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Confinement in Paul Auster's Moon Palace and the New York Trilogy

( Télécharger le fichier original )
par Alexis Plékan
Université de Caen Basse-Normandie - Maitrise LLCE anglais 2001

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    Unité de Formation et de recherche
    des Langues Vivantes Etrangères

    Département d'anglais

    Confinement in Paul Auster's

    Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy.

    Travail d'Etude et de Recherches

    présenté pour l'obtention de



    Alexis Plékan

    Directeur d'Etudes:

    Madame Dominique Delasalle

    Session de novembre 2001

    I wish to thank Dominique Delasalle for her interest in my ideas and my parents for their support.

    To Sophie,

    «he remembers speculating that perhaps the entire world was enclosed in a glass jar and that it sat on a shelf next to dozens of other jar-worlds in the pantry of a giant's house.» Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude, page 168.

    ? January 24/25, 1995. (detail)

    Signed on recto, lower right, in red felt-tip pen: `LB'.

    Red felt-tip pen, red ballpoint pen on cardboard.

    9 x 11 ? inches.

    LOUISE BOURGEOIS, The Insomnia Drawings. Zurich: DAROS. 2000.





    1 Disconnection.....................................................12

    The room and the tomb....................................12

    The island....................................................13

    Metaphoric rooms...........................................14

    2 Starving.............................................................16


    Flirting with death...........................................16

    The monk and the hermit...................................17


    1 The Room...........................................................19

    The shelter...................................................19

    The retreat...................................................20

    The search for THE place.................................21

    2 The Womb.........................................................22

    The experience of the cave...............................22

    Jonah or the resurrection..................................23

    Gestation : birth or miscarriage..........................23


    1 Success and Failure..............................................25

    The new man.................................................25



    2 Art....................................................................27

    The room : the matrix of artistic creation...............28

    The artist in exile...........................................29

    The hunger artist.............................................30



    1 Writing for Myself...............................................32


    A paradoxical necessity.....................................33

    Writing : moving inward and outward...................34

    2 The Book...........................................................35

    Books and notebooks.......................................35

    The creation of another world.............................36

    The limits of the book......................................37


    1 The Russian-doll effect..........................................38

    Moon Palace and The NewYork Trilogy : archipelagoes of stories......................................................38

    Bridges between the spheres of fiction...................39

    Stories about story-telling..................................40

    2 Auster's fiction : a `City of the World'......................42

    The characters : literary creations.........................42

    Fiction: prison. Fate: manipulation........................43

    To get out of the house of fiction.........................44


    1 A search for Authorship........................................43

    Characters in quest of their authors.......................46

    Characters in quest of their fathers.......................47


    2 Seeking for Authority............................................48

    Playing the puppet-master.................................48

    Control over life and death................................49

    Who controls whom ?.......................................50



    1 Constitution of worlds...........................................53

    The Library of the Universe...............................53

    Worlds within the word....................................54

    Language makes us / our world...........................56

    2 Between the world and the self................................58

    The inadequacy of the word................................58

    The rift between thinking and writing...................59

    Investigation of language /investigation of the self....60


    1 To go back to the origins.......................................62


    Giving names to things.....................................63

    Giving names to people....................................63

    2 To capture the essence...........................................67

    Factuality : a failure........................................67

    The achievements............................................68

    Blank spaces.................................................70


    1 Transparency and liberty.......................................72

    Between the man and the world : the sign...............72

    Sign and communication...................................73

    The need for transparency.................................75

    2 Meaning............................................................77

    Seeking connectedness......................................77

    Beware of meaning.........................................77




    «Quand je considère (...) le petit espace que je remplis et même que je vois, abîmé dans l'infinie immensité des espaces que j'ignore et qui m'ignorent, je m'effraie et m'étonne de me voir ici plutôt que là, pour quoi a présent plutôt que lors. Qui m'y a mis ? Par l'ordre et la conduite de qui ce lieu (...) a-t-il été destiné à moi ?» 1(*) In this `pensée', Pascal, realizing how infinitely small his `space' is in the immensity of the Universe, comes naturally to wonder about his place in the world and develops a series of metaphysical questions which, more than three centuries later, still feed philosophical reflection. As an admirer of Pascal, American novelist Paul Auster counts among those for whom these questions are more than ever topical. Indeed, almost the whole of his work is centered on these questions so that critics do not hesitate to refer to his fictional work as `metaphysical novels'.

    Going back over `le petit espace' that Pascal says he occupies, a bell should ring in the mind of anyone having read Auster's novels. Indeed, the small space is a motif which recurs strikingly throughout his work: his novels and essays are riddled with countless instances of characters being locked up in small rooms or confined in limited areas. `Le petit espace' is thus an element which is much more important than it may first appear. For Pascal, it is `le petit espace' which brings out the opposition with the infinite Universe and consequently triggers off his metaphysical investigation. In this light, a study of confinement in Paul Auster's novels seems to be the appropriate way to penetrate the metaphysical reflection at its foundation. But, if confinement -in the sense of being shut up in a limited geographical space- is what features most obviously in his novels, we shall see that this motif can be studied at different levels. Indeed, in Auster's universe, as we shall see, writing and language are also confining structures. These three aspects of confinement are particularly apparent in two novels: The New York Trilogy, Auster's first and famous collection of three short stories written in 1987; and Moon Palace, written in 1989. These two books, which are totally different as far as their plots are concerned, make a pair insofar as they both deal with the theme of confinement, though treated differently by Auster whose philosophical reflection has apparently matured in between. But although there are different levels of confinement in Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy, it is crucial to bear in mind that Auster's conception of the very notion of confinement is much more vertiginous. In order to understand the different levels that Auster perceives within the notion of confinement, it might be helpful to have recourse to a drawing by Louise Bourgeois which is particularly eloquent in this context2(*). This drawing is composed of a multitude of concentric circles and makes Auster's conception of confinement perfectly explicit. Indeed, if we consider that a circle symbolises a closed space, we realize that each circle contains another circle, and is itself part of a larger circle. Therefore, if you choose a point anywhere in the drawing, your point will automatically be enclosed in one or several circles. This is exactly what the issue of confinement boils down to: for the Austerian characters, it seems that wherever they might be, they inevitably find themselves confined in one of those circles. From this realization ensues the main point of these two novels: the metaphysical investigation undertaken by the characters and the readers.

    The study of spatial confinement shall be the starting point and the first part of this work. We will see that spatial confinement implies three movements for the characters: firstly, a total disconnection from the world of the living. Secondly, a philosophical withdrawal into themselves that gives birth to a new being. Thirdly, the reconnection, through art, to the world.

    The second part of this work will deal with the telling of stories. We shall first study how the act of writing books is linked to confinement. Then, we shall see that fiction is encircling. Finally, we shall examine the role of the author-characters as regards confinement.

    The subject of our third and last part will be language. We shall study the confining role of the word in relation to the world and the self. We shall then analyze the different attempts towards mastering of language and eventually, we shall see that what everybody strives for is actually an answer to Pascal's metaphysical questions.



