy are complex and paradoxical. Characters’ names are twinned, characters are revealed to be imaginary beings invented by other characters, characters appear in one book, only to maintain their name, but switch to another identity, in another book, and so forth. This makes for not only complexity, but outright contradiction.

Told in the third person by an unnamed narrator, City of Glass follows Daniel Quinn, who at the prompting of a wrong number, impersonates Paul Auster of the Auster Detective Agency (who seems to exist only in the imaginations of Virginia and Peter Stillman, Junior, since Quinn fails to find him). The Paul Auster Quinn does find is a Manhattan author, whose name is identical to the "real" author of The New York Trilogy.

City of Glass is told in third person. However, after the bulk of the novel is rendered in third person, the final two pages shift to first person, when the narrator returns from a trip to Africa and calls his friend, the writer Paul Auster. Auster has become obsessed with Quinn (who himself was obsessed with the Stillmans), but has lost track of him, and also cannot find Virginia Stillman. Auster and the narrator visit Virginia Stillman’s apartment, where Auster finds Quinn’s red notebook, and gives it to the narrator for safekeeping. The narrator then confesses that he has followed the red notebook as closely as possible in telling his story, and has "refrained from any interpretation"

The narrator has never met Quinn, the subject of his story, and has only two sources of information about him, Auster and the red notebook. Auster’s knowledge of his narratee, Quinn, actually emerges only from Quinn’s account, since the only time he and Auster met was in Auster’s apartment (and Quinn’s account to Auster may or may not have been distorted). Hence, the narrator’s only two sources are the hearsay of Auster and a text, Quinn’s notebook. The narrator has no direct experience of or information about the story he tells.

Finally we can claim that we have three Austers, not two: author, narrator {Paul Auster} (bracketing, for now, his ontological status), and character, each ontologically distinct.

In Ghosts, a certain detective Blue is hired by White to shadow Black. The narrator says the location is unimportant, "let’s say Brooklyn Heights, for the sake of argument. Some quiet, rarely traveled street not far from the bridge – Orange Street perhaps". Blue moves into the third floor of a four story brownstone to shadow Black, who lives in a third floor apartment opposite. Blue is a detective self-conscious about his social role. Owing to a peculiarity of his client, White, Blue is consigned to remain in his room and write weekly reports, which he mails to White. Observing Black, Blue notes that Black is composing a manuscript. Hence, Blue spends his days writing a report about someone who spends his days writing.

A series of events complicate Blue’s life. He discovers his fiancée is seeing another man. He tries to meet White in the post office, but White eludes him. Black continues to scribble. Blue’s anxiety mounts. "It seems perfectly plausible to him that he is also being watched, observed by another in the same way that he has been observing Black. If that is the case, then he has never been free. From the very start he has been the man in the middle, thwarted in front and hemmed in on the rear" Blue’s words are being generated by the person controlling him, but that person is neither himself, nor White, but Black. From the twinning of Blue and Black, Blue has uncovered a triad, one beyond his control.

Who narrated Ghosts? "For in spying out at Black across the street, it is as though Blue were looking into a mirror, and instead of merely watching another, he finds that he is also watching himself". Paul Auster, author, establishes the sense of his identity by projecting himself into the narrator, {Auster}, and holding the textual mirror up to himself. With Ghosts, we can now understand that the identity of the narrator lies in that ontologically indistinct realm of textuality, a linguistic black hole in which our common sense understanding of the proper separation of ontologically discrete categories – fiction, history, speculation, the empirical world of common, personal identity, as well as the conventional distinctions between author, narrator, and character – collapses. So, to answer the question of who narrates Ghosts, we can reply: you, me, and Paul Auster, all of whom are elided into an entity known, for the convenience of the narrative, as the narrator, or in our terms, {Auster}.

We can answer the question about the narrator’s identity in The Locked Room right away. He is {Auster}, narrator of City of Glass and Ghosts, so long as we understand both the terms "narrator" and "author" as standing for what we might call a locus of textual space, one which nominally includes you, me, and Paul Auster, author.

Narrated in first person, The Locked Room opens in May, 1984, with the disappearance of {Auster’s} childhood friend, Fanshawe. {Auster} is summoned by Sophie, Fanshawe’s wife, and he learns that Fanshawe has named {Auster} executor of his unpublished literary works, in the instance of Fanshawe’s death or disappearance. He accepts the job, and arranges for Fanshawe’s works to be published with a calculated schedule of publication that, following wide acceptance of Fanshawe’s first novel, engenders both Fanshawe’s literary fame, and fortune for both Sophie and {Auster}. {Auster} and Sophie fall in love, and he moves in with her and her child by Fanshawe. Fanshawe’s works make {Auster} and Sophie rich, and all seems to be going well until {Auster} receives a letter from Fanshawe, thanking him for his help and claiming that Fanshawe will never contact him again.

{Auster} is intrigued, but more so when he contracts to write Fanshawe’s biography. He gains access to Fanshawe’s childhood works from Fanshawe’s mother, with whom he begins an affair. At this point, for {Auster}, "everything had been reduced to a single impulse: to find Fanshawe, to speak to Fanshawe, to confront Fanshawe one last time". He is confused: he wants to kill Fanshawe, he wants Fanshawe to kill him; he wants to find Fanshawe and then walk away from him.

Fanshawe’s trail leads to France, and {Auster} locates him in a Paris bar. Confronting him, however, Fanshawe says, "My name isn’t Fanshawe. It’s Stillman. Peter Stillman". Fanshawe/Stillman leaves the bar and {Auster} follows him. They have a bloody fight and Fanshawe/Stillman wins.

Three years pass. Sophie and {Auster} have a child, Paul. In the spring of 1982, {Auster} receives a letter from Fanshawe, saying they must meet in Boston.

Fanshawe, armed behind a door, confronts {Auster}. At this point, a blizzard of twinning occurs: like Stillman, Fanshawe claims to have been followed by a detective, Quinn; like Black, he says he traveled in the West; like Quinn, he claims to have camped outside Sophie’s apartment for months, observing Sophie, {Auster}, and the child; Fanshawe uses the name Henry Dark in his travels, and so forth. Fanshawe has lured {Auster} to give him an explanation of why he left, and there {Auster} picks up a red notebook, filled with text. Back in the New York train station, {Auster} reads the notebook.

 

 

V.1.3 An Examination of the Identity of Author and Character and Their Relationship within the Narrative Structure of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy

by Nicholas Dawson

Made up of three short novels, Paul Auster’s ‘New York Trilogy’ examines the changing identity of the main characters in a novel, while also investigating "the imbalance between the physical author of a book, the individual who puts his name onto the cover, and the authentic author who I am not certain is the same person". The first part, ‘City of Glass’, uses the conventions of the crime thriller in a metaphysical apologue about man in relation to subconscious control and solitude. ‘Ghosts’, the middle section, too uses the detective story in showing a man forced effectively to ‘tail’ himself. The concluding part, ‘The Locked Room’, is an autobiography by the unnamed friend of a disappeared literary giant. Though the stories and styles are very contrasting, they are in essence all the same tale, with ‘The Locked Room’ finally resolving the odyssey.

The trilogy has numerous subliminal references to the 19th Century American authors which have most influenced Auster, and shaded his literary identity. Quinn’s nom de plume in ‘City of Glass’ is William Wilson, also the name of an Edgar Allan Poe short story about doppelgängers. In ‘The Locked Room’, the narrator says his name is Herman Melville, and Fanshawe mimics the opening line of ‘Moby Dick’ in his letter starting "Call me Redburn". Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ is a major part of ‘Ghosts’, with Thoreau mentioned in ‘City of Glass’, and one Dennis Walden in ‘The Locked Room’. Auster immediately thrusts the reader into a maelstrom of multiple and confused identities from the outset. The central character is a reclusive author called Daniel Quinn, a writer of detective fiction, who hides behind the pseudonym of William Wilson. Quinn’s books feature the detective Max Work. The information the narrator gives almost perfectly matches Auster, with age, occupation and pastimes being identical. Clearly Quinn is Auster’s alter ego. The only named book by Quinn, or ‘William Wilson’, is ‘Suicide Squeeze’; in 1982 Auster wrote a pseudonymous detective novel, ‘Squeeze Play’, while the same age as Quinn. At the start of the novel, Quinn has just finished a Max Work novel, in which Work’s exploits have been very energetic. Quinn is said to be "feeling somewhat exhausted by his efforts"; "his" could refer to either Quinn or Work, either the creator or the creation - his ‘work’. Thus the identity of Quinn and Work are blurred, with Wilson being "the bridge that allowed Quinn to pass himself into Work." Work, the private eye, or private ‘I’, becomes "a presence in Quinn’s life, his interior brother" and paradoxically, "his comrade in solitude".

By having Quinn phoned by someone asking to speak to ‘Paul Auster’, the private detective, Auster establishes an elaborate and complex web of characters and identity. This is further complicated by Quinn, the detective writer, choosing to become ‘Paul Auster the detective’ and help his ‘client’, one Peter Stillman. Indeed, although he has "no idea" who ‘Auster’ is, he gets ready to do what ‘Auster’ has promised to do, as "in a kind of trance", having "found himself doing a good impression of a man preparing to go out", namely ‘Auster’. The transformation continues, as he enters Stillman’s flat: "he could feel himself going blank, as if his brain had suddenly shut off."

Used by Auster to explore multiple facets of identity, Peter Stillman is a Kaspar Hauser-like character cut off from all human contact for most of his life by his father - also called Peter Stillman. The younger Stillman is literally a ‘still man’, someone who has lived a deathly existence. Still is also constant or stationary; Peter is the boy who never grew up. Stillman is very confused about language, words and names, and their validity. He says to Quinn, "My real name is Mr. Sad. What is your name, Mr. Auster? Perhaps you are the real Mr. Sad, and I am no one". In rejecting his name, he can replace it with one of his choosing, depending on his mood. For he states "I am Peter Stillman. That is not my real name. My real name is Peter Rabbit." However he further says "Perhaps I am Peter Stillman, and perhaps I am not. My real name is Peter Nobody." Of his wife, he says that Virginia "is not her real name. But that makes no difference. To me". Names may not make a difference to Peter, and by rejecting the name Peter Stillman he is rejecting the name his tyrannical father gave to him, also his father’s name. "We are both Peter Stillman. But Peter Stillman is not my real name. So perhaps I am not Peter Stillman, after all". To Peter Stillman his identity is thus not dictated by his name, but by his random and irrational whims. His detachment from human contact was part of his father’s experiment on the effect of isolation on the development man’s language. Yet this isolation has deprived Stillman of constant and definitive identity. As he says, "I cannot say who I will be tomorrow. Each day is new, and each day I can be born again".

A red notebook is a trademark of both Auster and his characters: not only Quinn, but Peter Stillman Sr. and later on Fanshawe also have one. A recent collection of Auster’s prose was called ‘The Red Notebook’, containing material parallel and referential to the trilogy. In order that "things might not get out of control", Quinn buys one in which to record his notes on the Stillman case. Quinn writes his own name in a book "for the first time in more than five years", thus an attempt to reassert his true identity, though still hiding behind the mask of ‘Auster’. His first entry ends by saying "most important of all: remember who I am supposed to be." "All I can say is this: my name is Paul Auster. That is not my real name". Here Auster first presents an idea which recurs throughout the trilogy, of a facet of one person’s character being echoed in another, usually the protagonist. Quinn, consciously or not, echoes Peter Stillman’s confusion with his true identity, unsurprising as Quinn is trying to be four people simultaneously.

In following Stillman, Auster gives Quinn an ‘escapist holiday’ as ‘Auster’ the detective. Although ostensibly the same person, "he felt as though he had somehow been taken out of himself", someone without "the burden of his consciousness". Although it becomes clear to the reader that this situation is not as straightforward or tame as it seems, Quinn sees his state as "a simple trick of intelligence, a deft little twist of naming". Most importantly, he believes - erroneously - that "he had not really lost himself" and that "he could return to Quinn whenever he wished". Although the notebook bears Quinn’s initials, Quinn has denied his true self by becoming people who do not exist, thus making a ‘return to being Quinn’ an impossibility, as there is no real Quinn. This is underlined as, while waiting for Stillman’s train, he sees someone reading ‘Suicide Squeeze’. They are identified as "one of his readers", despite being one of the non-existent William Wilson’s, not Quinn’s. In an audacious leap of imagination, Auster introduces both a shabby Stillman, and a prosperous old man, Stillman’s "exact twin", his ‘doppelgänger’. The twins represent the two differing paths this man’s life could have taken, and place Quinn in an impossible situation: he can only follow one man. In Auster’s memoir ‘The Invention of Solitude’, he quotes St Augustine, who says "the mind is too narrow to contain itself entirely. But where is that part of it which it does not contain?" Here he is presenting a possible – surreal – answer. It is as if Stillman is mocking Quinn, the man of many identities, with a double, showing him that he can only have one body. "Quinn craved an amoeba’s body, wanting to cut himself in half and run off in two directions at once." Yet this completely destabilizes him as "Uncertainty would haunt him to the end", as the double’s introduction highlights Quinn’s deception: Quinn and the real detective ‘Auster’ could have followed both men.

