Exterior and Interior Cityscapes in Paul Auster’s Fictions


The works of Paul Auster are best known for their tense inwardness, self-referentiality, autobiographical elements and intertextual links to other texts. These are the conventional terms of literary analysis as it is conducted on his novels, but these are hardly more than formal devices in Auster's fictions, easy to detect and compile, but which do not necessarily lead to a deeper understanding of his work.

 

The Invention of Solitude

 

The first prose text by Auster to be published apart from several critical essays was The Invention of Solitude. The cover and title page identify it as a "memoir" - but if this is indeed a memoir, it is one written in the third person.

In it, we find the author Paul Auster presenting to us a character called "A". He later admits, in a confessional tone, that it is A. who calls himself A., thus admitting that A. is the author of the text, namely Paul Auster himself, and confirming that "A" is indeed short for "Auster". He does so in an exercise of intertextuality and reference, by referring to the Book of Jonah in the Bible and at the same time to Rimbaud, whom he quotes: "Je est un autre." (Invention, 124)

The text is filled and interwoven with quotes like these, as well as obscure references and historical anecdotes; the result is a style which is very close to the work of a literary critic. The emerging paradox is that, with Auster's Invention of Solitude, even the primary text looks like secondary material. This is not as surprising as it may seem at first glance, since Auster did study comparative literature after all. Thus he includes Collodi's Pinocchio, Cervantes' Don Quixote, various French poets, Descartes, Proust, Freud, and so on.

The list is quite impressive, and probably intentionally so; but Auster is not merely trying to show off his scholarly knowledge. Rather, his creation of a text that is more of a palimpsest of other texts than an original creation -it has been called "the product of intertextuality elevated to a creative principle"- serves to illustrate a more general concern, namely the interconnectedness of ideas, memory, and the world in general.


For a closer reading of Auster's first novel, in particular its use of the road/street-metaphor in connection with the opposition between interior and exterior reality, select its cover.

 

The New York Trilogy

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City of Glass

City of Glass is the first of the texts included in Auster's
The New York Trilogy.

In one way or another, all three are detective fiction - though they have also been called anti-detective fiction by some critics. However, everyone agrees on the fact that Auster included elements of traditional detective fiction in the trilogy, but used them for unconventional ends.

 

For a closer reading of the first and second book of The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, please select the cover of the first book of the trilogy, City of Glass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Music of Chance

To conclude this partial overview, we now move from city streets and cityscapes to roads and highways. Paul Auster's next novel was The Music of Chance, an allegory and very different from everything he had written so far, not least becuase of its completely unobtrusive narrator.


For a closer reading of Auster's arguably most political novel, focusing on its use of roads and highways, please select its cover below.