    1/ Disconnection

    The room, the tomb

    In Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy, almost all the main protagonists, at one moment or another, disconnect themselves from the standards of «normal» life. This detachment from others is always characterized by confinement in an enclosed space: most of the time, a room. The theme of the room is undoubtedly one of Auster's favourite motifs and it comes in a variety of ways in all his work. The enclosed spaces are not always rooms strictly speaking; they can be caves, garbage bins, small apartments... But they all belong to the category of rooms in that they share common characteristics: they are small, bare, often dimly lit and above all, they are enclosed spaces in which the characters are alone and which are impenetrable to others. The number of allusions to rooms in Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy is paramount: Marco's roommate's name is Zimmer -which means bedroom in German- and it was also the name of the carpenter who built a tower for the poet Hölderlin in which he lived alone for thirty six years. In City of Glass, Quinn walks in Varick Street and passes number six which is the precise address where Auster himself rented a tiny room in 1979 and where he started writing The Invention of Solitude. The title of the last story in The New York Trilogy is The Locked Room. These examples are only the visible part of an intricate network of references and allusions to which we shall come back later. Although the theme of the room is traditionally associated with solitude and meditation as in Pascal's Pensées3(*) for example, in Auster, the room -by virtue of its disconnecting function- is also linked to death as in the euphony between the words room and tomb in The Invention of Solitude.

    The association of room and tomb takes on the form of numerous comparisons and metaphors in Moon Palace. Effing's cave in the desert is compared to «his private monument, the tomb in which he had buried his past.»4(*) The building superintendent says of Marco's apartment: «it reminds me of a coffin»5(*) This is reminiscent of a similar statement made by the nameless hero of La Faim6(*) who resembles Marco in many respects: «Cette chambre vide dont le plancher ondulait à chaque pas que j'y faisais était pareille a un lugubre cercueil disjoint.»7(*) Besides, the last story in The New York Trilogy is called The Locked Room. This title reminds us of some `Poesque' plot dealing with a murdered body discovered in a closed room, the exits of which have been locked from the inside.

    Thus the room is the place that a number of characters choose to cut themselves off from the others, from social life. Consequently, these characters, confined in their rooms, can be said to be socially dead. It is therefore no coincidence if their small and lightless rooms are compared to tombs.

    The island

    It is worthwhile to stress an image that is often linked to the room in these two novels: the island. It conveys several notions: remoteness, isolation and captivity. Why are these notions commonly linked to the island? Of course it is because an island is by definition a patch of land surrounded by water. To what extent is this image of the island relevant in the study of the disconnecting function of the room? Simply because it brings out a significant element, the environment of the room. However, as the rooms are not always actual geographical rooms, likewise the image of the island is mainly metaphorical. The cave in which Effing takes shelter in the middle of the desert is an image of an island in the middle of an environment that can be qualified as hostile because of its barrenness . Another hostile environment that represents the antinomy of the desert is New York in which there is an actual island: Manhattan, in which there is another island (metaphoric this time) Central Park, in which there is eventually a last island: Marco's cave. The word island itself also appears in Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy with the phrase traffic island. Curiously enough, it seems to be the same one referred to in both novels: « One of the traffic islands in the middle of Broadway»8(*) «Quinn posted himself on a bench in the middle of the traffic island at Broadway and 99th street.»9(*)

    Columbus Square, where Fanshawe lives, hidden in his locked room, «consisted of ten or twelve houses in a row, fronting on a cobbled island that cut it off from the main thorough fare.»10(*) Again, the image of the island reinforces the impression of isolation and remoteness.

    After some time on their island, the characters' appearance invariably alters, up to resembling the most famous castaway in literature, Robinson Crusoe. Indeed, Quinn, watching his face in a mirror for the first time in weeks of disconnection, takes note of this. «More than anything else, he reminded himself of Robinson Crusoe.»11(*) In The Locked Room, it is precisely Robinson Crusoe that the young Fanshawe is said to be reading. In the same story, Auster devotes one page to an anecdote about a 16th century French soldier called La Chère who was banished to a «solitary island» where he was left starving. In The Book of Memory, Auster, remembering his one year-stay in a maid's room in Paris writes: «This was life as Crusoe would have lived it: shipwreck in the heart of the city.»12(*)

    The image of the island is thus recurrent in these two novels. It emphasizes the hostility of the environment (be it urban or desert) that the characters have left behind to find safety on their island. It also brings out that, while they are on their island, the characters are completely unreachable even when their island is right in the heart of such a megalopolis as New York. Eventually, with the image of the castaway, Auster puts the stress on the impact of disconnection upon the man's mind and body.

    Metaphoric rooms

    «Books became a refuge for him early on, a place where he could keep himself hidden -not only from others, but also from his own thoughts as well.»13(*) This statement from the narrator in Moon Palace about Solomon Barber explicitly introduces the fact that disconnection does not necessarily imply isolation in an actual geographical space. Indeed, there is a significant number of metaphorical rooms that are used by the characters to set themselves apart. Books, or more generally imagination can be one device, as for Solomon Barber for instance. Sometimes, imagination in addition to a geographical place can help the characters to detach themselves from reality, like Fanshawe as a little boy, with his cardboard box: «it was his secret place, he told me, and when he sat inside and closed it up around him, he could go wherever he wanted to go, could be wherever he wanted to be.»14(*) Likewise, clothes can sometimes play the role of rooms like Marco's uncle's suit that is more to him than a simple garment: «I felt at home in it (...) It functioned as a protective membrane, a second skin that shielded me from the blow of life.»15(*) However, what is interesting to notice is that the clothes in which the characters feel at home are always inherited from dead people: Effing gives Marco an overcoat that belonged to his former companion, now dead. Wearing it, Marco feels as if he were «Pavel Shum's ghost».16(*) In his cave, Effing wears the dead hermit's clothes. The narrator-hero in The Locked Room is dressed in an overcoat inherited from a dead man.17(*) Therefore, the association between room (even though metaphorical) and tomb still holds true.

    But one's body can also be considered as a room when it confines its occupier and cuts him off from the others. It is the case with Solomon Barber's obese body in which he hides himself from others: « His body was like a dungeon, and he had been condemned to serve out the rest of his days in it.»18(*) And it is also through his body that Effing detaches himself from the others. His apparent blindness confines him in a world of darkness where the visual image of the world no longer reaches him and his paralysis widens all the more the gap between him and the world.

    2/ Starving


    «Little by little, I saw my money dwindle to zero; I lost my apartment, I wound up living in the streets.»19(*) This decline in Marco's situation shows that the movement of disconnection is always accompanied by general depletion. If at first, the characters are victims of their depletion, they nevertheless do nothing to pull through it, and moreover, they always end up methodically depriving themselves of anything they previously had. The characters seem helpless, confronted with their alarmingly deteriorating situation This helplessness is conveyed by the grammatical form of the sentences where the object is put in a subject position, thus emphasizing the passivity of the characters. «The food supplies were going to run out»20(*) «Quinn's money ran out at last.»21(*) Having reached a certain point of destitution, they turn to self-inflicted starvation: « His ambition was to eat as little as possible.»22(*) «I was trying to separate myself from my body.»23(*) The radical decline the characters go through and seek is a feature that recurs strikingly in Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy. This process seems to be, for the Austerian characters, a necessary step towards their mutation. As Curtis White elegantly puts it:

    B admired A's obsession with peeling away the layers of the self, of all the excrescences of life, like cars, possessions, money, food, other people. All for the exquisite dramatic purpose of arriving at the zero degree of the self, the absolute floor of human being where something enormous whether good or bad might be expected.24(*)

    Flirting with death

    However, seeking to reach «the absolute floor of human being» is of course not without danger, and the danger is death pure and simple. Yet it does not keep the characters from continuing to starve even if their bodies gradually turn into skeletons as they get thinner. Marco realizes retrospectively: «It is true that I was alarmingly thin by the end, just 112 pounds.»25(*) And the narrator in City of Glass declares: «It goes without saying that Quinn lost a good deal of weight during this period.»26(*) The characters, through their constant flirting with death, are reduced to no more than living-dead and this is precisely the state they want to reach. This attitude corresponds to a theme that is particularly dear to Auster, that of hunger. In The Art of Hunger -an essay about the novel by Knut Hamsun- Auster says of Hansum's hero: «His fast then, is a contradiction, to persist in it would mean death, and with death, the fast would end. He must therefore stay alive, but only to the extent that it keeps him on the point of death.»27(*) Quinn, in City of Glass, is a «hunger character» and he has the same attitude: «He did not want to starve himself to death (...) He simply wanted to leave himself free to think of the things that truly concerned him.»28(*) Thus, the characters willingly try to approach death as closely as possible, somehow braving it, as if to provoke what the medical jargon designates as an NDE, a near-death experience, the moment lived by people whose brain is considered as dead and who nevertheless come back to life afterwards. It is now acknowledged that an NDE has important consequences on the minds of the people who have experienced it. It is most of the time felt as a kind of revelation that has definitively changed their lives. This experience is amazing enough for some adventurous people to want to have it in their turn. Besides, this has been the subject of the 1990 movie Flat Liners by Joël Schumacher. This film is about a group of medical students who deliberately put themselves in a state of clinical death for a few seconds in order to see for themselves what is beyond death.

    Thus, it seems obvious that the Austerian characters, through their starving, aim at some sort of epiphany in the Joycian sense of the word: a deep and powerful revelation about themselves and the world.

    The monk and the hermit

    Isolation in small and bare places, deprivation of material goods and strict self-imposed discipline in a kind of general purge, all this aiming at some emancipation of the mind, is also known as ascetism. And this term is commonly associated with the figures of the monk and the hermit, two figures that are omnipresent throughout the two novels. First, through metaphorical descriptions of places. Marco's room at Effing's is described as «a rudimentary enclosure no larger than a monk's cell.»29(*) In Ghosts, Blue entering Black's apartment: «It's the same monk's cell he saw in his mind.»30(*) Then, the characters themselves are compared to these figures. In Ghosts, Blue disguises himself as Jimmy Rose: «These final details give him the look of an old testament prophet (...) a saint of penury living in the margins of society.»31(*) Marco says of himself: «I was a monk seeking illumination.»32(*) We must also bear in mind that Julian Barber (Effing) substitutes himself for an old hermit in the desert.

    Inanition is also linked to the figures of the monk and the hermit as Auster wrote in one of his essays: «Mystics fast in order to prepare themselves to the words of God.»33(*) And in effect, this point is crucial when comparing these two figures insofar as it demonstrates that isolation and starvation have been traditionally used by the mystics as a method to achieve revelation. The narrator-hero in The Locked Room sums this up in a commentary about Fanshawe: «The stringency of this life disciplined him. Solitude became a passageway into the self, an instrument of discovery.»34(*) But contrary to the monk and the hermit who seek a spiritual or a mystical revelation, Austerian characters tend towards a revelation of themselves.


    1/ The room

    The shelter

    For most of the main characters in Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy, the room is a place where they come to find shelter. The White Horse Tavern, the bar where Zimmer takes Marco, is a figure of shelter: «It was pleasant to be huddled there in our little booth»35(*) The «little booth» suggests a tiny place and the verb «huddle» evokes baby birds in their nests. Now how can we fail to notice the resemblance between the word shelter and the word shell? The shell that protects the embryo (the future being to be born). The shell and the image of the egg inherent to it appear in the two novels. In Moon Palace, there is a much-detailed episode when Marco drops his last two eggs on the floor and this «disaster» deeply affects him. But what is striking is that this scene is immediately followed by Marco's eviction from his apartment. The parallel is therefore clear: The broken shell of the egg proleptically announces the loss of Marco's shelter. Likewise, it is the image of a falling egg that forecasts Marco's father's death: «I understood how fragile my world had become. The egg was slipping through my fingers, and sooner or later, it was bound to drop. Barber died on September fourth, just three days after this incident in the restaurant»36(*)

    The locked room where Fanshawe takes shelter in Boston is located on Columbus Street. There is an uncountable number of allusions to Columbus in Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy but what is essential to pinpoint is the association between Columbus and the figure of the egg. In City of Glass, Stillman tells the story according to which Columbus cracked the bottom of an egg in order for it to stand on its end. Effing also refers to the `Egg of Columbus', which was the name given to an exhibition on electricity by Tesla. It is interesting to notice that the rooms which perform the function of shelter for the characters, i.e. a shell that protects them from the outer world, are often associated with the image of the egg as if the characters expressed a subconscious desire to return to their origin.

    The retreat

    Along with the function of shelter, the room has the function of a privileged space of inwardness and meditation. Marco's apartment is described as «a bare and grubby room (that) had been transformed into a site of inwardness37(*) Then, Marco says about his cave in Central Park: «It became a sanctuary for me, a refuge of inwardness38(*) This function of the room is also found in the same terms in Leviathan: «it was a sanctuary of inwardness, a room in which the only possible activity was thought.»39(*) The rooms are thus presented through the Pascalian view according to which to stay in them is essential in order to mature: «All the unhappiness of man stems from one thing only: that he is incapable of staying quietly in his room.»40(*) Auster, when writing about the rooms in which his characters live and meditate, certainly bears in mind his own days in limited spaces such as his 1965 stay in Paris that he recalls in The Book of Memory: «The room he lived in was a dream space, and its walls were like the skin of some second body around him, as if his own body had been transformed into a mind, a breathing instrument of pure thought.»41(*) The stay in the room is therefore assimilated to a spiritual retreat like those gone into by the sceptic philosophers. The image of Quinn, living in his garbage bin, depriving himself of all that is not indispensable to strict survival, is very reminiscent of Diogenes in his tub or Descartes and his theory of the Tabula Rasa. Auster had certainly these thinkers at the back of his mind when writing these novels, but he must have thought even more of 19th century American writers such as Emerson and more particularly Henry David Thoreau and his famous Walden. Walden, the Massachusetts's countryside place where Thoreau exiled himself to concentrate exclusively on his inner life is referred to -directly and indirectly- countless times in both novels. In Ghosts, Walden is the book that both Black and Blue are reading. In this same story, Black tells an anecdote about Thoreau visiting Whitman next to a chamber pot. In The Locked Room, the narrator-hero alludes to a childhood friend named Dennis Walden. In City of Glass, Quinn guesses at the reason why Stillman uses Henry Dark for pseudonym: «`HD' he said `For Henry David? As in Henry David Thoreau.'»42(*) Marco, in Central Park, is an obvious Thoreau-like character, as Thoreau's own words could well come out of Marco's mouth:

    I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms.43(*)