The nonentity of Stillman’s identity is underlined as Quinn follows him on ostensibly random walks around New York, as he drifts from being one person to another. Although he sees ‘Auster’ as "no more than a name..., a husk without content" and "a man with no interior, a man with no thoughts", he ‘becomes’ ‘Auster’, with it being noted almost immediately after, that "even Auster began to droop from the monotony." Quinn’s actions further find him "momentarily confusing himself with Max Work", another lonely ‘detective’, who also does not truly exist - except inside Quinn. The older Peter Stillman becomes the most powerful character in the second half of the novel. Whereas previously Quinn has been in charge of his actions and thus has ‘authorial control’, following the elderly Stillman means that Quinn’s actions are dictated by Stillman’s movements. In Stillman’s book on religion and language, he draws on ideas from a book by the elusive 17th century figure Henry Dark - actually Stillman’s fictional creation. When Quinn starts writing down Stillman’s exact movements as he tails him, he notices that he walks in the shape of letters that seem to spell out ‘THE TOWER OF BABEL’, a major component of Dark’s - and thus Stillman’s - philosophy as set out in his book, ‘The Garden and the Tower: Early Visions of the New World’. These specific and calculated movements suggest that the ostensibly oblivious Stillman is in fact aware of Quinn’s presence. In this way too, Stillman is assuming the authorial role.

Thus Quinn becomes the old man’s shadow, a quasi-Stillman through his pursuit. Perversely, as he is supposed to be ‘Auster’, that is the identity that he hides, and can reveal his own name to Stillman, as "even the truth, would be an invention, a mask to hide behind and keep him safe". A further link between the two men is established when Stillman reveals that he too is "collecting data, gathering evidence", like the detective Quinn is not. In three encounters, the two men meet and converse, each time Stillman meeting him as for the first time. The first time, Quinn - acting as ‘Auster’ - uses the name Daniel Quinn. The second time he is ‘Henry Dark’ - a further echo of Stillman. In the third encounter, he is Peter Stillman, Stillman’s son. In this last encounter, Stillman says that "people change, don’t they? One minute we’re one thing, and then another another", suggesting that he may only be allowing Quinn to ‘believe’ that he is in control, while Stillman still actually holds the reins. This control is exerted, as one day Stillman disappears, leaving Quinn having to revise his view of him being "inside his skin".

The ‘real’ Paul Auster is introduced, Quinn having lost contact, both mentally and physically, with Stillman. He is confronted with a carbon copy of the author Paul Auster, but not a detective. It soon becomes apparent that this Auster is not the narrator. The reader is teased, Quinn having been told that he has got "the wrong Paul Auster", replies "You’re the only one in the book", punning on novel and telephone book. Auster remembers Quinn from his book ‘Unfinished Business’, and Quinn has come to him to get help to finish Stillman’s ‘business’. Strangely, Quinn - who is ‘Auster’ - finds "nothing interesting inside his head", suggesting that there can only be one Auster at a time.

Auster is writing an essay on the complex authorship of Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’, whose initials Quinn shares. Indeed, this link provides a clue to authorial power, as Virginia Stillman says that Michael, the husband of Peter’s nurse, Mrs. Saavedra, recommended ‘Paul Auster’, giving Quinn’s number - in essence thrusting him into the story. Auster’s essay suggests ‘Don Quixote’ has several authors, and similarly in ‘City of Glass’, Michael Saavedra is one of the authors. The latter’s name in Spanish is Miguel Saavedra, Cervantes’ Christian names, and indeed Cervantes’ complexities are mirrored in Paul Auster’s book. Quinn’s decline and eventual escape from authorial control are the focus of the last section of the novel. The statement that "he had nothing, he knew nothing, he knew that he had nothing" establishes his descent into being a non-identity. Indeed, in the red notebook he writes a translation of Baudelaire, "wherever I am is the place where I am myself". Similarly in Auster’s ‘Mr. Vertigo’, the protagonist is taken "to places of such inwardness that I no longer remembered who I was". Establishing a motif for the second part, Quinn is said to go unnoticed, like a ghost, having "melted into the walls of the city." the view of the narrator is that "he had been one thing before, and now he was another", this being neither better nor worse, but "different, and that was all".

The reassertion of Quinn’s identity takes place in a darkened room, where food and drink is provided, but the provider is not seen. This has obvious echoes with Peter Stillman’s experiences as a child, controlled by his father. The ‘power’ controlling Quinn seems comparable to what Paul Auster describes about writing: "I always feel that I’m in the hands of an unknown power..., something that forces me to do all that without knowing very well what it is". Quinn’s recovery is effected as "he realized that Max Work was dead", and that the baseball player William Wilson, and his own, "cancelled each other out, and that was all". Having shaken ‘Auster’ and Stillman’s control, he can be himself, with Work and Wilson also gone. His departure from the locked room and authorial power results in his freedom and true existence.

The narrator’s identity is hinted at, but not divulged, at the book’s conclusion, as he is revealed to be a friend of Auster. The latter "had become obsessed by" the case "and wanted my advice about what he should do", just as Quinn had done, the mantle now having passed on. Going to Quinn’s room they find that "It was unlocked", signifying Quinn’s release and resulting freedom. Yet the narrator’s identity is clouded more by him saying that "my thoughts remain with Quinn. He will be with me always".

While ‘City of Glass’ is expansive and elaborate, ‘Ghosts’ is sparse in plot and language. Auster sets it in a surreal and symbolic New York, where everyone is a color, and every thing represents another. Private detective Blue is told to monitor the movements of Black, by a heavily disguised man, White. Blue is given an apartment exactly opposite Black, who seems to do almost nothing but read, write and eat. As time passes, the two men become one and the same, the one affirming the other’s existence. As in the first part, the two characters only meet each other under different names and disguises, until Blue finally confronts Black. Authorial power is initially held by White, who hires Blue as Peter Stillman does Quinn. Yet by "thrusting Blue into an empty room, as it were, and then turning off the light off and locking the door", he is doing as Stillman did with his son, and, later, as he does with Quinn. Intriguingly, Auster introduces the latter saying "everything about Peter Stillman was white". In the course of ‘Ghosts’ we find out that, paradoxically, White is the same person as Black. By forcing Blue to shadow his every move, effectively putting him in a locked room of existence, as Stillman did to his son. Importantly, both men read ‘Walden’ by Thoreau - who also appears in ‘City of Glass’ - about his experiment in transcendentalism, in which through self-reliance he sought to find if "the individual spirit might thrive in its detachment from the fractured world of mass society". In blending himself and Blue, this is what he is attempting to do (exactly 100 years on) – "exiling himself in order to find out where he was" - but ultimately injures himself as a result: he literally becomes ‘black and blue’. Adapted from an aborted play ‘Blackouts’, Auster says that ‘Ghosts’ is dominated by "the spirit of Thoreau... Walden Pond in the heart of the city".

The ‘fusing’ of Black and Blue is the focus of the novel, Auster saying that "the only way for Blue to have a sense of what is happening is to be inside Black’s mind". However, although this seems "impossible" to Blue, he, like Quinn, becomes convinced that "anything less than constant surveillance would be no surveillance at all", despite being "only one man". From this point on, as he reciprocates his every movement, he is seeing "through a glass darkly, but then face to face": "it is as though Blue were looking into a mirror, and instead of watching another, he finds that he is also watching himself." In ‘Mr. Vertigo’, it is stated that "If you look into someone’s face long enough, eventually you’re going to feel that you’re looking at yourself". Blue is in a city of glass where, instead of seeing out, the glass is a mirror and he is forced to look into his own locked room. Being thus placed, he realizes that "Little by little, I’m no longer the same". This is manifested in his struggle with words that are usually "transparent" and "have never impeded his view", however as they are Black’s words and the ‘glass’ of Black’s life, he is forced to change himself. Yet, it becomes so that he knows what Black’s actions will be, and when separated from him, he "begins to lose the sense of who he is". Thus "the more deeply entangled he becomes, the freer he is". In what seems to be a tangential reference, Auster mentions the detective film ‘The Lady of the Lake’. However, significantly in the film, "we only see the hero’s face when he looks in the mirror", much as it is with Blue. Indeed, we only truly see Blue through others, for when he meets his fiancée - who he has not seen in years – "It is as though some specter has suddenly materialized", with Blue speaking "in a voice that seems strange to him". Not only is Blue now a ghost, but when he confronts his employer White (who is Black) he "feels that the man is not really there" and that he is the only person who can see him. Auster confirms both men’s ghost status, as Blue questions whether there is really a man "who does nothing, who merely sits in his room and writes". Yet he too is that man and a mere ghost of the ghostly Black, who is only a "stand-in, a fake, an actor" for White, as Blue sees it.

As in ‘City of Glass’, knowledge of being under authorial control leads to the protagonist freeing himself from the ‘novel’. Blue’s realization that he is being "watched, observed by another in the same way that he has been observing Black" and that "he has never been free"leads to his freedom. Just as Quinn meets Stillman three times, each as a different person, so Blue does with Black, with each talking in riddles. Blue says that every man "as his double somewhere. I don’t see why mine can’t be a dead man" so that he is a ghost. Black also talks of ghosts, saying that " writer has no life of his own. Even when he’s there, he’s not really there"As Blue realizes that Black can watch him "ith my eyes closed" he intentionally reasserts his individuality so he can return "o a semblance of his former self" Black believes that Blue is "he one thing that doesn’t change"for him, but also realizes that Blue will kill him, to ultimately reassert his identity and individuality. Like ‘City of Glass’, the novel’s narrator, who shows himself to be of similar age to Auster, leaves us with an open-ended conclusion to the book.

The final part of the triptych, ‘The Locked Room’, is narrated by an unnamed protagonist, a small-time writer, and tells the tale of how he essentially fills the gap left when his friend when his childhood friend, Fanshawe disappears, presumed dead. Fanshawe had entrusted a cache of literary work to the narrator, who publishes the works, which are acclaimed as masterpieces. He eventually marries Sophie, a carbon-copy of Auster’s wife Siri, and adopts Fanshawe’s son. However Fanshawe writes to the narrator, revealing that he is alive, and establishing him as the character who is in control in the novel, having set up his friend to ‘take his place’.

Fanshawe is the person defining the narrator’s identity, as "e is... where everything begins for me, ...without him I would hardly know who I am" and he is "he one who shared my thoughts" The immediate similarities between the men are stressed with them being very close in appearance and age, and both being writers. Indeed, Fanshawe was " ghost I carried around inside me" when the two are separated. The importance of Fanshawe’s cache is great, as it is something hidden from Sophie until his disappearance, and is ‘the locked room’, the secret and protected side of his identity. The two suitcases containing the notebooks "Together,...were as heavy as a man."That his work is the only trace left of him means that the narrator equates destroying Fanshawe’s work and killing him with my own hands." Indeed, Fanshawe’s work is very close to Auster’s, the bulk of it being three novels, including ‘Neverland’ and ‘Blackouts’. The former refers to the paradoxical home of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, while a fantastical city of glass is the home of the child-like Peter Stillman. The latter is the name of the play from which ‘Ghosts’ metamorphosed.

As in ‘Ghosts’, the protagonist questions "whether or not a writer has a real life", and the narrator believes he would enjoy pseudonymous writing, "to invent a secret identity", as Auster himself had done. In the wake of Fanshawe’s letter, names and identity are further explored, with Fanshawe hoping "you will always be who you are. With me it’s a different story." The fact that Fanshawe has adopted a new name for his new life leads to the question of whether this has changed him. This conundrum is complemented by the narrator wishing Fanshawe’s son to have his own name, to change him into being his, and not Fanshawe’s, son.

It is stated that "No one can cross the boundary into another - for the simple reason that no one can gain access to himself", despite the fact that Fanshawe "was inside me day and night...unknown to me". When Fanshawe, being absent, is supposed to be only the narrator’s pseudonym, he sets out to write Fanshawe’s biography, and effectively his autobiography, to disprove this. This is effectively Fanshawe’s autobiography in which "he speaks of himself as another in order to tell the story of himself. He must make himself absent in order to find himself there." The research involved reveals to him a lot of unknowns about Fanshawe, as well as himself, but brings him to desire "to kill Fanshawe...to track him down and kill him." His quest for Fanshawe literally and figuratively leads him astray as, in Paris, he ‘becomes’ other people, and Fanshawe becomes anyone but himself – "if he’s no one,...he must be Fanshawe." This situation leads to a head-to-head with one of these ‘Fanshawes’, akin to Blue’s confrontation with Black, and (like Blue) he survives, seemingly defying fate: "I was alive... It did not seem possible that I had been spared." The novel concludes with the two men finally meeting, with an ostensibly dying Fanshawe handing over the red notebook (the same as in ‘City of Glass’?) from his hide-out in a locked room. The narrator reads the notebook, in which "Each sentence erased the sentence before it, each paragraph made the next paragraph impossible." As he tears each page out and throws them away, crumpled, he is freeing himself of Fanshawe and his control, able to return to the life Fanshawe left for him.

