The gift of friendship
Paul Auster’s fiction and film
in The politics of male friendship in contemporary American fiction
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This chapter draws on the anthropology of the gift to examine forms of reciprocity between male friends in Paul Auster’s fiction and screenplays. Beginning with a discussion of Auster’s published correspondence with J. M. Coetzee, the chapter argues that Auster critiques liberal individualism by imagining networks of solidarity and alliance born of generosity. Focusing on three novels that Auster tells Coetzee are ‘stories about male friendship’, the first half of the chapter takes up the metaphor of correspondence to follow the ambiguous forms of textual exchange patterning these fictions. The second half explores the role of money as an alternative ‘currency of friendship’ in Auster’s work to further delineate his concern with relationships of indebtedness and obligation across his oeuvre. Closing with a reading of the 1995 film Smoke, the chapter reveals how Auster’s various portrayals of male friendship demonstrate an interest in questions of community and citizenship that has gone unrecognised in critical accounts of his work.

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