    The search for THE place

    For the characters, the arrival in a room always follows a period of roaming, another theme dear to Auster. Most of the time, this roaming is triggered off by the loss of the home base: Marco being evicted from his apartment, Effing leaving New York for the desert, Quinn and Blue having to leave their apartments for the sake of their investigation or Fanshawe quitting his wife and apartment to wander about the USA. The episode in which Effing is lost in the desert in search for a shelter has an obvious biblical overtone: the wandering of the Hebrews in the Sinai desert in quest of the Promised Land. This analogy is later taken up by Marco in a metaphoric way: «I had been lost in the desert and then, out of the blue, I had found my Canaan, my promised land.»44(*) The characters are somehow all Wandering Jews insofar as they are forced into an exile because of the loss of their place of origin. Consequently, they are in a constant search for THE place, which would be a substitute for their place of origin. That is why they end up inescapably in rooms, the room being -in the Austerian universe- bound up with the notion of origin as in this sentence from The Book of Memory: «It begins therefore with this room. And then it begins with that room.»45(*) Of course, THE place is not a particular instance of room, the rooms in Auster often being used as metaphors for the mind, THE place is more a state of consciousness that can be reached only after the experience of the actual room: «This room I discovered, was located inside my skull.»46(*)

    2/ The Womb

    The experience of the cave

    It is impossible to miss the striking parallel between Marco's sojourn in a cave in Central Park and Effing's stay in a cave in the middle of the desert. It is also clear that, for both characters, the sojourn in the cave entails the birth of a new being. Therefore, it can be said that the cave somehow plays the role of a generative space, a womb from which the characters come to life for the second time. It must be noticed that not only are the actual caves considered as caves but also all the places where there is «the experience of the cave»47(*), that is to say a majority of rooms. It is therefore no coincidence if the words room, womb and tomb are linked in a triad that is one key to Auster's world: «The words rhyme, and even if there is no real connection between them, he cannot help thinking of them together. Room and tomb, tomb and womb, womb and room48(*) The shape and the narrowness of the cave make it some sort of a womb on a human scale. The wellbeing of the characters inside the cave is then, in the Freudian interpretation, the expression of a subconscious desire to crawl back into the womb of the mother49(*). Think of Fanshawe as a little boy in his cardboard box. Like most of the children of his age, he likes to shut himself up in small spaces and his behaviour is symptomatic of a desire to be back in one's mother's belly.

    In order to perform its function as a womb, the cave must be hermetically shut. When Marco finds the cave in Central Park, he shuts himself in it: «I pulled some loose branches in with me to block up the opening.»50(*) Effing's cave in the desert is also shut: «He pulled away the branches and twigs that blocked the opening and went in.»51(*) Thus, the `womb-cave' has to be `virgin', shielded from the exterior world, in order to perform its function as a matrix. If room and tomb are linked phonetically, it is also the case with the words cave and grave. And indeed, the idea of death is omnipresent in the cave since the birth of a new being necessarily implies the death of the old one.

    Jonah or the resurrection

    «You will note that where you would think should be the end of Jonah, there was his safety.»52(*) This sentence from Saint Jerome quoted by Auster in The Invention of Solitude is interesting to shed light on the antinomical relationship that the characters cultivate with death and birth in Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy. After the many mythological stories about a gigantic monster swallowing the hero and delivering him to a new life and the story of Pinocchio by Collodi, Auster revisits this motif -which counts among his favourite ones- simply omitting...the whale, or more precisely, transfiguring the whale in a geographical space, the room. Marco, when asked how many days he spent in the cave, answers three «because three is a literary number, the same number of days that Jonah spent in the belly of the whale.»53(*)

    The room is thus a place where the characters somehow die ,at least in the eyes of the other since they are now inside the whale, but it is also the place where they resurrect as new beings now able to see «clearly»:

    And when the fish then vomits Jonah onto dry land, Jonah is given back to life, as if the death he had found in the belly of the fish were a preparation for a new life, a life that has passed through death, and therefore a life that can at last speak. For death has frightened him into opening his mouth.54(*)

    With regard to the fact that the whale is a marine mammal, i.e., an animal that carries its baby in its womb, the image of birth is all the more strong. Indeed, from an oviparous function of the room, which we found with the image of the egg, we have now a «mammal room» that represents a much more developed and elaborate form of birth.

    Gestation: birth or miscarriage

    It should be stressed that, before coming out of the «womb places», the characters spend a specific length of time in them that can be interpreted as a gestation. Marco spends three days in the cave, a highly symbolical number. Effing lives in his cave for nine months! Blue remains in his rented room «for almost a year.»55(*) As for Quinn, it is not precisely specified but it is long: «A long time passed. Exactly how long it is impossible to say. Weeks certainly, but perhaps even months.»56(*) Marco spends one month in Zimmer's apartment, which is a kind of incubator for the just-rescued Marco. If the stay in the room is a gestation, coming out from it is then a delivery. An illustration of this is the description of Marco, coming out of his cave, that can be read as the passing of the baby through the neck of the womb: «At some point, I must have crawled from the cave and stretched myself out on the grass.»57(*) It is interesting to notice that Quinn, when confined in the Stillmans' apartment at the end of City of Glass, wonders about his own passing through his mother's womb: «he remembered the moment of his own birth and how he had been pulled gently from his mother's womb.»58(*) However, if Marco, who was bound to die if he remained in his apartment, as a baby who cannot get out of his mother's belly, is saved by an induced delivery (his eviction), Quinn has not got this chance. No one knows where Quinn is, so that no one can take him out of the Stillman's apartment and when Auster and his friend come, it is only to notice that he has disappeared. There is an anecdote in The Book of Memory that presents similarities with Quinn's ending, Auster recalls that, in 1979, a boy had disappeared in his neighbourhood and what he writes about this event echoes Quinn's obliteration :

    Whatever it was that happened to him, it happened without a trace. He could have been kidnapped, he could have been murdered, or perhaps he simply wandered off and came to his death in a place where no one could see him. The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that he vanished -as if from the face of the earth.59(*)

    The room is a motif to which Auster gives great importance. The room functions as a shelter for the characters, it enables them to withdraw from society and meditate. But once they have discovered new things about themselves, they must come out of the room and reintegrate society, expressing themselves, in a book for example. If they carry on digging into themselves, they are bound to sink into madness and disappear, like a snake eating its tail.


    1/ Success and failure

    The New Man

    For the Austerian characters, disconnection, along with depletion, all this taking place in a womb-like environment, entails the birth of a new being. To what extent do the characters become new beings? The answer lies partly in the preface of the French edition of The Invention of Solitude by Pascal Bruckner: «la chambre (est) une sorte d'utérus mental, le lieu d'une seconde naissance où le sujet ne naît pas au monde mais à lui-même.»60(*) Thus as a result of this second birth, the characters seem to reach a new state of consciousness, like Marco, who after numerous stays in rooms and periods of roaming, notices «I felt that some important question would be resolved for me. I had no idea what the question was, but the answer had already been formed in my steps (...) I was no longer the person I had once been.»61(*) The feeling of inner harmony results from the characters' discovery of their «real» selves through mental introspection. Auster explained this in an interview: «We know who we are because we can think of who we are (...) and this takes place in absolute solitude.»62(*) When Marco -just having been hired as Effing's new companion- strolls with him in the streets, Effing introduces him to his friends saying: «This is my new man.»63(*) This ambiguous statement may signify that Effing -because he has experienced the same hardships as Marco- has understood that Marco is indeed a «new man» at this stage.