The most fascinating progression in ‘The Locked Room’ is the protagonist’s knowledge of their own status. Quinn, Blue and the narrator are the primary characters who are caught in the novel, a city of glass or locked room that pens them in, constrained by others’ control of them. Early in ‘The Locked Room’, it is said "No one wants to be part of a fiction, and even less so if that is real". Ultimately, the narrator recognizes outside events: "The entire story comes down to what happened at the end", he says. He mentions and is aware of ‘City of Glass’ and ‘Ghosts’, saying that "these three stories are finally the same story, but each one represents a different stage in my awareness of what it is about". Yet, despite presenting himself here as the trilogy’s author, we only have his word for it, while ultimately names and times are irrelevant, while the story is important. In light of this, the fact that the last ‘version’ of the story is autobiographical shows the progression from the teller being a person completely unconnected to the story, to someone who tells their story in the first person, showing their self-cognition.

‘The Locked Room’ is closer to ‘City of Glass’ than ‘Ghosts’, with Quinn being one of the minor but essentially insignificant characters, references to Don Quixote, and Henry Dark and Peter Stillman appearing in different guises in Paris. Yet Auster is almost a bigger character in the novel than any, being extremely close to both the narrator and Fanshawe. Auster claims that "I am neither Fanshawe nor the narrator. Maybe I am both".

While Poe, Thoreau and Melville are authors whose work is an influence, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work is the major influence on the trilogy. ‘Fanshawe’ is the title of Hawthorne’s first novel, which, like Auster’s, is semi-autobiographical. Described by Black in ‘Ghosts’, his story ‘Wakefield’ has many parallels with all three parts of the trilogy. It is about a man who randomly walks out on a happy married life for over 20 years only to return. According to Black, he is not "sure why he’s doing it, but he does it just the same," just like the protagonists in the trilogy. Like Wakefield, all three leave contended and ostensibly settled lives, and have to fight to return to ‘normality’.

As the conventions of the detective story are utilized, the novels - and ‘City of Glass’ in particular - are full of Auster’s ‘red herrings’. The editor of ‘Contemporary Novelists’ views the books as full of "intellectual puzzles that have little or no relation to a reality beyond the texts themselves". It is also suggested that the book is "too clever for its own good, that Auster engages knotty intellectual issues partly to evade more troubling emotional ones". Yet in his thesis on the trilogy, Chris Pace states that the book must not be interpreted as a series of riddles from which answers must be derived, but that, as Auster says, the books must be a "springboard for the imagination". Interestingly, the traditional male domination of the detective yarn is replicated in the trilogy. The books are inherently masculine, with very few female characters appearing. Indeed, these women are either facsimiles of Auster’s wife, Siri Hustvedt, or one-dimensional sex objects, who appear only to immediately disappear.

The narrator’s status in ‘The Locked Room’ as the teller of his and Fanshawe’s story offers him more control over the proceedings and our perception of them than Blue or Quinn, despite the fact that he is nameless. As the trilogy progresses, the protagonist becomes more powerful. Quinn is in conflict with many characters, while by the end, the narrator has only one windmill with which to joust, as Don Quixote would see it. Auster shows that we the reader inject each book with our understanding and experiences, meaning that ultimately, of all the authors, we, with our ‘springboard of imagination’, are the most prominent. Pace views the books as changing "even day to day, to fit the experiences, the mood, and the personality of the reader". Auster believes no one truly knows himself, and each protagonist uses the identity of others to get closer to finding resolution, as Fanshawe finally does in ‘The Locked Room.’ Yet ultimately, the nature of the trilogy means that this is merely one interpretation: "It’s not a mathematical equation to solve. One hope’s it’s exhaustible, and that you’re going to keep thinking about it and keep testing your reaction and come up with new things."

V.1.4 Escaping From The Locked Room: Overthrowing The Tyranny of Artifice in Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy

Adapted from Chris Pace’s thesis

Auster’s New York Trilogy is comprised of three short novels, City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room whose themes and ideas interweave and overlap to explore the nature of language and meaning through the conventions of a "hard boiled" detective novel. The detective’s quest for a solution to the mystery is here transmuted to the search for meaning in the world and in the language that renders the world into words.

Auster’s detectives are all very straightforward, both in their manners and their speech; when we are first introduced to them, they all believe that "each word [tallies] the thing described" and that „words are transparent...great windows that stand between [them] and the world" (The New York Trilogy 174). Two of them are even writers by trade, men who use the written word to communicate with people they have never met. But as the three protagonists progress in their cases, they each begin to realize that „words do not necessarily work, that it is possible for them to obscure the things that they are trying to say" (NYT 176). Language becomes suspect to the detectives (and henceforth the readers) due to its multiplexed nature – a barrier between oneself and others, rather than a means of clear communication. The world becomes a giant city of glass with each person trapped in a room by him- or herself, where we can all see one another, but no one can hear a word that the others say.

The locked room convention of classic mystery fiction becomes here a central metaphor which reoccurs throughout the trilogy. Almost all of the main characters are shown trapped in some kind of locked room, mental or physical, from which they must escape in order to be free. Of course, the first part of escaping is to realize that one is trapped; Auster’s characters, and in turn the readers who involve themselves in those characters’ stories, are slowly and subtly pushed into the locked room of madness, from which logic and reason provide no escape. But then the characters do escape, through a cathartic act of personal will that not only makes them realize the boundaries of the cages that they have been confined to, but which, in so doing, provides the keys with which they can open the doors and escape from the control that is being exerted over them.

The situation of someone trapped in a locked room without knowing that he or she is confined is analogous to the plight of the characters in a book – as well as the readers of that book. For the readers, in addition to the characters, are fated to follow the dictates of the author because it is the author who chooses the setting, the action, and the plot. Auster chooses to use the detective genre in the trilogy at least in part because the rigid conventions of this form underline the set "roles" that the reader, the author, and the characters are supposed to play in the creation of the book. There is, in most contemporary fiction – and especially in the genre of detective fiction – a tyranny in artifice that restricts each of a book’s contributors (i.e., the author, the characters, the readers, and the narrator) to a certain set of actions.

But Auster destroys the conventions associated with the detective novel, and with books and reading in general, by having his characters become aware of their existences as characters; all of them, by the end of the book, have come to the realization that they have been locked in a room and are being forced to speak words and commit actions that they do not necessarily choose. They have been placed in a labyrinth by the author, a maze which often gives them the illusion of control, but which in truth is designed especially for them (or are they designed especially for it?), so that what appear to be choices on their parts are actually predestined actions determined for them by the invisible author. Once they realize this, however, they are able to overthrow the tyranny of artifice by defying the literary conventions which rule their world: all of the protagonists in the trilogy actually escape from the confines of the book by its end. Their stories do not stop, but instead the characters themselves take control. The author no longer has power over their lives; the characters disappear from the artifice of his making to become their own authors, writing the book of their lives.

 

City of Glass

There are several examples of the subversion of traditional roles in City of Glass, the first book in the trilogy. The text is so purposefully complex and labyrinthine that the reader cannot help but be aware that reading is an effort to compete linguistically with the author – but then that competition is rendered mute by the protagonist’s escape from the world of words that has crafted around him at the novel’s end. The subversive nature of the text is further stressed by the emphasis on language and words throughout the text – smaller linguistic contests that often lead the reader to dead or at least circular ends. The title, for example: it implies a city where everything is transparent, where one can see everything, but which still has barriers which prevent true communication. It also suggests mirrors, a locked room where the people think that they are free to move around in an infinity of space, but where in reality they are trapped in a room with a mirror on each wall, so that the infinite space that the character sees is really a tiny room, and the other people that he sees are no more than doubles of himself.

In fact, Auster uses doubles, or Doppelgangers, throughout the trilogy to underscore the confused identities of his characters; it is as if they cannot exist as truly unique individuals while trapped within the confines of the artifice. His protagonist, Daniel Quinn, a writer of detective novels, lives his life through the lives of William Wilson, his pseudonym, and Max Work, the protagonist of his detective novels. William Wilson is also the name of one of Poe’s stories, in which a character by the name of William Wilson is foiled in his attempts to do harm to others by a Doppelganger, an exact twin physically but an exact opposite morally – a superego to the character’s id. Quinn double Wilson, therefore, is a literary reference to another story about doublings. Quinn also shares his initials with Don Quixote, another foiled and confused questor whose story is about the strange line between artifice and reality. Daniel Quinn has a third physical twin in the shape of "Paul Auster," a fictional character created by Auster the real-life novelist, whose life is an alternate-universe possibility of Quinn own, and whose name Quinn assumes. Both of these Austers are also doubles for the real-life novelist in one way or another: like Quinn, he has written a pseudonymous popular detective novel, and has thought about posing as a detective as a result of a random phone call mistaking his number for that of the Pinkerton Agency; and like „Auster", he is a writer and literary critic, and is, we are led to believe for a while, the author of this text. "Auster’s" son is another double for Quinn: they are both named Daniel. And not coincidentally, "Auster" is writing an article on the problems of doubling and the difference between art and reality in Don Quixote. Yet despite all these doubles, all of these supposed points of reference, we are in a hall of mirrors; we still have no idea who Daniel Quinn really is.

 

Peter Stillman is another character in City of Glass with many doubles. First of all, there are two actual Peter Stillmans: a father and his son share the name. Quinn also sees the younger Peter Stillman as a stand-in for his own lost son, which in turn links him with "Auster’s" son Daniel. The older Peter Stillman also has a Doppelganger in the train station: when he goes to the station to begin his tail of Stillman, Quinn is forced to choose between two old men getting off the same train who look exactly alike except for their attire. One man is shabbily dressed and carrying a battered old leather satchel and the other is wearing a fashionable suit and has an expensive new leather briefcase. Either one of them could be Stillman, depending on how he fared in the mental hospital to which he has been confined for the last fifteen years. At this point Quinn is confronted with the first of the many arbitrary choices that he will be forced to make during the course of the narrative. This arbitrariness reinforces the idea that there is someone else in control of the story: like Schroedinger’s quantum cat which is both dead and alive until it is viewed, either of these old men is Stillman until Quinn makes his arbitrary decision and names one of them as his suspect. And even though many of the later "facts" encountered in the narrative suggest that his choice was correct, we are never completely sure. Like Quinn himself, we have no idea who Peter Stillman really is – either of them.

The purpose of all this doubling has two basic purposes. First of all, it shows both the characters and the readers how little control we have over the story when it follows rigid conventions, especially when we are content to sit back and let the author dictate events to us without an equal imaginative contribution on our parts. There are many, many possibilities that are simply abandoned by the protagonist, not because they are not worth pursuing, but because an arbitrary choice to pursue one or the other must be made. The second purpose is to manipulate us into extreme confusion by giving us so many not pursued options that every event in the world seems like coincidence or chance that could either hold a whole world of meaning or none at all.

 

There is also much discussion about the malleability of language – the so-called double meanings of word – in this text, which further underscores the themes of ambiguity, arbitrariness, and the necessity of choice. For example, a few days after he has been following the elder Stillman around the streets of New York, Quinn notices that the routes that Stillman is taking seem to be attempts on Stillman’s part to create gigantic, invisible letters on the street; Quinn traces their route out for the fourth day and discovers the letter "O," the fifth day produces a "W," and on and on until the eleventh day when he has "OWEROFBAB." Quinn guesses the first four letters (another element of uncertainty), and arrives at the conclusion that Stillman is spelling out "THE TOWER OF BABEL", because he knows that Stillman is obsessed with that biblical story.

This incident illustrates many of the themes that are brought up so far. First of all, the story of the Tower of Babel is one about the confusion of language, the barrier that words have become in the fallen world, where one word can have several meanings and one object can have several names. Secondly, it brings up another element of uncertainty, in that not only does Quinn have to guess at the first four letters (because at that point he was not writing down the route that Stillman followed), but also because Quinn is never sure whether Stillman is really writing these letters on purpose or whether he, Quinn, is just imagining them. Curiously, Quinn does not actually trace out the route on days twelve and thirteen to confirm his suspicions; we are left without the confirming "el." And, as Quinn himself points out, "el" is the Hebrew word for "God," so that we are, in effect, left without the assurance of God in this book. In literary terms, God signifies an absolute, a standard by which we can measure the world; the possible absence of an absolute from the text again leads us to question why some arbitrary leads are followed in Quinn’s case and others abandoned.

And yet despite this minimalist approach to writing and the seemingly unclouded events presented to the protagonist (and the readers), there remain so many possibilities of meaning in this book that the only way to read it is by abandoning the search for one absolute interpretation, and accepting that this text, like the world and reality, are necessarily constructions of the reader/viewer. Then the reader is free to use this newly gained self-awareness to bring his or her own meaning to the text. By leaving so many blank spaces in a genre of fiction where „there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant" (NYT 9) and by not even giving us, in the end, a "true" detective solving a "real" crime, Auster turns the attention away from the plot and the search for a solution that will unify the book to the search for meaning in the text.

