This book provides an extended analysis of Paul Auster's essays, poetry, fiction, films and collaborative projects. It explores his key themes of identity; language and writing; metropolitan living and community; and storytelling and illusion. By tracing how Auster's representations of New York and city life have matured from a position of urban nihilism to qualified optimism, the book shows how the variety of forms he works in influences the treatment of his central concerns. The chapters are organised around gradually extending spaces to reflect the way in which Auster's work broadens its focus, beginning with the poet's room and finishing with the global metropolis of New York: his home city and often his muse. The book uses Auster's published and unpublished literary essays to explain the shifts from the dense and introspective poems of the 1970s, through the metropolitan fictions of the 1980s and early 1990s, to the relatively optimistic and critically acclaimed films, and his return to fiction in recent years.
1111 2 3 4 5111 6 7 8 9 10111 11 2 3111 4 5 6 7 8 9 20111 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 30111 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 91 40111 1 Rooms Paul Auster has consistently taken the city of New York as a central feature in his work. The city inhabits his essays, novels and films both as a backdrop against which the plots unfold, and as an active agent in their outcomes. In 1988, Auster told Allan Reich: ‘New York is the most important place for me’ (Reich, 1988: n.p.). Around the same time, in a comment subsequently edited from the published interview, he told Larry McCaffrey and Sinda
2 Streets The New York Trilogy is a volume of three interconnected novels – City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986) – originally published separately, but brought together as a single edition in 1987. Each book of the Trilogy is a detective story, but each takes the themes and the structural conventions of the genre and subverts them. The first story, ‘City of Glass’, follows a detective writer, Daniel Quinn, who inadvertently becomes a detective in the name of his author, Paul Auster. Quinn is hired to protect Peter Stillman from his
walking tour and history of the neighbourhood around what is now Ground Zero. In this ‘sonic memorial soundwalk’, he describes himself as ‘Paul Auster; writer, New Yorker’, and guides the listener on a tour of ‘the streets of lower Manhattan’ (Auster, 2005b) that has the same geographical exactness as Quinn’s plotting of Stillman’s footsteps (and his own) around the Upper West Side. Auster’s belief in the angelic patience of his fellow New Yorkers, and the power of the soundwalk project to join people – victims and witnesses – together, suggest that Auster has travelled
. But, in other ways, the focus also expands to embrace the larger 162 Paul Auster metropolitan and global processes beyond the boundaries of neighbourhood, which impact on the daily lives of those individuals. There has been a dichotomy in urban theory between exploration of the quotidian experience of the metropolis, and discursive study of urban process. As this study has shown, Fredric Jameson has attempted to ‘disalienate’ the metropolis (itself another way of describing ‘re-enchantment’) by extending the discoveries of local positioning to allow us to
chapter that these friends emerge from social networks which extend across New York City. These networks inhabit very particular spaces – bars, restaurants, dinner parties and art galleries. Ray Oldenburg calls 68 Paul Auster these the ‘great good places’ (in the book of that name): ‘informal public gathering places’ that become a part ‘of the citizen’s daily life’ (Oldenburg, 1989: xxviii). The pivotal ‘rescuers’ emerging from these networks and places are women artists. As artists versed in spatial and visual media (dance and photography) rather than writers, these
influenced by the material conditions of place. These characters journey in search of a ‘harmony’ between their inner terrain and the external terrain, constantly searching for an inner peace. 100 Paul Auster Auster’s earlier novels, as the preceding chapters demonstrate, explore a particular phase in each of the central characters’ lives. In Moon Palace, for example, Fogg describes how the story he has to tell marks the beginning of his life. The later novels considered in this chapter seek a broader view which acknowledges Uncle Victor’s observation in Moon Palace
his work since Quinn discovered Stillman Sr’s apocryphal story of Henry Dark in The New York Trilogy, and his attempts to establish a new innocent language and Eden in America.1 ‘Unlike the other writers on the subject’, Auster records: 130 Paul Auster Dark did not assume paradise to be a place that could be discovered. There were no maps that could lead a man to its shores. Rather, its existence was immanent within man himself: the idea of a beyond he might one day create in the here and now. For utopia was nowhere – even, as Dark explained, in its ‘wordhood
This book explores how the contemporary American novel has revived a long literary and political tradition of imagining male friendship as interlinked with the promises and paradoxes of democracy in the United States. In the last decades of the twentieth century, not only novelists but philosophers, critical theorists, and sociologists rediscovered the concept of friendship as a means of scrutinising bonds of national identity. This book reveals how friendship, long exiled from serious political philosophy, returned as a crucial term in late twentieth-century communitarian debates about citizenship, while, at the same time, becoming integral to continental philosophy’s exploration of the roots of democracy, and, in a different guise, to histories of sexuality. Moving innovatively between these disciplines, this important study brings into dialogue the work of authors rarely discussed together – including Philip Roth, Paul Auster, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Dinaw Mengestu, and Teju Cole – and advances a compelling new account of the political and intellectual fabric of the contemporary American novel.
‘I keep wanting to give you things’ In the final section of the previous chapter, I began to explore the relationship between friendship and mourning and, more broadly, to consider the kinds of obligations and responsibilities that shape relations between friends and citizens. In the first half of this chapter, I turn to three novels by Paul Auster in which these issues are also at stake, and in which one male friend is tasked with accounting for the life of another. I approach these novels, and some of Auster’s other works, by way of the gift. Like