    If disconnection is a preliminary condition to the birth of a new being, once he is born again, the opposite process begins and the character gradually reconnects to others. In this regard, Auster's heroes illustrate his philosophy perfectly. In an interview, he said: «You don't begin to understand your connection to others until you are alone, the more intensely you are alone, the more deeply you plunge into a state of solitude, the more deeply you feel that connection.»64(*) The reconnection takes on different forms: Marco's new job at Effing's and above all, his love story with Kitty Wu, which is a proof of Marco's social reconnection. Effing, after his stay in the cave, becomes richer than ever, thus reconnecting through business. The narrator-hero in The Locked Room reconnects at the very last minute, jumping into the train that brings him back to his wife and children. It is interesting to point out that the characters eventually regain all that they have been deprived of: money, food and social life. It is also noticeable that the characters are no longer confined in small spaces at the end of the novels: Marco facing the Pacific Ocean, or Blue supposedly sailing to China. Not only in harmony with themselves, the newborn characters are also in harmony with others and Marco remarks this in the park «But you cannot live without establishing an equilibrium between the inner and the outer. The park did that for me.»65(*)


    However, if a great majority of the characters turn into new beings and are thus able to reconnect, there also occur failures, as it is the case with Quinn, the hero in City of Glass. Quinn, in his investigation, searches for Stillman so obsessively that he irrevocably misplaces himself and eventually disappears, leaving nothing behind him but a red notebook. With Quinn, Auster offers an example of the danger that disconnection represents. In Ghosts, Black tells Blue the story of Wakefield by Nathaniel Hawthorne in which the eponymous hero, pretending to be on a business trip, decides to rent a room in his own city and wait to see what will happen. It turns out that he stays in his room for more than twenty years before he comes back to his wife. In his book, Hawthorne gives the moral of this story: «By stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to the fearful risk of losing his place forever.»66(*) This statement can apply to Quinn. Indeed, little by little, Quinn loses everything and eventually loses himself. Because of his absorption in the Stillman's case, Quinn finds himself locked in it. A similar situation happens in The Locked Room where the narrator-hero becomes a prisoner of the biography he is writing. He too comes very close to ending up like Quinn as his wife observes: «I sometimes think I can see you vanishing before my eyes.»67(*) However, as far as Quinn is concerned, he does not manage to catch up with life and therefore he is caught in a disconnecting process that leads him irrevocably towards obliteration. But what makes Quinn different from the other characters? In actual fact, from the very beginning of the novel, Quinn is depicted as someone `out of place'. He writes under a pseudonym and never uses his proper name. He lives alone and avoids contact with people (he has never met his agent). He has lost his wife and his son so that he has nobody to count on. Thus, as the narrator says in the first pages: «Quinn had allowed himself to vanish, to withdraw in the confines of a strange and hermetic life (...) Quinn tended to feel out of place in his own skin.»68(*) The Stillman's case therefore is just what breaks the final fibres of the moorings that still tied Quinn to the world. Quinn was, from the start, predisposed to vanishing.

    2/ Art

    The room: the matrix of artistic creation

    As previously seen, the room enables some characters to reach a state of harmony with themselves and others. But the room plays another role. It is the matrix of artistic creation. As he explained in an interview, Auster experienced this phenomenon as a young writer:

    En 1979, c'est au 6 Varick street que j'ai écrit, dans la minuscule chambre qui était la mienne, la plus grande partie du Livre de la Mémoire. C'était horrible, la misère absolue. Sans l'expérience de cette chambre, le livre aurait été complètement différent. C'est dans ce lieu que l'idée du livre est née.69(*)

    Writing in rooms is a characteristic shared by all Auster's writer-characters. In Leviathan, Peter Aaron writes his book in a cabin in the countryside. In Moon Palace, Marco types out Effing's biography in his «monk's cell». Samuel Farr, in In The Country of Last Things, writes a book in his bedroom in the library. Anna Blume begins to write her novel-letter in a corner of her bedroom in the Woburn Residence. Quinn ends up filling his notebook in a room «that measured no more than ten feet by six feet.»70(*) Throughout his novels, Auster constantly alludes to a number of writers who wrote exclusively in rooms: Hawthorne, Hölderlin, Anne Franck and Emily Dickinson whose bedroom has a fundamental importance according to Auster:

    Emily's room acquires an atmosphere encompassing the poet's several moods of superiority, anxiety, anguish, resignation or ecstasy. Perhaps more than any other concrete place in American literature, it symbolizes a native tradition, epitomized by Emily, of an assiduous study of the inner life.71(*)

    Auster himself writes in a room: «his office, a small studio apartment, is bare and white and smudged with Brooklyn grime. He sits under two naked bulbs. The window shades are always drawn.»72(*) The room is therefore presented as a necessary condition and at the same time as a catalyst to artistic creation, and the work of art is itself the product of the room as Auster wrote: «A man sits alone in a room and writes. Whether the book speaks of loneliness or companionship, it is necessarily a product of solitude.»73(*)

    The artist in exile

    Detachment and solitude allow the characters to stand back from society for some time and it is through this process that they mature as artists: «Fanshawe was alone for the whole time, barely seeing anyone, barely even opening his mouth (...) I believe this period marked the beginning of his maturity as a writer.»74(*) We have seen that, following a period of detachment, the characters generally reconnect with society. But one can wonder to what extent this is true. Indeed, once he has become an artist, the character is no longer the same. If, as a man, he is able to reconnect to society, his status as an artist has created some kind of a definitive distance between him and the world. Indeed, the perception of the world by an artist is different from that of an `ordinary' man. Besides this distance is essential for the act of creation. In an interview with Gérard de Cortanze, Auster brings out this point: «Presque tous les écrivains, poètes ou non, se sentent à l'écart de la vie, de la societé.»75(*) In this, Auster meets Edmond Jabès's views according to which there is a parallel in the statuses of writers and Jews: «I feel that every writer, in some way, experiences the Jewish condition, because every writer, every creator lives in a kind of exile.»76(*) Being himself a Jewish writer, Auster is particularly sensitive to this feeling of exile. Futhermore, the galout -the Hebraic word meaning both exile and scattering- and the book are two elements that are closely tied up in the Jewish tradition:

    Du fait que l'autonomie politique et l'indépendence nationale sont perdues, que l'unique lieu du culte légitime ( le Temple de Jérusalem) est détruit, le judaïsme doit s'inventer pour survivre, des formes de conscience et de cohésion compatibles avec la nouvelle situation historique. (...) C'est donc le Livre, ou mieux les livres, qui vont devenir la patrie `temporaire' des juifs.77(*)

    So, even when it is over, a form of exile lingers on for the characters as they are now artists.