Like the protagonists in these novels, we must realize that without our own imaginative powers contributing to the meaning of the book, the text is simply a maze of dead ends. Auster refuses to give us a conventional ending in which all the loose ends are tied up. Or as Auster says: "It’s not a mathematical equation to solve. One hopes it’s inexhaustible and that you’re going to keep thinking about it, and keep testing your reactions and come up with new things". We must, like Quinn at the end of the book, realize the power of our own imagination and choice to escape from the tyranny of the artifice into a world where we are the creators just as much as the author of the text.

 

The most important moment in this book, comes when we learn that after an indefinite period of time, Quinn’s notebook is discovered by "Auster" and the strange unnamed narrator of the story in the otherwise empty room in the younger Stillman’s apartment. From the writings in the notebook, it becomes clear that, despite the manipulations that are being imposed on him by his captor, he is gaining a greater awareness of himself and of his own creative abilities:

Quinn no longer had any interest in himself. He wrote about the stars, the earth, and his hopes for mankind. He felt that his words had been severed from him, that now they were a part of the world at large, as real and specific as a stone, or a lake, or a flower....Nothing mattered now but the beauty of all this. He wanted to go on writing about it, and it pained him to know that this would not be possible....He wondered if he had it in him to write without a pen, if he could learn to speak instead, filling the darkness with his voice, speaking the words into the air, into the walls, into the city, even if the light never came back again.

The last sentence of the red notebook reads: "What will happen when there are no more pages in the red notebook?" (NYT 156-7)

This is the last that we see of Quinn in the novel. But we learn that, following his transformation into a poet, a designator of things, he has vanished from the framework of the text. His own imaginative power has allowed him to overthrow the tyranny of artifice that has been set up around him and to escape from the locked room of the novel, into the real world of experience and creation. Quinn has become his own author, and as a result, the author of City of Glass is no longer able to have control over him. The story ends not with a conventional ending that ties together all the loose ends of the text, and not because Quinn’s story is over, but because Quinn has come to realize the power of his own imagination, and has escaped from the artificial reality of the text into one of his making. The conventions of the genre have been destroyed by Quinn’s escape, leaving us to question the conventions of all novels, and our role as readers of those texts.

 

 

Ghosts

Ghosts, like City of Glass, also uses the detective’s quest for a solution to a mystery as a metaphor for the individual’s search for self (specifically the protagonist’s search for an identity outside of the framework of the text) and the reader’s search for meaning in the text. The detective is named Blue, and he is hired at the beginning of the novel by a man named White to watch a man named Black. The apartment from which he will watch Black has already been rented for him by White, and includes food and several suits of clothes that fit Blue exactly. It is designed so that Blue can sit at a desk and write in a notebook while watching Black – who is also sitting at his desk across the street and writing in his notebook.

Already we can see the metaphor of the locked room: for Blue is confined to this room, and the options open to him are limited, especially since his only job is to sit and watch Black and write down everything that he sees. Just like Peter Stillman, or Daniel Quinn, or any character in a novel, he has been placed in a locked room, an artifice which controls his actions and his destiny. Despite the fact that Blue is supposedly the one writing about Black, it is actually Black who is the author, the controller of the situation, because it is his actions that dictate what Blue will write. Even when Blue leaves the locked room which White has rented for him, it is only to follow Black. His actions are no longer his own, but rather fated for him depending on Black’s actions. This situation becomes even more mysterious and raises even more questions about authors and characters when we learn that Black, posing as White, was probably the man who hired him in the first place.

Ghosts is even more overtly about words than City of Glass. It is the story of Blue’s journey from linguistic naiveté to linguistic experience, which eventually leads him to realize his own creative power over words and to escape from the locked room in which Black/White/the unnamed narrator has placed him. In the beginning of the novel, Blue believes that "each word tallies the thing described" and that "words are transparent...great windows that stand between him and the world" (NYT 174). He comes to a linguistic dilemma, however, when he is writing his first report of Black’s activities, which have consisted mainly of sitting at his desk across the street and reading and writing. After reading over his report, Blue discovers that the few details that he has written down in his notebook do not adequately describe how he and Black have spent the last week: "For the first time in his experience of writing reports, he discovers that words do not necessarily work, that it is possible for them to obscure the things that they are trying to say" (NYT 176).

The heart of Ghosts is in a passage on pages 201-2, in which Blue is mulling over his situation – which is that of being forced to do nothing: "They have trapped Blue into doing nothing, into being so inactive as to reduce his life to almost no life at all. He feels like a man who has been condemned to sit in a room and go on reading a book for the rest of his life" (NYT 201-2). This is what he has become: he is "only half-alive at best, seeing the world only through words, living only through the lives of others" (NYT 202). Like the inactive reader of a conventionally structured novel, Blue no longer has any experiences that are truly his own; all that happens to him is a secondary reflection of Black’s actions. Black has put him into a box, whose role here as a manipulator of people in an artificial environment of his making is closely akin to that of an author.

But Blue, unlike conventional characters, knows that he is in a box – and he doesn’t like it:

There is no story, no plot, no action – nothing but a man sitting alone in a room and writing a book. That’s all there is, Blue realizes, and he no longer wants any part of it. But how to get out? How to get out of the room that is the book that will go on being written for as long as he stays in the room? (NYT 202)

This truly is an accurate description of the world as seen by an inactive reader who immerses him- or herself in the conventions of novels: there is no story, no plot, no action, because there is no real world of experience left for this type of reader to make the book into an active force that charges the imagination, which enhances both the book and the individual reader’s life.

In the end, Blue decides that the only way out of his dilemma is through a confrontation with his captor, who can be seen as either Black/White or as Auster himself. Typically, however, Auster confuses the author’s identity by inserting an unknown authorial voice at the end of the text, the voice of an innocent bystander who somehow stumbled across this story like the unnamed narrator at the end of City of Glass. We do find out from this narrator, however, that following a violent confrontation with the man across the street wherein Blue beats him up and steals his writings (further evidence that Blue is somehow assuming authorial control), that Blue, like Quinn, has escaped into his own world of creation where Auster’s text cannot control him. The story again is over because Blue has escaped from the confines of the book. He is outside of the artificial construction that Auster (or Black or whoever) built around him, and is now free to live his own life, free to experience things for himself (as opposed to the vicarious existence of a character); he is free to write his own story.

 

 

 

The Locked Room

As we have seen, Ghosts deals with many of the same themes and questions about the relationship between the writer, the characters, and the audience. This "parable about reading" more overtly sets up a situation in which a character realizes that he is just a pawn in someone else’s game, and who, after this realization, decides to escape from the text and forge his own way. The Locked Room, whose very title describes this theme, is the third book in the series, and the one most overly about authors and their characters. Like its predecessors, this book explores the relationship between an author, his characters, and the audience using the detective’s search for a solution as a metaphor for the search for self and identity, in this case using the biographer’s search for his subject.

On one level, this is the story of two childhood friends who are later "reunited": Fanshawe, the dominant person in the relationship, has suddenly disappeared and left his wife with a pile of manuscripts and instructions to give them to the unnamed narrator of the book, a friend that he has not seen for many years. These two friends, from very early on in the novel, are set up as twins, Doppelgangers who are reflections of each other. Like Quinn and "Auster" in City of Glass and Blue and Black in Ghosts, they are two mirrors facing each other that each show the other the possibilities of what might have been. The two spend their whole childhood together, and they look and act so much alike that both their mothers and people that they encounter later in life mistake them for one another. And both go into a career involving words: the narrator becomes critic, and Fanshawe becomes a writer.

After Fanshawe’s mysterious disappearance the narrator gains success in the literary world by publishing Fanshawe’s works, which was made happen by Fanshawe’s and later the narrator’s wife. Due to this marriage, arranged by Fanshawe, the narrator has been given a new life. He now has a wife, an adopted child, and a literary reputation, all as a result of Fanshawe’s desire that the narrator take care of his (Fanshawe’s) literary affairs in case of his disappearance.

Odd as all these events might seem, there is nothing really chilling about them; other than Fanshawe’s strange disappearance and presumed death, it is nothing but an odd series of coincidences. But it soon turns out to be much more than this: shortly after the success of Fanshawe’s works, the narrator receives a letter from Fanshawe thanking the narrator for his help, but wishing for him to go on thinking of Fanshawe as dead, nonexistent. This is the first inkling that the narrator has that the events of the past few months of his life have in some way been orchestrated by Fanshawe. Aside from the success of the books, Fanshawe seems to have known that his friend would end up taking care of his wife and child. The narrator literally takes Fanshawe’s place while Fanshawe proceeds with whatever new life he is leading: "[I (Fanshawe) wanted] to thank you for what you have done. I knew that you were the person to ask, but things have turned out even better than I thought they would....Sophie and the child will be taken care of, and because of that I can live with a clear conscience" (NYT 280).

This letter is the beginning of a long and painful realization on the narrator’s part that he is being controlled by Fanshawe. He has become a character in a work of fiction by Fanshawe; actions that previously seemed acts of free choice or of the will become, in light of Fanshawe’s letter, scripted and planned by Fanshawe from the start. The more the narrator struggles to free himself from the bonds tied by Fanshawe, the more he realizes that Fanshawe is still one step ahead of him, that Fanshawe was counting on him to make this move or that one, and thereby complete another sentence or paragraph in the enormous work of fiction that Fanshawe has written on the air using the lives of the people around him. The narrator is trapped in a locked room that appears to be as large as the world and to include all possibilities within it, but which in reality is so tiny that he is constrained no matter what he does. He has almost no chance to escape, because he cannot even define the boundaries that make up his prison.

The narrator realizes what he needs to do: despite his happiness with Sophie and the child, and with the turn of events in his life in general, he knows that he must reclaim his life, and make it his own again, so that his love for Sophie is his love, not a plot device designed by Fanshawe.

The narrator’s attempt to write a biography underlines several of the insistent themes that run throughout the trilogy. The narrator’s search for the facts that will lead him to his friend is akin to the detective’s search for clues that will lead him to the missing body.

The deeper the narrator gets into research for the biography, the more he realizes that he is simply becoming more entangled in the net that Fanshawe has caught him in; his whole life is but a shadow of Fanshawe’s. He sleeps with Fanshawe’s wife, raises his child, visits the places that Fanshawe has gone, and talks to the people that Fanshawe knew. He is a ghost, doomed to wander the locked room that is Fanshawe’s past.

The narrator decides that he must end the whole thing by finding Fanshawe and confronting him, whatever the consequences. Like Quinn and Blue, who both overcame their manipulators and escaped from the locked room, the frame of fiction that surrounds them, the narrator can only free himself by exposing the artifice for what it is and thereby leaving it unfulfilled. To escape from Fanshawe’s control, the narrator must do something that Fanshawe does not expect – he must, in fact, defy his creator: "Killing Fanshawe would mean nothing. The point was to find him alive – and then to walk away from him alive" (NYT 318).

He finally discovers Fanshawe in a bar in Paris. "I exulted in the sheer falsity of my assertion, celebrating the new power that I had just bestowed upon myself. I was the sublime alchemist who could change the world at will. This man was Fanshawe because I said he was Fanshawe, and that was all there was to it" (NYT 348). It doesn’t matter who the man is (although, ironically, he calls himself Peter Stillman), whether he is Fanshawe or not; what matters is that the narrator has started to realize his own potential as an artist, a master of words who can change the world into a place that is wholly his creation. Not only is this the beginning of the narrator’s break from Fanshawe’s power, it is the point where he starts to realize that same power within himself.

After chasing the person and getting beaten nearly to death by him, the narrator is reborn. Once the narrator realizes that he is going to recover from his wounds, that he has faced his enemy and survived, then he is truly freed from the power that Fanshawe had over him. His creator is not dead, but he no longer has any power over his creation. The narrator has escaped from the locked room at last.

Still, the story is not quite over. After that the narrator lives with his wife in peace for three years until a new letter from Fanshawe arrives. He wants to meet the narrator in Boston to finish with all. The narrator goes to Boston, not knowing what to expect, but knowing that he must come away from the encounter completely free of Fanshawe’s influence. Even in his short note, Fanshawe is still attempting to control the situation by insisting that this will be the end of the story. Fanshawe is still trying to play the part of the author, manipulating his chosen characters into performing the actions necessary for the completion of the plot.

Once he arrives, the narrator is even surer of Fanshawe’s desire for control. Fanshawe will not let the narrator come inside the locked room where he is hiding – Fanshawe insists that they only speak to each other through the locked door.

In the end, all that transpires is that the narrator is given a red notebook, a riddling connection to the red notebook that Quinn left behind in his locked room in City of Glass and that Blue, in Ghosts, wrote his observations in. Despite the narrator’s pleas to continue the conversation with Fanshawe, knowing that if it ends now it ends on Fanshawe’s terms i.e., Fanshawe still has the control – the narrator will be left with nothing but the notebook, in which is written an attempt to explain to the narrator the reasons for Fanshawe’s actions over the last six years.

