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 The book uses Auster's published and unpublished literary essays to explain the shifts from the dense and introspective poems of the 1970s, through the metropolitan fictions of the 1980s and early 1990s, to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.
Auster believes that stories help us to make
sense of the world we live in, and that metropolitan stories help us
to make sense of the metropolis. In Smoke and Blue in the Face,
storytelling initiates and perpetuates a sense of community which
is more than an introverted mode of metropolitanliving. Instead,
by acknowledging and negotiating the larger social processes that
surround individual experience, Auster’s characters are better able to
comprehend their place in the world, and so locate themselves more
securely than characters in his earlier fictions.
Festive spaces in cities are often sites at which urban identities and
social or gender hierarchies are contested, but are also often reinforced.
In eighteenth-century London, conflicting views of the best uses for
London’s streets were frequently opposed, and the resulting debates reveal
contemporary understandings of metropolitanliving, social order, and
gender hierarchies. From the late seventeenth century, London’s infrastructure was being ‘modernized’, or rebuilt, re-planned, and cleaned.
This ‘cleaning campaign’ usually tied to the development
themes in Auster’s work. Contemporary literature is often concerned
with representations of the complexity and scale of living in this era of
late capitalism and global culture, and so engages with the processes
that allow New York to be at once isolated while belonging to the world.
At the same time, Auster’s literature is centrally concerned with how
we, as individuals, live collectively. In his early poetry, this is as much
a question about society in general as it is about metropolitanliving in
particular. As the work develops and Auster turns increasingly to
London’s equestrian culture in the late eighteenth century, but we still
need to unpack what made Londoners so passionate about riding horses.
Sociability was a driving force in polite metropolitanliving and horses
served this culture by maximising the number of visits, balls, plays, routs
and dinners that an individual could attend in the season. But as I have
suggested, horse riding was a sociable activity in its own right. Riding
schools were not only temples to equestrian pleasure and perfection, they
were refined resorts. Proprietors worked hard to
and science emerges that is helping to shape a debate on contemporary
forms of metropolitanliving. In imagining this possible future, Harvey
employs the practices of fiction to illustrate the spatial possibilities
proposed in the rational-empirical geographical text preceding it.
He takes the premise of existing material social conditions, and
‘reimagines’ their potential for a more socially just society.
In Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference and Spaces
of Hope, Harvey identifies two types of utopian expression – the
utopianism of process, and the
The social imaginary of the London bog-house c.1660–c.1800
the room, and … put it down the privy’.99 In both cases the mother
of the infant was found not guilty.
Indeed a conflation of excretion and childbirth contributed to the
growing acquittal rate in London infanticide trials during the long
eighteenth century.100 As Samantha Williams has shown, almost
exactly a third of the births described in Old Bailey accounts of such
cases which specified the place of delivery occurred in a privy.101 In
crowded metropolitanliving conditions these spaces offered rare
opportunities for temporary seclusion, and so mothers anxious to