    The hunger artist

    If disconnection and starvation are indispensable factors to the birth of the artist, for Auster, they also constitute an art of its own. In his fundamental essay The Art of Hunger, in which he analyses the novel Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Auster defines the art of hunger as being «an art that is indistinguishable from the life of the artist who makes it. That is not to say an art of autobiographical excess, but rather, an art that is the direct expression of the effort to express itself.»78(*) So, not only is the concrete product of the experience a work of art but also the experience in itself as well as the experimenter. Auster's characters can therefore be qualified as `works of art of hunger'. Take Marco and Quinn who methodically deprive themselves of possessions and food and who consciously flirt with death. Their attitude corresponds to that of Hamsun's hero who «seeks out what is most difficult in himself, courting pain and adversity in the same way other men seek pleasure.»79(*) Starving, as Marco comes to conceive it, is then an artistic performance: «I sought out the hidden advantages that each deprivation produced, and once I learned how to live without a given thing, I dismissed it from my mind for good. (...) Slowly but surely, I discovered that I was capable of going very far, much farther than I would have thought possible.»80(*) The practice of the art of hunger leads the characters towards a clearer perception of the world. Marco, at the peak of a period of inanition, notices: «I had entered that strange half-world in which everything starts to shine, to give off a new and astonishing clarity.»81(*) This same phenomenon is observed by the hero in La Faim: «Rien n'échappait à mon attention, j'avais toute ma clarté et ma présence d'esprit, le flot des choses me pénétrait avec une netteté étincelante comme si une lumière s'était faite subitement autour de moi.»82(*)



    1/ Writing for myself


    For Austerian characters, confinement in limited spaces is closely interwoven with the act of writing. Indeed it happens that a great majority of Auster's protagonists write in rooms, the room being for them the matrix of artistic creation as well as an essential element in the art of hunger performed by Auster's heroes. But what does push the characters to write? What should be established at the very outset is that when the characters start writing, they are all somehow in a situation of distress, of disorder. When Quinn, in City of Glass, begins to get out of his depth in the Stillman's case, he buys a red notebook in the hope that if he writes everything down, he will be able to stabilize the situation: «In that way, perhaps, things might not get out of control»83(*) Writing is therefore an attempt to restore order. In In The Country of Last Things, Anna Blume begins to write her novel letter just after Isabel (her only friend in the City of Destruction) has died and all her possessions have been stolen. In this moment of great personal despair, writing becomes a refuge and a substitute for personal contact. For all Auster's writer-characters, there is a common motivation that drives them to start writing: a feeling of urgency. Anna Blume writes «Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming urge to pick up one of the pencils and begin this letter. By now, it is the one thing that matters to me: to have my say at last, to get all down on these pages before it is too late.»84(*) In Leviathan, Peter Aaron hurries to tell his story before the FBI agents find out the truth on their own. In Moon Palace, Effing decides to write his obituary because he realizes that time is short before he dies: «I'm running out of time and we've got to get started before it's too late.»85(*) In The Invention of Solitude, written shortly after his father's death, Auster writes «I thought: my father is gone. If I do not act quickly, his entire life will vanish along with him.»86(*)

    A paradoxical necessity

    «Firstly and finally, all along the line, you write because there is something you WANT to write, HAVE to write, for yourself.»87(*) This quotation by Harold Pinter seems to indicate that writing is the result of a need, of an inner necessity that drives you to write for your own sake. However, according to Auster, there is a paradox in the act of writing. You start writing with the intention to stabilize things, to find relief, and, as you write, you discover new problems and new sufferings. Yet, painful as the act of writing may be, you keep on writing and you even dread the moment when you will have to stop writing. In The Invention of Solitude, writing about his dead father, Auster declares: «Instead of healing me as I thought it would, the act of writing has kept this wound open.»88(*) In an interview, Auster makes this paradox explicit: «l'écriture est sûrement une maladie. On écrit pour combler un manque. Quelque chose ne va pas. On écrit peut être pour se guérir. Je ne sais pas.»89(*) It can be said that the pain that resurfaces from the act of writing participates in the necessity to keep on writing. It is even through this masochistic seeking for pain that the writer makes art, the art of hunger. The necessity to keep on writing is also motivated by the fear to end one's writings. Quinn, in City of Glass is all the more in anguish as he realizes that he is running out of pages in his notebook. Auster, in Portrait of an Invisible Man, writes that he wants «to postpone the moment of ending»90(*). The moment they end their book is synonymous with death for the characters (as for Quinn for example), that is why they hold on so much to their writing: «After that, Sam's book became the most important thing in my life. As long as we kept working on it, I realized the notion of a possible future would continue to exist for us.»91(*) In an interview, Auster explains the ambiguous relationships he cultivates with the act of writing: «It's an activity I seem to need in order to stay alive. I feel terrible when I'm not doing it. It's not that writing brings me a lot of pleasure -but not doing it is worse.»92(*)

    Writing: moving inward and outward

    In the same way that disconnection and starvation enable the characters to dig into themselves in order to find their own selves and then reconnect to the world, the process of writing has similar consequences. First, as «writing is a solitary business»93(*), it is an activity that favors introspection. However, the book is an important element insofar as it is a kind of tool, let us say a spade, which helps the writer to dig deeper into himself. In an interview, Auster explains how he used the book he was writing as an instrument of investigation of the self:

    I was looking at myself the same way a scientist studies a laboratory animal. I was no more than a little gray rat, a guinea pig stuck in the cage of my own consciousness; the book (...) was an attempt to turn myself inside out and examine what I was made of.94(*)

    In City Of Glass and Ghosts, the writer-characters do experience this introspection. Mention is made of a number of reminiscences the characters go through as they write, along with a number of questions they ask themselves. However, as their writings consist only of reports, that is, not literature, the process is not as strong as for Effing in the desert who discovers that «the true purpose of art was not to create beautiful objects (...) It was a method of understanding, a way of penetrating the world and finding one's place in it.»95(*) So, writing, when it is an art, i.e. literature, enables its author to discover himself more fully and consequently, enables him to find his place in the world. This function of writing is summed up in The Invention of Solitude: «as he writes, he feels that he is moving inward (through himself) and at the same time, outward (toward the world).»96(*)

    2/ The book

    Books and notebooks

    When reading Auster's novels, one cannot fail to notice the omnipresence of books and notebooks in the stories and this is particularly apparent in our two novels. Books figure prominently in the life of the hero in Moon Palace. Marco's mother worked for «a textbook company of some sort»97(*). His uncle was «a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman»98(*) for a while. It is this same uncle who passes on to Marco his 1492 books, the boxes of which Marco will use at first as furniture. Marco's different jobs are all related to books: «part-time work in a book store»99(*), library work and reader for Effing. Thus, `bookish' is an adjective that suits Marco well. In The New York Trilogy, Quinn is a writer of mystery novels in City of Glass. In Ghosts, there are numerous references made to novels and writers: Walden by HD Thoreau, Wakefield by Nathaniel Hawthorne... Finally, the narrator-hero in The Locked Room, is a writer who is the literary executor of his writer-friend: Fanshawe.Another point that is worth stressing is the characters' tendency to write in notebooks, most of the time red-coloured ones. Quinn writes down his observations in a red notebook and Stillman happens to have a red notebook «similar to Quinn's but smaller.»100(*) It is in a red notebook too that Fanshawe writes his own story. In Moon Palace, when Marco lives in Central Park, he jots down his observations in a notebook101(*) and Effing, while confined in his cave in the Utah desert, records his thoughts in a notebook too.102(*) Naturally, the fact that the characters write in notebooks has a lot to do with Auster's own attachment to notebooks: «J'ai toujours travaillé dans des carnets. Je préfère le cahier aux feuilles volantes. Tout est contenu, rassemblé dans le même lieu. Le carnet est une sorte de maison pour les mots.»103(*)