However, the narrator still manages to free himself from this last attempt by Fanshawe to control him. After he reads this book that disappears back into itself as fast as one can read it, the narrator impulsively tears out the pages one by one and throws them away, until there is nothing left of the book, mentally or physically. There remains no more trace of Fanshawe, and the story is now ended on the narrator’s terms.

 

In these cases, the text becomes more of a linguistic contest between the reader and the writer in which it is assumed that the writer will always have control and always win, so that the reader is no longer reading the book in order to discover new worlds, but instead to be trapped within the locked room that the author has established according to the conventions. Books then are no longer attempts on the author’s part to communicate with his or her readers, but instead contrived structures that attempt nothing more than to fulfill the readers’ expectations while remaining interesting and surprising. Auster, however, playfully uses many of the conventions of the detective genre in order to undermine the traditional structure of the novel and the traditional roles of the author, the characters, and the readers. He reminds us that books, even ones written in highly contrived and stylized modes (such as detective novels), are so much more than locked rooms of form and genre. For both their characters and their readers, they can open worlds of imagination and new experiences that are created by the reader him- or herself – If only the reader will take the time to escape from the locked room.

In other words, if we, like the characters in Auster’s books, are conscious of the ways in which we are being manipulated, then we too can take control of the text and make it our own. The book then will not simply be a novel by Paul Auster, but also a text in which our emotions, thoughts, and histories are inscribed. Therefore it will mean a great deal more to us, as well as have a great deal more to teach us, because it will teach us about ourselves. A text is only a locked room or a hall of mirrors to the passive reader; the tyranny of artifice has no other power than that which the reader grants it. To actively questioning readers, a text becomes a reflecting pool that shows us the contours of our souls by revealing another view of the world.

 

V.1.5 When Walls Weaken or Nostalgia for Unity

Adapted from the thesis by Helmi Nyström

In Auster’s books, barriers that were supposed to be strong can suddenly weaken and sometimes even break up altogether. Some of these barriers only exist in mind, which does not, however, make them any less real. Many of the attempts to cross barriers are connected to certain ideals: characters (consciously or unconsciously) try to achieve something better by breaking walls or fleeing to frontiers. But do they succeed in this?

In his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus", Camus talks about the ‘nostalgia for unity, that appetite for the absolute’ (1990: 23), implying that unity is something we miss but do not have any more. Earlier on I quoted Derrida, who said that an ‘absolutely pure singularity if there were one would not even show up or at least would not be available for reading’ (1992: 68). These two quotations state the problem I am about to discuss in the following chapter: to what extent it is possible for Auster’s characters to cross barriers and/or unite two worlds and what implications do these crossings have?

When discussing ways of crossing barriers in Auster’s books, the American frontiers cannot be ignored. A frontier is a zone that unites the idea of an obstacle to that of crossing. It is ‘a constantly moving zone rather than a fixed line’ (Rezé and Bowen 1979: 64), ‘a gate of escape from the bondage of the past’ (Turner 1976: 38) but also ‘the outer edge of the wave – the meeting point between savagery and civilization’ (ibid: 3). There are no traditional frontiers with Indians and gold diggers any more, but frontiers as ideas still live on. What is left is a belief that there exists more space to be conquered; a belief that new opportunities can be found by expanding one’s space, by crossing barriers. Freedom thus becomes to mean unity, united space(s).

According to Turner’s Frontier Thesis, the frontier was an opportunity: it represented the future (even though being at the same time a primitive space) and was regarded better than the settled areas which represented the past (ibid: 156). This thinking finally led Turner to believe that in order to be a true American, one should not just get rid of his/her European past but also of the American one (171). In a way, then, Turner’s thesis suggests that Americans should substitute time and history with space. This is not possible, of course, but is it something Auster’s characters nevertheless try to do?

Frontiers are also one example of people’s desire for coherence. People are not just fascinated by dualism, at the same time they yearn for unity. Crossing or breaking barriers may begin as curiosity but all curiosity is in the end same as desire to own things, to make them part of one’s own world. It is an attempt to build a bridge instead of a barrier. Lefebvre even goes so far as to say that ‘[v]isible boundaries, such as walls or enclosures in general, give rise for their part to an appearance of separation between spaces where in fact what exists is an ambiguous continuity’ (1992: 87; emphasis mine). The continuous, limitless space is quite often believed to equal freedom.

New Adams and New Worlds: The New York Trilogy

One of the key figures in Auster’s City of Glass is Peter Stillman, a professor who believes in the possibility of recreating the innocent world that existed before the Tower of Babel. His belief makes Stillman very much a soul mate of the Puritan settlers of America. For him, however, the way into the promised land can be found through language. This old-new language of Eden can undo the fall and bring paradise to earth once again. According to Stillman (and his fictitious mouthpiece Henry Dark), one part of Genesis commands people to move westwards to fill the earth. Consequently he sees America as ‘the last step in the process’ (58). In Stillman’s thoughts, America, the place in-between, becomes the place where mankind finally unites again; it becomes the endpoint. The people of America will build again the Tower of Babel, but this tower will instead of becoming a barrier between heaven and earth become a bridge between the two.

What is this new language of Stillman’s like then? He collects rubbish from the streets of New York and names the broken objects again. Stillman seems to believe that language can mend things. This is not the only way of his to use language, however: when observed and mapped out by someone else, his routes through the streets form letters. Language is created by walking in space – not writing in the usual sense of the word but moving and almost as if by accident (see also p. 19 above). The letters spell ‘the Tower of Babel’ – for Stillman, New York and his language on its streets have become the new Tower, a kind of gate through which people can pass to a new paradise. As Stillman writes in his thesis, people will each have their own room in this new Tower which they will enter and there forget all they know and then be ready for the new world (59).

Stillman’s walking/writing connects the inner and the outer, it ‘bring[s] the outside in’ (74), whereas Quinn feels that his part as an observer/reader has made connections between the inner and the outer impossible for him. This situation gradually changes. According to Rowen (1991: 229-30) there are several signs that indicate that Quinn unconsciously begins to follow the old man’s quest for the prelapsarian language. He is obsessively trying to find the right way to hold his notebook while tailing Stillman so that he could see and write at the same time. Rowen (ibid. 229) sees this as ‘unimpeded melding of subject and object [which is] characteristic of language in prelapsarian world’. She also points out (ibid. 230) that Quinn’s residence in the garbage bin can be seen as

an attempt to make his outward state reflect the inward one, to link up word with thing. […] Deeper motives are also involved. The language of innocence can issue only from the mouth of innocence. Such innocence requires rebirth, and to be reborn one first must die.

The idea of rebirth is also presented by Frederick Jackson Turner in his famous Frontier Thesis (in fact a series of writings/speeches from the late 1800s): Turner sees the process that immigrants went through in the new continent as equivalent to rebirth (1976: 3). This process often meant returning to primitive conditions and then entering from this womb of hardship as new Adams. Lewis describes this new man in his book The American Adam as ‘an individual emancipated from history, happily bereft of ancestry […] the type of creator, the poet par excellence, creating language itself by naming the elements of the scene about him’ (1955: 5). Unlike Lewis’ Adam, Stillman is not unquestionably a heroic figure – he is a figure who makes us confused: a terrible man who must nevertheless be admired for his idealism, his belief in the possibility of a new world. Stillman has a dream; he is like the Puritans who travelled to the New World thinking that ‘God had given them a world mission’ (Rezé and Bowen 1979: 20). Maybe Stillman with his new language and those earlier Adams ‘display the typical American desire for a new coherence and wholeness’ that Bradbury talks about when describing the American novel (1992: 82).

Auster gives us a glimpse of this coherence in the end of City of Glass by covering the glass city in snow. Instead of transparent surfaces and letters in the streets, the last page of the book is full of papery white snow. ‘The city was entirely white now, and the snow kept falling, as though it would never end’ (158). Paper remains there for new language, for new worlds to appear.

The books of the trilogy play with the idea of dreaming of other kinds of worlds, new worlds, frontiers. As Quinn writes in his red notebook echoing Baudelaire: ‘It seems to me that I will always be happy in the place where I am not. […] Anywhere out of the world’ (132). In City of Glass this anywhere was Stillman’s new paradise, in Ghosts it is at first a traditional frontier, then China. Blue’s traditional dream is inspired by Thoreau’s Walden. After reading the book, he imagines himself ‘walking through the woods and swinging an axe over his shoulder. […] He would build his life from the bottom up, an exile, a pioneer, a pilgrim in the new world’ (222). This idyllic frontier landscape is soon shattered, however, when Black (the man Blue, a private eye as he is, is following) sneaks into Blue’s dream and brings with him a vision of death. Even though there has at first been a very clear distinction between Blue and Black, these two characters gradually start to resemble each other more and more until one day Blue enters Black’s room and ‘suddenly there is no more distance, the thing and the thought of the thing are one and the same’ (218) and ‘Black will be inside of him forever’ (ibid.).

In addition to this more traditional frontier there is another frontier – China. When Blue, like his predecessor in City of Glass, disappears in the end of the novel, the narrator toys with the image of Blue sailing to China (232). But this is only the narrator’s guesswork: in both the first and second parts of the trilogy the only frontier we can be sure of the characters having reached, is the empty page in the end.

The final part of the trilogy, The Locked Room, is even more focused on crossing the barriers to escape and find America than the first two parts. The nameless narrator of the book is trying to find his friend Fanshawe and this quest takes him to Europe (France) and back again. The narrator’s journey to the old world is a kind of death (in France he lives in a state of drunken and nightmarish dream, forgetting his normal life, forgetting time and place) – a displacement that makes it possible for him to return and be born again to find new frontiers inside America.

During his stay in Europe, the narrator feels that he is no longer able to make distinctions: ‘Apples are not oranges, peaches are not plums. You feel the difference on your tongue, and then you know, as if inside yourself. But everything was beginning to have the same taste to me’ (342). After returning to New York, he gets a message from Fanshawe and goes to meet him at Columbus Square, Boston. Before leaving for Boston, the narrator amuses his son by telling that he is going to moon, ‘They have regular flights from Boston’ (357). He is thus linking his journey to a frontier-like experience and maybe also implying that the world without distinctions does not have to be frightening or dull but that it can be full of new possibilities.

The narrator is in the end left behind the closed (double) door, but Fanshawe is so near behind the door that it feels ‘as if the words were being poured into [the narrator’s] head’ (359). The narrator and Fanshawe are too close to be utterly separated – the narrator has earlier on described their childhood by saying that their ‘fenceless backyards merged into an unbroken stretch of lawn, gravel, and dirt’ (251-2), and now, in the end, their thoughts merge so powerfully that the narrator blacks out.

Like many scholars have noted, the books of The New York Trilogy are more than anything else books about language. Russell (1990: 72) describes them as a ‘quest for correspondence between signifier and signified’ thus linking Auster’s books to the deconstructive ideas of Derrida. To Russell, these three books are ‘an incessant play of "différance" (ibid.) in which ‘[b]inary opposition is deconstructed’ (79). These certainly are books about relations and differences that seem to escape the character, writer and reader’s interpretative gaze. Even ‘the textual boundary of each volume of the trilogy disintegrates: characters in one book dream of characters in another or reappear in different disguises’ (72). Someone is always trying, however, like the old Stillman who ‘wanders through the city, trying to find the right names for the broken things he finds there and thus making whole again the fragmented Tower of Babel of the late-twentieth-century cosmos’ (Rowen 1991: 228-9).

The characters in the Trilogy try to reach unity not just through language in general but also through the world of literature. They find themselves doubles from the earlier books thus trying to see some kind of continuity in the otherwise confusing and chaotic world. City of Glass is full of Don Quixote figures who all base their worlds in more or less insane and fake missions (the question is, of course, do we not all?); in Ghosts Blue does not find his counterpart in Walden but in Hawthorne’s short story "Wakefield" in which the main character is in the end doomed ‘the Outcast of the Universe’ because of ‘stepping aside for a moment’ (1995: 598, 597); and the nameless narrator in The Locked Room gains a sort of coherence by following the footsteps of Poe’s William Wilson.

3.2. Frontier City: In the Country of Last Things

When America/USA developed, the small and crowded spaces became more common than the vast and empty ones. This led to a new notion of frontier also adopted by Auster – cities were now places waiting to be conquered, new frontiers (Ruland and Bradbury 1991: 189). Auster’s tendency to treat city as a kind of frontier is already very much apparent in The New York Trilogy but in In the Country of Last Things the description of "a frontier city" reaches its perfection.

Anna Blume travels to a nameless but still clearly recognisable (as New York) city to find her brother. The heroine of the twentieth century does not enter the new, paradisiacal world of the heroes of the seventeenth century but a chaotic, dystopian world - ‘an invisible world, a place where only blind people lived’ (18).

Since the names of Anna’s friend and her husband – Isabella and Ferdinand – remind one of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon who funded Columbus’ expeditions, they enhance Anna’s role as a new Columbus (Wesseling, 498.). The difference between these two Columbuses is that the first one (accidentally) found the beginning of the world, the second one the end of it. The difference is not so clear-cut, however: in the end of the world Anna is still dreaming of a new beginning, a new crossing behind the walls of the city.

Anna can be compared to Columbus also because of the way she sees the world anew. In order to survive, Anna has to work as a garbage collector and thus ‘look at the world in a new fashion, to think metonymically, where the part forms a new yet different whole’ (Woods 1995: 113). This notion gets us back to the earlier (see section 2.3) implied paradox: Anna needs to draw limits, make distinctions, but she also needs to find connections and form new wholes – and retain a hope that there really still exist ‘agricultural zones in the hinterlands to the west’ (28), ‘a road that takes you into open country’ (185), the gate that is ‘not [so] strictly guarded’ (ibid.).

In the end of the book Anna’s attempts to beat the imprisoning city get unexpected support from nature. When Anna observes her surroundings during their (supposedly) last night in the Woburn house, she notices that ‘the wind is blowing through the cracks in the house’ (187). A bit earlier she has stated that they will leave the next day ‘if the sky looks promising’ (ibid.), also noting that ‘[t]he thaw seems imminent’ (ibid.). Anna is now clearly putting her hope in nature instead of the city. She and her friends are ready for the new (or in fact old) frontiers after losing their old identities in the frightening city. They believe in the possibility of finding the way out, through one kind of gate or another. The wall of the house has cracks in it.

 

 

V.2 Walking on the moon: Moon Palace

 

"Moon Palace is the story of Marco Stanley Fogg – a novel that spans three generations, from the early years of this century to the first lunar landings; and that moves from the canyons of Manhattan to the cruelly beautiful landscape of the American West."

Faber and Faber

 

"A brilliant amalgam of fantasy and interior monologue, and in its Melvillian manner it will confirm Auster’s status as a most compelling writer."

Daily Telegraph

 

 

V.1.1 Summary

By Joyce Reiser Kornblatt

 

The Remarkable Journey of Marco Stanley Fogg

"It was the summer that men first walked on the moon," Marco begins, and we are off on a series of picaresque adventures that borrow quite openly from those very literary traditions that have seemed most alien to Paul Auster’s imagination. Of course Marco is an orphan; his mother dies at 29, his father is a mystery of whom not even a picture remains, and Fogg (Fogelman, actually, before an Ellis Island clerk truncates the family name) grows up with his Uncle Victor, a hapless itinerant clarinetist who leaves Marco his personal library of a thousand books. For a time, the unopened cartons serve as furniture for our impoverished student-hero; then he reads his way through them, sells them and, finally destitute, lives for awhile in Central Park, encounters as many miracles as depravities there, survives for a time in a cave and is finally rescued by his friend Zimmer and Kitty Wu, a young Chinese dancer with whom he falls in love. This is just the beginning, of course.

Mr. Auster invents an aging rich man named Thomas Effing, who hires Marco Fogg as his companion and becomes Marco’s wacky spiritual guide, tormentor and benefactor. Effing tells his own story at length (Marco writes it down as the old man dictates) so that his narrative functions as a kind of tale within the tale, its meanings opening up to us as Marco’s own saga progresses. Effing claims to have been a somewhat famous painter who, after a series of mishaps, tragedies and debacles, makes a journey on foot through the transforming landscape of the American Southwest – "the land is too big out there, and after a while it starts to swallow you up" – and survives, half mad, in a cave he fills with paintings. „He untaught himself the rules he had learned, trusting in the landscape as an equal partner,

voluntarily abandoning his intentions to the assaults of chance, of spontaneity, the onrush of brute particulars. He was no longer afraid of the emptiness around him."

In this way Mr. Auster works the mythology of the American West into Moon Palace, its beauty and

violence and Indian mysticism a counterpoint to the gritty New York terrain the rest of the novel details. And it is no surprise that the final leg of Marco Fogg’s odyssey takes our hero himself to that primal landscape. But not before he discovers the shocking truth about Effing’s long-lost son, Solomon Barber, an obese itinerant history professor (and of course his scholarly focus is the American West) who has also written a kind of futuristic pulp western, which we hear about at some length. In a moment of rage, Marco attacks Solomon Barber, his dear friend seemingly turned traitor, and the larger-than-life father figure falls, fatally injured, into a freshly dug double grave, feet away from Marco’s own beloved mother’s grave, which Marco has taken Barber to visit on their journey west.

With Effing and Barber dead and Marco’s relationship with Kitty Wu ruined by the abortion she insists she needs and Marco cannot accept, the novel comes full circle: Marco Stanley Fogg is alone again, orphaned many times over, destitute, lost this time not in Central Park but in that place in the world most like the moon, the American Southwest. For four months he wanders – "For the first two weeks, I was like someone who had been struck by lightning. I thundered inside myself, I wept, I howled like a madman, but then, little by little, the anger seemed to burn itself out, and I settled into the rhythm of my steps." Like many proper archetypal American heroes, Marco ends his quest in California, in Laguna Beach. "This is where I start, I said to myself, this is where my life begins."

Moon Palace (the title refers to a Chinese restaurant in New York) is held together by unlikely coincidences. All the characters are eccentrics who border on caricature, yet their struggles are heartfelt and complex. The plot of the novel is so unbelievable, its narrator often has trouble being convinced by it himself. And the motifs are extremely familiar: the beleaguered orphan, the missing father, the doomed romance, the squandered fortune, the totemic power of the West, the journey as initiation. Yet the story is, finally, so good-hearted and hopeful, so verbally exuberant, that its obvious architecture, its shameless borrowings, may be forgivable.

 

 

V.1.2 The Novelist Out of Control

Paul Auster comments on Moon Palace himself – by Michael Freitag

When he starts to write a novel, Paul Auster said, "I begin with a personality, rather than an idea. And the person becomes very real to me. It’s almost as though I give myself up and enter into that other consciousness."

The process is not as impulsive as it is reckless. "It’s a funny thing," Mr. Auster said, "but I’m not actually in control of what I’m doing. I think a lot of writers feel this way." He was talking on the telephone from the Brooklyn studio – he doesn’t work at home – where he wrote Moon Palace, his fifth novel.

"The story and the characters become so real," he said, "that they lead you along. It’s a matter of following them correctly and not pushing them off the track."

But even the surest of foot, of course, cannot always stay the course. "Early on in every project I’ve gone off track and had to throw away six, eight months’ work," Mr. Auster said. "There is an idea that’s shining through all the material somehow, and the obligation is to find that core and stick to it."

Mr. Auster, who is 42 years old, said that it took a long time for him to find the idea that, quite literally, shines through Moon Palace. (The book takes its name from a Chinese restaurant – and its bright neon sign – on Broadway near the campus of Columbia University). "This novel was knocking around in my head for many years before I actually sat down and wrote it," he said. "Then the sign came in at a certain point and was a way of crystallizing all the images and unifying the book for me."

"In some sense, this is my first novel, but I wrote it later," Mr. Auster continued. "And now I’m working on something else as hard as I can to try to keep my mind off the publication of it."

In his new novel, Mr. Auster said, he probably will once again touch upon many of the themes that appear in his earlier works, such as solitude and the search for a father. "I think it’s simply that one’s inner life burns with the same problems all the time. You never get rid of them," he said. "I try to be as different as I can in each book, but of course I keep discovering myself. I have no choice in the matter."

V.1.3 Chapter’s Survey

 

V.1.3.1 Chapter One

The opening paragraph puts the novel in a nutshell: all the major events and characters in the life of Marco Stanley Fogg are mentioned, so that the suspense shifts from the ‘what …?’ to the ‘how …?’ "It was the summer that men first walked on the moon" is the opening sentence, the summer being that of 1969. However the second paragraph leads the reader back again to an earlier year: 1965, when Marco moves to New York to study at Columbia University. He quickly briefly sums up the events that take place before he finally (p. 8, l. 46) starts to recount his life’s story from what one might consider to be the beginning – his earliest childhood memories.

His mother, Emily Fogg, was knocked down by a bus and killed when he was very young, and it was his uncle, Victor Fogg, who brought him up in Chicago. Uncle Victor is a clarinettist who started off by playing in the best orchestras and ended up playing up odd gigs in a small combo. He initiates Marco into the worlds of baseball and of books, stories and films. When Victor marries a widow, Dora Shamsky, Marco has a hard time dealing with the couple’s rows and spends his last three school years at a boarding school. Finally, Victor sets off on a tour through the West with his new band, the Moon Men, while Marco heads off to New York. Before they part Victor gives Marco 1492 books packed into 76 cartons, which formed the furniture in Marco’s apartment.

On his first evening in the apartment he notices the ‘Moon Palace’ sign of the Chinese restaurant and feels that the apartment is filled with meaning as the words Moon remind him of his uncle’s band, the Moon Men.

However, Victor’s bands soon split up and he ends up selling encyclopaedias before dying of a heart failure – a devastating blow to Marco who has lost his last link to his family as well as someone he loved.

Despite his deteriorating financial situation, Marco continues to study for his college degree and refuses to look for a way out of his financially weak situation.

As a way of mourning the death of his uncle, Marco starts to read the books his uncle has left him indiscriminately, thereby acquiring a vast but rather arbitrary literary knowledge, before gradually selling the books off. With his funds reduced to nothing, Marco undergoes a process of physical and spiritual transformation: as his room becomes progressively emptier, Marco gradually disconnects himself from the world (his telephone is disconnected, he stops eating in restaurants), while opening himself to new spiritual spaces. He starts to lose weight.

He watches the moon landing, which strikes him as a violation, and the ‘Moon Palace’ sign, which leads his mind to associate various elements from his life.

In a state of total physical exhaustion he tries to contact his only friend, Zimmer, but finds instead a group of young people gathered around a breakfast table. Among them is a girl, Kitty Wu. The two feel strangely attracted to each other. After gorging himself on food, Marco wants to pay back his hosts by recounting journeys to the moon by human beings that had supposedly taken place before the moon landing of 1969. When he is about to leave, Kitty unexpectedly kisses Marco good-bye.

Unable to pay his rent any longer, his eviction notice arrives, and finally Marco is forced to leave the apartment and prepare for a life on the streets.

 

V.1.3.2 Chapter Two

After recounting his rescue by Kitty Wu and Zimmer right at the beginning of the chapter, Marco then tells us about his wanderings through New York with all the coincidental occurrences and improbable situations that he encounters.

He wanders the streets of New York, heading south away from the area around Columbia University. He discovers a $10 bill on the pavement and interprets this as meaning that all will turn out well for him, so he treats himself to a good meal. He then goes to a movie theatre, which is full of homeless people. The movie being showed is Around the World in 80 Days, which reminds him of his uncle. At first he sees this as being good luck, but then he reflects on his situation and realises how miserable he is.

His moods continue to change – his spirits are up one minute and down the next, according to his experiences or memories.

He is fearful of sleeping on the streets, where he might be attacked, is repulsed by the idea of staying in a flophouse, and realises that he could not sleep in the subway, and so he turns his back on the city and discovers that Central Park is an ideal place for his roamings, especially at night when he finds shelter under bushes and later in a cave.

He discovers that Central Park offers him refuge, because unlike on the streets, people allow you a certain kind of freedom to act as you wish. Whereas he is forced to see himself as others see him on the streets, he can return to his inner life in the Park. Moreover, people help him by giving him food and allowing him to participate in a ball game.

During the day he looks for food, meets people, keeps up with political events and sports news, and thus leads a ‘busy’ life full of variety, in which chance seems to decide his moves and experiences. He is basically at ease with himself and the world.

A change for the worse occurs when, following a storm, Marco gets some kind of fever. In the end he is completely exhausted, famished, but too weak to move or eat and finally lapses into delirious visions about the ‘Moon Palace’ sign and Indians in Manhattan before being miraculously found by his friends. When he sees Kitty, he calls her Pocahontas. Zimmer just calls him ‘a dumb bastard’.

 

V.1.3.3 Chapter Three

Zimmer takes care of Marco during his period of convalescence and shares his small apartment and funds with him.

Marco discovers by chance that he is due to report to the drafts commission. Physically and mentally unprepared, he submits to the examination and tries to explain his present state of poor health and extreme frailty to the army psychiatrist. Rated unfit for military service, Marco is spared further political investigation.

Gradually Marco becomes his former self again and learns from Zimmer that Kitty Wu’s feelings for him go beyond those of mere pity. Zimmer informs him of Kitty’s life story: she too is an orphan and has lived through an odyssey of political exiles, moving from China to Taiwan and Tokyo and finally to America. So, when Kitty comes to see him again, he responds to her with passion. They become lovers and from then on, life gains a new quality for Marco. She makes him feel confident and comfortable. He is now ready to stand on his own two feet again and finds a job as a live-in companion to an old man in a wheelchair.