    The creation of another world

    In Auster's world, the book is an element to which great importance is given. This importance stems from Auster's conception of the book as a place. Indeed, for Auster as for his characters, books are perceived as independent and parallel worlds in which the mind can freely wander. Whether in the process of writing it or reading it, the book is the work of the mind, is a world for the mind. This is what appeals to Marco when he toys with the idea of becoming a librarian: «Libraries aren't the real world after all. They are places apart, sanctuaries of pure thought. In that way, I can go on living in the moon for the rest of my life.»104(*) Therefore, for the characters, books are a means to disconnect themselves from the `real world', to wander in a world created by their minds. Hence Marco's resentful statement about Chandler the bookseller whose conception of books has nothing to do with Marco's: «A book was no more than an object to him, a thing that belonged to the world of things, and as such is was not radically different from a shoebox, a toilet plunger, or a coffeepot.»105(*) Contrary to Chandler, Solomon Barber considers books not as simple objects, but as doors to another world. Through reading, he is able to withdraw from the reality of his obesity: «By entering the words that stood before him on the page, he was able to forget his body.»106(*) But if reading is a way to enter the world that is the book, writing is also a door to the world of the mind. Solomon Barber, when he is seventeen, writes a novel: Kepler's Blood, which enables him to escape from the reality of his absent father. In it, he projects himself in a story about his father's disappearance, and Marco comments on the novel saying «It demonstrates how Barber played out the inner dramas of his early life.»107(*) The verb play out is interesting in relation to a quotation by Freud found in The Invention of Solitude: «Perhaps we may say that every child at play behaves like an imaginative writer in that he creates a world of his own or, more truly, he rearranges the things of his world and orders it in a new way.»108(*) This quotation can explain the presence of the numerous characters writing in notebooks. Through writing, the character creates and controls another world in which he includes himself. Consequently, the character feels comfortable in a world where he orders things as he pleases.

    The limits of the book

    There is a problem with which many writer-characters are confronted at one moment or another during the course of their writings: the running out of pages in their notebooks. The most obvious example of this is Quinn in City of Glass who gradually disappears as the number of pages in his red notebook diminishes: «This period of growing darkness coincided with the dwindling of pages in the red notebook.»109(*)

    A similar situation occurs in Moon Palace. As days go by in his Utah cave, Effing runs out of canvasses to paint on: «Eventually, his materials were going to run out»111(*) However, he manages to find notebooks and begins to write, but once again, he fills them up: «By mid-February, however, he had filled all his notebooks, and there were no pages left to write on anymore.»112(*)

    This running out of space soon turns to obsession for the characters for whom the number of blank pages left somehow represents their future: «each time he completed another canvas, the dimensions of the future shrank for him, steadily drawing him closer to the moment where there would be no future at all.»113(*) Besides, this very traditional metaphor of the future as a blank page is already used by Marco at the beginning of Moon Palace: «At each moment, the future stood before me as a blank, a white page of uncertainty.»114(*) Therefore, running out of paper signifies getting closer to one's end: «Little by little, Quinn was coming to the end. At a certain point, he realized that the more he wrote, the sooner the time would come when he could no longer write anything.»115(*) The end of the notebook thus corresponds to the end of the character: Effing, alias Julian Barber, dies symbolically in the desert when he finishes his last painting and Quinn disappears for good when he fills up his notebook.


    1/ The Russian-doll effect

    Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy: archipelagoes of stories

    What is striking when reading Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy is the architecture of these two novels. Indeed, the diegetic structure of both books is very complex. The New York Trilogy is composed of three stories that seem to be independent even though they intermingle partially and are eventually claimed by the narrator to be the same story. Moon Palace comprises several micro-stories that take place within the main story. Thus each novel contains a series of internal stories, each one being intricately interconnected to the others. This Russian-doll effect is due to Auster's specific way of superimposing the narrative layers. In Moon Palace, for example, within the main story that is Marco's, occur several retrospective narrations or embedded stories: Effing's adventure in the desert, Solomon Barber's own story and his novel Kepler's Blood. All these stories overlap and clarify one another in retrospect. As a result, the novel becomes labyrinthine, somehow on the pattern of The One Thousand and One Nights, in which the analepses themselves constitute the main story. The embedded stories within Moon Palace and the three stories that constitute The New York Trilogy, can be compared to small islands of fiction in the middle of the sea of diegesis. The reader perceives and establishes links between these islands of fiction, and thus, he mentally unites them into a whole: an archipelago. The image of the archipelago is primordial in order to understand the way Auster's fiction works. Indeed critic Christophe Metress brings out the essential difference between the archipelago and the island. According to him, the island is a concrete unity, a creation of nature, whereas the archipelago is an invention of the mind, a unity founded on artificial links established between dispersed fragments.

    L'archipel (...) est une construction de l'esprit qui tient compte à la fois de la fragmentation et de la totalité, sans pour autant que ces deux notions s'excluent mutuellement. Un archipel est fait d'objets isolés qui ne se touchent pas, mais qui, bien que jamais en contact direct, sont reliés entre eux par l'imagination qui les conçoit comme les parties éparses d'un Tout plus grand.116(*)

    Auster himself uses the metaphor of the archipelago in In The Country of Last Things. When Anna explains her job as object hunter -an activity consisting in salvaging discarded objects or even fragments of objects- she says «The job is to zero in on these islands of intactness, to imagine them joined to other such islands, and those islands to still others, and thus to create new archipelagoes of matter.»117(*)

    By disseminating small fragments of fiction throughout his books, Auster expects the reader to use his mind, his imagination, to create by himself `archipelagoes of matter' i.e. to organize the fragments into a meaningful unity. This necessary involvement of the reader in the creation of the book is typical of Auster's way of writing, but this will be our subject later.

    Bridges between the spheres of fiction

    Within the set of small islands of fiction that appears in Auster's work, it is worth mentioning that there exist countless bridges between the many stories and the different books. Here, an interesting analogy can be established between Auster's fiction and the structure of the city of Amsterdam that he describes in The Invention of Solitude: «The plan of the city is circular (a series of concentric circles, bisected by canals, a cross-hatch of hundreds of tiny bridges, each one connecting to another, as though endlessly.)»118(*) This image is eloquent insofar as it well illustrates the innumerable connections within Auster's Russian doll-like fiction. An exhaustive list of all the intertextual threads being almost impossible to draw up, only a few examples will be given: Anna Blume, the heroine in In The Country of Last Things, is also Zimmer's absent girlfriend in Moon Palace. Besides, this same Zimmer appears in Leviathan. In Mr Vertigo, Walt, the hero, marries Molly Quinn, whose nephew is Daniel Quinn, the detective in City of Glass, also mentioned in The Locked Room. Thus, the characters circulate within Auster's world, they cross the bridges between the different stories and the different books, like passers-by wandering in the city of Amsterdam. Besides, it should be mentioned that the hero in Moon Palace was initially called Quinn before being called Marco.119(*) Thus the micro-stories within each novel form an archipelago, which is itself included in a larger archipelago, made up by the set of Auster's books. Moreover, this latter archipelago is widened by a number of references to books by other writers who influenced Auster: Thoreau, Melville, Vernes, Cervantes, Kafka, Poe...Therefore, Auster's world is an archipelago that rests upon an intricate web of bridges. However, Auster does not content himself with a rich network of connections within the realm of fiction, he goes so far as to break the frame of fiction, building bridges between the inside and the outside of fiction. Through narrative metalepsis, Auster includes himself in City of Glass. In it, he plays his own role: he is Paul Auster the writer, a «tall dark fellow in his mid-thirties»120(*) who lives with his wife Siri and his son Daniel and he is the friend of the narrator and so-called author of the story. This creates a rather puzzling effect on the reader as the distinction among the actual author, the author-narrator and the character is increasingly blurred. But this is precisely the point at stake here. By building so many bridges, Auster expects the reader to get immersed in his world of infinite connections and to perceive a unity in it.