V.1.3.4 Chapter Four

Thomas Effing, Marco’s new employer, turns out to be a blind, despotic and rude man, unpredictable in his moods, with often disgusting manners. At the same time he possesses a keen intellect and a broad general knowledge, and he is capable of displaying sympathy for others. While pushing Effing in his wheelchair through the streets of upper Manhattan, Marco is asked to describe the visible world to Effing; this becomes an intellectual exercise and challenge for Marco, who gradually learns to convey the essence of things around him with words. It is also Marco’s job to read to Effing from his large library. From books they turn to newspapers, especially the obituaries

It becomes clear that Effing wants Marco to write down the story of his life, or rather that of his life as Julian Barber, his former identity. Born into a rich family in New York, Barber had embarked on a successful career as a painter. Before getting started on the actual story, Effing sends Marco on a journey to the Brooklyn Museum, where he is to study a specific painting by Blakelock called "Moonlight" a moonlit landscape with an Indian encampment, which Marco comes to see as a memorial for a bygone period in American history.

Effing begins the narration of Julian Barber. As a young painter he is attracted to the scenery of Long Island, acknowledging an artistic kinship with romantic painters like Blakelock and Thomas Moran, but he is also familiar with other important artists and artistic movements in New York at the beginning of the century. Moreover, he is fascinated by the inventor Nicola Tesla, who seems to represent the progressive spirit of the time. He first saw him at the Columbia Exposition in 1893, and then again when Tesla built a laboratory in Shoreham, near to where the Barbers lived.

Barber’s marriage to Elizabeth Wheeler results in failure and to get away from her, he sets off on an artistic expedition to the West, accompanied by a young geologist, Edward Byrne. Barber is fascinated by the landscape of the West. However, their guide, with whom they have a very difficult relationship, leads them into a dangerous area in the mountains. Byrne’s horse loses its footing and falls down the rocky slope, leaving Byrne seriously injured. The guide abandons them and Byrne dies three days later. Barber is completely alone and believes he is about to go crazy.

 

V.1.3.5 Chapter Five

With his supplies gone, Barber’s condition is next to hopeless, when he discovers a cave at the top of a cliff. To his surprise he finds the interior fully equipped with supplies; a dead man, who has been killed, is lying in the bed. He decides to adopt the dead man’s identity and lives in the cave. A period of deep happiness and extraordinary artistic productivity begins. He starts to paint again and becomes immersed in his work, covering all his canvases and, when they run out, his furniture and then the cave walls.

He is soon visited by an Indian, George Ugly-Mouth, who takes him for the dead man. He finds out that the dead man had been involved with a gang of outlaws called the Gresham brothers, whose return is only a matter of time. When they do finally come, Barber ambushes them and kills them in cold blood. In their saddle-bags he finds a large amount of money. He leaves the cave and begins a new life as Thomas Effing in San Francisco; by investing the money wisely he soon becomes very rich. He leads a life of luxury, yet cannot enjoy it for fear of having his identity revealed by someone from the past. Feelings of guilt become so strong that he seeks oblivion in opium, women and gambling. One night he is attacked by an unknown assailant and loses the use of his legs. He sees his fate as a kind of punishment and decides to move to Paris, where he meets Pavel Shum. They move to the USA just before the outbreak of World War II. The remaining years of his life seem uninteresting to Effing.

Once Effing has finished his story, Marco draws up three versions of Effing’s, a short one for the newspapers, a longer one for an art magazine, and finally the longest and fullest account. Effing presents him with three books by Solomon Barber, a historian, who turns out to be Effing’s son. His existence was only discovered by Effing by chance. Marco is to send the long version of the obituary to Barber after Effing’s death, the date of which is set by Effing himself for May 12th.

During the remaining two months of his life Effing and Marco distribute a total of $20,000 in cash to total strangers. The idea is to return the Greshams’ money to the people. One of the characters they meet is Orlando, who presents Effing with the frame of an umbrella. On the last night on which they

are to hand out the money, Effing takes the umbrella and exposes himself to the rain, catches pneumonia and finally dies on the predestined day. His ashes are scattered over the Hudson River and Marco is left with an inheritance of $7,000.

 

V.1.3.6 Chapter Six

Marco and Kitty move into a flat in Chinatown and experience a period of extreme happiness living together. The newspapers and periodicals turn down Effing’s obituaries, but Solomon Barber responds to Marco’s letter and comes to meet him in New York. A man of immense obesity, Barber soon wins Marco’s friendship through his intelligence and politeness.

We learn that Barber had been a history professor at Emily Fogg’s college in Oldburn, Ohio, but was dismissed when he and Emily were found in bed together. He never knew that Emily gave birth to his son as she refused to see him again. He continued teaching at various minor Midwestern colleges, where he was well-liked by his students. His attempts to contact Emily again were rebutted, first by Emily herself, then by Uncle Victor, who feared losing custody of his nephew. Solomon’s own childhood had been an unhappy one, with his mother being mentally unstable and his father believed dead. At the age of 17 he wrote a novel, Kepler’s Blood, which reveals the effect the lack of knowledge about his father had on the young boy. Upon his mother’s death he learns from his Aunt Clara that his birth had been the cause of his mother’s mental instability.

When Marco meets Barber again some months later, the latter is on leave from his college and is living in New York. He wants Marco and Kitty to join him on an excursion to Utah to find Effing’s cave. However, Kitty finds out that she is pregnant, and decides to have an abortion. Marco cannot accept her decision and leaves her.

 

V.1.3.7 Chapter Seven

Marco moves in with Solomon Barber, but cannot get over his separation from Kitty. Barber makes several unsuccessful attempts to reconcile the two but fails and finally persuades Marco to go on an expedition to the West with him to look for Effing’s cave. They first drive to Chicago, where Marco wants to visit the graves of his mother and uncle. Barber breaks down in tears beside Emily Fogg’s grave, and Marco begins to realize who his father is. His immediate reactions are so hostile that Barber backs away and falls into an open grave. Seriously injured, Barber is taken to hospital, where he spends his last two months. An intimate relationship then develops between the two men, and Barber tells him the story of his life (which is told in Chapter Six).

After Barber’s death Marco buries him next to his mother and sets out on the planned trip in search of Effing’s cave alone. He is as impressed as his grandfather was with the immense emptiness of the landscape of the West. However, he learns that the area where the cave must have been was flooded many years earlier to create the artificial Lake Powell. He hires a boat and cruises along the lake, but when he returns to his car, he finds that it and most of his money have been stolen. Angry and disillusioned, he starts walking and continues for the next three months until he reaches the Pacific coast, where he feels the sand on his feet and watches the moon rise and take its place in the darkness.

 

 

V.1.4 The Meanings of the Moon in Moon Palace

Moon

In this interview, published in The Red Notebook, Paul Auster looks at the meanings of the moon on Moon Palace.

The moon is many things all at once, a touchstone. It’s the moon as myth, as ‘radiant Diana, image of all that is dark within us’; the imagination, love, madness. At the same time, it’s the moon as object, as celestial body, as lifeless stone hovering in the sky. But it’s also the longing for what is not, the unattainable, the human desire for transcendence. And yet it’s history as well, particularly American history. First, there’s Columbus, then there was the discovery of the west, then finally there is outer space: the moon as the last frontier. But Columbus had no idea that he’d discovered America. He thought he had sailed to India, to China. In some sense Moon Palace is the embodiment of that misconception, an attempt to think of America as China. But the moon is also repetition, the cyclical nature of human experience. There are three stories in the book, and each one is finally the same. Each generation repeats the mistakes of the previous generation. So it’s also a critique of the notion of progress.

(Interview with Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory, The Red Notebook, Faber & Faber, Boston,1995)

 

 

 

VI. Autobiographic Context in Auster’s Works

 

During Paul Auster’s College years he met a strange guy named ‘Doc’. H.L. Humes, which was his real name, was a ravaged, burnt-out writer who had run aground on the shoals of his own consciousness, and rather than give up and renounce life altogether, he had manufactured this little farce to boost his morale. This ‘little farce’ yet wasn’t so little after all. ‘Doc’ handed his inheritance in the shape of 50$ bills out to strangers he met in the streets. The same ‘kind act’ did Thomas Effing in Moon Palace. Shortly before he died he distributed 20,000$ shared in 50$ bills to strangers.

Paul Auster’s uncle Allan Mandelbaum inherited him a great amount of books. The young Auster read them all, just like M.S. Fogg whose inheritance had been a lot of books, too.

Comparing these two parallels one will indeed discover another parallel. The mentioned excerpts from Paul Auster’s Moon Palace describe a reoccurring motif in all of his fiction work. Having read both Auster’s fiction and his autobiography Hand to Mouth it will become obvious that he mixes his fiction with parts or anecdotes of his own life.

The fact that Auster actually uses his own life’s experiences to write his books has given his audience a lot of food for thinking. It is quite difficult to imagine such a thing although fiction should be fiction and the autobiography should tell about his life. Thinking about it now leads us to the following questions:

Why would Paul Auster – and other writers – do such a thing?

To what extend do his autobiographies retell his life? or, in a related matter:

Did these recurring specifics really happen?

 

In order to get the reader familiar with this topic I want to quote some more examples of autobio-graphic context before I will enter into the questions.

In Leviathan Peter Aaron’s (Paul Auster’s) second wife is called Iris (Siri [backwards]). Peter in the book has a son with his first wife Lillian (Lydia) called David (Daniel) and then a daughter with his Iris called Sonia (Sophie). Peter Aaron himself, like Auster, spent some time in France before he returned to New York. He studied at Columbia University, so did Paul Auster. His first marriage was over around 1980, so was Paul Auster’s. Both then lived in Varick Street. Both were professor at Princeton. Peter writes a novel entitled ‘Luna’ which is close to Auster’s Moon Palace. One could also see a link between the detective in New York Trilogy and the work of Maria Turner: they both follow someone in the street but, of course, the purpose is different.

After Paul Auster had not been drafted into military service in 1969 his stepfather arranged a job on an Esso oil tanker in 1970. But before going aboard there was a lot of paperwork to take care of. In the meantime he took a temporary job with the United States Census Bureau, collecting data for the 1970 census in Harlem. The same job had the unknown narrator in The Locked Room.

Now after getting his Merchant Seaman’s card he was able to spend several months on the Esso Florence. This story appears in the third volume of the New York Trilogy as well. The disappeared writer Fanshawe used to work on an oil tanker himself.

 

Now after these examples we are ready to face the first question. Why would Paul Auster – and other writers – do such a thing?

It’s fairly obvious that Paul Auster’s writing is all about recurring specifics. I think, half the joy in reading an Auster, is in returning to these recurring specifics…the landscapes of familiarity. These are the silent bookmarks of his life for us to feel; their resonance moving us in ways that provoke, disturb, sadden, delight…

But aren’t all books in some way autobiographic? For me Auster just pulls on surface what every writer actually does. He plays more obviously the game, the delicated balance between inner view and objective reality. In my opinion, every one who feels the need to write, does so because of a strong steam inside that needs urgently to find an outdoor. Soul has also its own autobiography, some times more ‘real’ than reality, has its own memories, so it’s a more total life’s painting.

So, every book carries first of all an autobiographic space, even dressed under other clothes. You just can’t write without it. In Auster’s case it just stands naked, trying a direct touch to the reader. It’s an ingenious view of writing, as you immediately get the sense of a personal trust. Just as he first opens his home door, he invites you into his untidy ‘rooms’, so you can feel comfortable with your own soul’s mess.

A second attempt at answering this question would be the thought that writing a book is like turning the inside out, exposing your soul to the readers. I’m thinking of John Grisham, for example, he often writes about lawyers and their difficult cases. He used to be one himself but he couldn’t get self confirmation so he found ‘his’ job – being a writer. Now he’s able to write about lawyers who win great cases pretending – maybe just for himself – to be the hero of his novels himself. What I’m driving at is that Auster maybe didn’t want to become a writer, but now, through his figures living a different life, he can imagine and yet not abandon his own. I think he is reinventing himself in all of his works containing those details. Maybe he wanted to be like them in former times; and now there is room for some imagination, how it would have probably been as a detective etc. Thus a writer can live many different lives without changing his actual one.

 

Talking about Paul Auster the more decisive question is whether his fiction is still fiction and whether his autobiography tells the truth about his life or not.

I think one can say there can’t be any writing without any autobiographical influence. But with Auster there is more to it. He consciously plays with the reader by blurring the line between fiction and reality. Think of the NYT, where Quinn represents Auster’s former ego, when he got divorced from his first wife and was forced to write a (supposedly) shallow detective story (Squeeze Play) to survive. The fictional Auster in NYT, then, is the kind of person Auster wanted to be (or probably already had become) at the time he wrote the trilogy. So what the actual author does, is that he lifts the reader out of the fictional context into his own reality where both, reader and writer are able to reinvent themselves. Think of how Quinn does the same kind of thing: he lifts the fictional character of Max Work onto his own level of reality (which for us, of course, is the fictional reality of City of Glass) in order to use it to become the "fictional" Paul Auster, who in turn is just a reflection of the „actual" Paul Auster. It’s all a postmodern game, but it’s a recurring motif in Auster’s work. Think of M.S. Fogg in Moon Palace, who reinvents himself by writing down his life story on Pacific Shore, one of the oldest motifs in American fiction. Think of Anna Blume and her life story and of Fanshawe in Locked Room. And think about how these autobiographies are not really autobiographies. First of all, their "authors" are fictional themselves, second, they are not so much an attempt of telling one’s own life but rather of making sense of what happened to their narrators. And now consider Auster’s own autobiographies, which are highly fictional themselves. There is the opportunity to refuse to talk about them as autobiographies, they are rather Auster’s fictional attempt to narrate his own life. Hence the subtitle of Hand to Mouth: "A Chronicle of Early Failure"...

It’s all highly complex and then again its just as easy as a game can be, because after all it only is the postmodern game.

 

Now to encourage the reader to keep on thinking about this quite difficult topic I want to quote Auster himself in Moon Palace, when Marco reflects on the truth of Effing’s story:

"After a while, I stopped wondering whether he was telling me the truth or not. His narrative had taken on a phantasmagoric quality by then, and there were times when he did not seem to be remembering the outward facts of his life so much as inventing a parable to explain its inner meanings"

 

 

 

 

VII. Interview by Fiona Ehlers for ‘Der Spiegel’

 

Interview with Paul Auster in the online issue of the German magazine „Der Spiegel".

„Auf Schock folgt Schönheit"

Der New Yorker Schriftsteller Paul Auster spricht im Interview über eine Stadt, die über sich hinauswächst – und hoffentlich die alte bleibt.

kulturSPIEGEL: Herr Auster, hätten Sie jemals gedacht, dass es Menschen gibt, die New York so sehr hassen?

Auster: Nein, jedenfalls nicht in diesem Ausmaß. Gewiss, wir New Yorker waren es gewohnt, unsere Stadt gegen den Rest der Welt zu verteidigen. Weil diese Stadt immer schon anders war als andere - zu groß, zu kosmopolitisch und zu widersprüchlich, um jemals wirklich begriffen zu werden. New York ist eine Stadt, die Angst einjagt und auch viele Menschen neidisch macht.

kulturSPIEGEL: Ihre erste Reaktion nach den Anschlägen klang wie eine verspätete Einsicht: „Wir alle wussten, dass dies geschehen könnte. Jahrelang haben wir davon gesprochen."

Auster: Es stimmt, wir waren gewarnt. Wir hätten blind und taub sein müssen, wenn wir nichts geahnt hätten – das Bombenattentat vor acht Jahren, Anschläge auf die U-Bahn. Es lag einfach in der Luft. Aber nun, da die Tragödie passiert ist, ist alles noch viel schlimmer. Niemand ist überrascht. Aber jeder ist schockiert von der Art und Weise, wie es passiert ist. Entführte Flugzeuge, die vom Himmel fallen, als wäre es der Plot eines B-Movies.

kulturSPIEGEL: Was ist das Schmerzlichste in diesen Tagen?

Auster: Dass niemand von uns unberührt bleibt. Zum ersten Mal, seit ich denken kann,

geht hier eine Sache jeden Einzelnen an. Jeder kennt jemanden, der unter den Trümmern liegt. Oder er kennt jemanden, der jemanden kennt. Es klafft jetzt eine große Wunde im Herzen der Stadt. Und wir New Yorker spüren das wie niemand sonst. Weil wir eine seltsame Beziehung haben zu unserer Stadt. So eine Art Beschützerinstinkt, wie eine ängstliche Mutter zu ihrem Kind.

kulturSPIEGEL: Wo waren Sie zur Zeit der Anschläge?

Auster: Ich hatte gerade meine 14jährige Tochter Sophie zur U-Bahn-Station in Brooklyn gebracht. Sophie war sehr aufgeregt, ihr erster Tag auf der High School in Manhattan. Als ich wieder zu Hause war, so gegen 9 Uhr, rief mich eine Kollegin an und stammelte etwas von schrecklichen Bildern im Fernsehen. Ich rannte hoch auf unser Dach, dort hat man den schönsten Ausblick auf die Skyline von Manhattan. Ich sah schwarze Rauchschwaden aus Downtown aufsteigen. Dann lief ich runter zum Fernseher, die zweite Maschine stürzte ab. Ich begriff, dass es kein Radarfehler gewesen sein konnte. Meine Frau Siri schrieb gerade einen Brief an einen Freund der Familie, der im Sterben liegt. Gemeinsam liefen wir zwischen Dach und Fernseher hin und her. Wir wussten nicht, welchen Bildern wir glauben sollten.

kulturSPIEGEL: Wo war Ihre Tochter zu diesem Zeitpunkt?

Auster: Sie war mittlerweile in Sicherheit. Wir riefen Freunde in Uptown an, bei denen sie bleiben konnte bis zum nächsten Tag. Dann endlich trauten wir uns aus dem Haus. Meine Frau und ich wollten wählen gehen, schließlich sollten am 11. September Bürgermeister-Vorwahlen stattfinden.

Einfach unglaublich - auch an diesem Tag dachten wir noch an unsere demokratische Pflicht.

 

kulturSPIEGEL: Hatte sich die Stadt bereits verändert?

Auster: Es war totenstill draußen. Fassungslosigkeit lag in der Luft und dieser schreckliche Geruch aus Plastik, Gummi und Stahl, der mir bis heute in der Nase hängt. Ich sah ein paar Menschen mit Kerzen in den Händen über die Straßen ziehen. Angelockt von den Lichtern, kamen immer mehr aus ihren Häusern, plötzlich waren wir Tausende. Wir nahmen uns alle an den Händen und drückten die trauernden Feuerwehrleute. Es war sehr schwer, nicht in Tränen auszubrechen.

kulturSPIEGEL: Wie verbringen Sie seitdem Ihre Tage?

Auster: Ich bin sehr depressiv. Ich versuche, mich zu beschäftigen, etwas Nützliches zu tun, auch wenn es nicht viel zu tun gibt. Manchmal gehe ich in unsere kleine Buchhandlung, hier in der 7. Straße.

kulturSPIEGEL: Die New Yorker suchten Trost in Büchern?

Auster: Nein, niemand liest Bücher dieser Tage. Nur diese schrecklichen Zeitungsberichte über das, was war. Unsere Buchhandlung wurde umfunktioniert zu einem Hilfszentrum für die Opfer. Meine Nachbarn und ich spenden Blut, sammeln Kleidung, Zigaretten, Verbandszeug. Und keiner kann Worte finden für das Unglück.

kulturSPIEGEL: In Ihren Büchern über New York beschreiben Sie die Stadt als Ort der Einsamkeit, in dem die Zerbrochenheit allgegenwärtig ist. „Die ganze Stadt ist ein Schrotthaufen", klagt eine Ihrer Figuren in der „New York-Trilogie".

Auster: Diese Zeilen lesen sich grausam jetzt, ich weiß. Aber ich bin es nicht, der diese Sätze sagt. Es sind meine Figuren. Trotzdem stimmt es: New York war nie ein bequemer Ort, sondern einer, in dem man sich verlieren konnte. Ich habe lange Zeit das New York meiner Jugend vermisst, dieses Gefühl, zu Hause zu sein, so wie nirgendwo sonst auf der Welt. Ich denke gern zurück an die Wohnung meiner Großeltern am Columbus Circle oder an das Bürogebäude meines Großvaters in der 57. Straße; dort begann ich mit dem Schreiben. Es stimmt auch, ich litt lange unter der Art und Weise, wie sie unsere Stadt zum Disneyland rausputzten.

kulturSPIEGEL: Weil New York plötzlich mehr San Diego glich als sich selbst?

Auster: So ungefähr. Aber auf der anderen Seite ist New York eine Stadt, in der die ganze Welt zu Hause ist. Oder besser gesagt: zu Hause war. Aber letztendlich wird auch die Figur aus der „New York-Trilogie" gerettet. Es ist eben eine Stadt voller Widersprüche. Das ist es, was sie so magisch macht.

kulturSPIEGEL: Wird das New York von morgen etwas einbüßen von dieser Magie?

Auster: Wenn die New Yorker eines gelernt haben von ihrer Stadt, dann dies: Nach jedem Schock folgt wieder Schönheit. Du biegst um eine Straßenecke und siehst Menschen, die betteln oder sich prügeln. Und einen Block weiter siehst du ein Liebespaar im Park, schöne Menschen, Häuser aus dem vorigen Jahrhundert. So ist New York - und das Schönste daran: Alles ist unvorhersehbar, jeden Augenblick kann sich alles ins Gegenteil kehren. So hart das auch klingen mag in diesen Tagen.

kulturSPIEGEL: New Yorker lieben es, ihren Stadtteilen Namen zu geben. Das Viertel über dem ausgelöschten Südteil nennen sie bereits „Noa" - nördlich der Apokalypse.

Auster: O Boy. Ja, so sind wir eben. Für mich hieß diese Gegend immer nur Downtown. Jetzt ist es ein namenloser Ort.

kulturSPIEGEL: Das World Trade Center stand für Geld und Macht, es war jenseits der Stadt, über die Sie schreiben. Waren Sie oft dort?

Auster: Ja. Ich mochte es, zur Rushhour den vielen Tausenden von Menschen zuzusehen, wie sie in die Fahrstühle strömten, immer umgeben und beschützt von diesem mächtigen Schutzschild aus Stahl und Glas. Obwohl ich das Gebäude nie mochte, es sogar ziemlich hässlich fand, war es für mich ein Symbol für Freiheit, für Leichtigkeit und Hoffnung. Weil ich in den siebziger Jahren dort einmal einen Mann gesehen habe, der zwischen den Türmen auf einem Seil tanzte.

kulturSPIEGEL: Mögen Sie die Idee, das World Trade Center so schnell wie möglich wieder aufzubauen?

Auster: Eine bessere Idee wäre, dort ein Mahnmal mit den Namen der Toten zu errichten, einen Park etwa. Andererseits: Wir brauchen die Büroflächen. Und ich weiß auch, wie schnell es geht, dass eine Generation vergisst, worunter die vorherige noch zu leiden hatte.

kulturSPIEGEL: Sie meinen die Gedenkstätten überall in der Stadt, die an den Bürgerkrieg erinnern sollen?

Auster: Genau, die sind zur Architektur geworden, keiner denkt mehr an die Tragödie von vor 135 Jahren. Oder denken Sie an den Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. Ihr seht in euren Köpfen noch immer die riesige Lücke, die dort bis nach der Wende klaffte. Eure Kinder aber werden nur noch Neubauten sehen, glatt und glänzend.

kulturSPIEGEL: Und alles wird sein wie immer?

Auster: Nach einer Weile gewiss. Meine Tochter erzählte mir, dass sie schon wenige Tage nach der Katastrophe zwei Frauen in der U-Bahn bei einem Streit beobachtet hat - als sei alles wie immer. Die eine riss der anderen an den Haaren, beide brüllten – wahrscheinlich ging es um einen Mann. Das ist doch beruhigend. Wir sind noch nicht am Ende. Das Leben geht weiter.

kulturSPIEGEL: Haben Sie jemals daran gedacht, Ihre Stadt zu verlassen?

Auster: Früher wollte ich rausziehen aufs Land. Das will doch hier jeder von Zeit zu Zeit. Jetzt aber ist das anders. Wir werden bleiben - das war mir noch sie so klar wie jetzt.

kulturSPIEGEL: Sie haben einmal gesagt, Ihre Stadt sei zu groß, um sie in Worte zu fassen. Gibt es jetzt ein Bild für New York?

Auster: Ich glaube, in meinem Kopf beginnt langsam eines zu reifen. Auch gut eine Woche nach der Tragödie sehe ich immer wieder Menschen, die sich gegenseitig helfen, selbstlos und demütig. Ich sehe einen Bürgermeister, dessen Politik ich immer abgelehnt habe und der jetzt über sich hinauswächst. Er zeigt Zuneigung für die Menschen in dieser Stadt. Mein Bild für New York: Ich beginne gerade, mich wieder neu in diese Stadt zu verlieben. New York hat harte Zeiten vor sich, aber es wird überleben.

kulturSPIEGEL: Falling in love again – ein schöner Gedanke.

Auster: Und ein Bild, das ist wie das Leben. Liebe, mit allem, was dazugehört – Angst und Besorgnis, Zärtlichkeit und vor allem Hoffnung.

Interview: Fiona Ehlers

 

 

IX. Source Materials used

 

 

 

Paul Auster’s official Website; collection of links to sites of related topics like e.g. biography, bibliography, articles @ http://www.paulauster.co.uk

published by faber & faber 1987

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Special Thanks To

 

 

 

Stuart Pilkington

webmaster of http://www.paulauster.co.uk, whose website provided essential information to this report and who decisively helped to develop chapter VI.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

created by Manuel Pollak MMII