    Stories about story-telling

    One of the reasons why there are so many embedded stories in Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy, is that both novels are about writers and writing. As a result, these two novels are about story-telling just like The One Thousand and One Nights, the plot of which Auster explains in The Invention of Solitude: «She begins her story and what she tells is a story about story-telling, a story within which are several stories, each one in itself, about story-telling.»121(*) The One Thousand and One Nights is a good example of the spiral effect of the mise en abyme. This motif is declined in a variety of ways throughout Auster's novels but there is a particularly relevant illustration of this in The Music of Chance. It is the `City of the World': a miniature scale-model of a city in which the model maker intends to include a model of the city itself. Thus, building «a model of the model»122(*) is somehow what Auster does in his books. This kind of fiction, concerned with the nature and techniques of fiction itself, is called metafiction. It usually depicts the process of writing and presents the novel as a literary construction but it also highlights the artificiality of the narrative conventions. In The New York Trilogy, it is the conventional genre of the detective novel that Auster uses to comment on the question of writing. The detective's investigation, with the putting together of different elements, symbolizes a search for truth, for meaning. Usually, at the end of a mystery novel, the detective manages to put the pieces back together, the case is solved, the truth is unveiled and order is restored. However, in The Trilogy, it is the opposite process that happens as Auster once explained: «[the detective] is the seeker after the truth, the problem-solver, the one who tries to figure things out. But what if in the course of trying to figure it out, you just unveil more mysteries?»123(*) In view of this, The New York Trilogy is an excellent example of post-modern metafiction. Auster uses the genre convention of the detective novel to «get to another place»124(*) and in effect, the book is intended to trigger off a metaphysical introspection in the reader's mind.

    2/ The fiction: a `City of the World'

    The characters: literary creations

    Throughout these two novels, Auster scatters a number of allusions to the fact that his characters belong to a work of fiction, not to the `real' world. Marco is a typical example of this, his initials, MS, are the abbreviation for the word manuscript, which is Auster's way of reminding us that Marco is a man who exists only on paper. The characters themselves often draw parallels between themselves and heroes of literature. Marco compares his boyhood days to the ones of «some pathetic orphan hero in a nineteenth-century novel.»125(*) Later, Effing is said to «talk like a hero in a goddamned book.»126(*) Auster himself, when writing on his father's visit in Paris in 1972, says: «The encounter was straight out of Dostoyevsky: bourgeois father comes to visit son in a foreign city and finds the struggling poet alone in a garret, wasting away with fever.»127(*) One of Auster's particularities is to place within the situations apparently trivial references to books. When Effing decides to leave his cave in the desert, the narrator says: «He knew that his time in the cave had come to an end -just like that, with the speed and force of a book slamming shut.»128(*) Likewise, when Blue, in Ghosts, realizes that the woman he has been courting will never be his wife, he tells himself: «It's time to turn the page.»129(*) Through this device, Auster constantly reminds us that we are reading a work of fiction. Besides, in City of Glass, when Quinn leaves Paul Auster's apartment, Auster, in order to contact him, asks Quinn: «Are you in the book?»130(*), as though Auster, the author, was obliquely asking his character whether he belonged to the novel, the latter answering «yes», as if somehow aware of his status as a character. In an interview, Auster explains that for a time, he toyed with the idea of «using an epigraph at the beginning of City of Glass. It comes from Wittgenstein: `And it also means something to talk of living in the pages of a book.'»131(*) Therefore, Auster seems to say that even though fictional, the characters are nevertheless fully-fledged beings inside the book.

    Fiction: prison -Fate: manipulation

    Given that the characters `live' in the pages of the book, they are liable to become aware of their statuses as characters, thus realizing their confinement inside the fiction. Marco, listening to Effing's stories, points out that story-telling creates an artificial world, a kind of prison of fiction: «I began to live inside that voice as though it were a room, a windowless room that grew smaller and smaller with each passing day.»132(*) This image of the room gradually closing on its occupier is very disturbing, likewise the idea of belonging to a work of fiction as Sophie remarks in the Locked Room «No one wants to be part of a fiction.»133(*) What is disturbing in the idea of being part of a fiction is that «in a work of fiction, one assumes there is a conscious mind behind the words on the page.»134(*) Therefore, it implies that if you are a character, you are not free: you are confined in a limited space and above all, you are under the control of an author. This is very reminiscent of the synopsis of The Music of Chance in which Nashe and Pozzi are held prisoner in a clearing by two men who use them to do what they want. Consequently, being a character is like being a puppet in the hands of an author who has the power to act on everything in the book like a demiurge. Hence the character's numerous interrogations on the subject of fate. In City of Glass, Quinn wonders: «He had tried to contact Virginia Stillman in order to tell her that he was through, but the fates had not allowed it. Quinn paused for a moment to consider this. Was `fate' really the word he wanted to use?»135(*) Indeed, the word that Quinn cannot find could very well be the word `author'. But if Quinn is never fully aware of being a character, he nevertheless has doubts concerning fate that he somehow personifies («fates had not allowed it»). Likewise, when his car -with all his money in the trunk- is stolen, Marco immediately suspects some external forces:
    «It struck me that the theft had not been committed by men. It was a prank of the gods, an act of divine malice whose only object was to crush me.»136(*) It seems therefore that the characters become aware of being trapped even though they do not really understand they are characters.

    To get out of the house of fiction

    Once they are aware of being prisoners, the characters -naturally enough- try to escape. «He feels like a man who has been condemned to sit down in a room and go on reading for the rest of his life (...) 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?»137(*) To this question, the characters give different answers as so many escape attempts. Stillman allegedly commits suicide: he jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge, as if he had decided to disappear in the void between the stories. As for Quinn, he has no time to escape since the author obliterates him once his part is played out. In Ghosts, the author, or more precisely the figure of the author embodied in the character Black/White, tries to obliterate Blue at the end: «I don't need you anymore Blue (...) It's finished. The whole thing is played out. There's nothing more to be done.»138(*) But this time, unlike in City of Glass, it is Blue who kills his author and then runs away. This radical form of escape that can be called `authoricide' seems to be efficient insofar as Blue seems to have escaped the narrator and Auster himself: «And from this moment, we know nothing.»139(*) The narrator-hero in The Locked Room, contemplates killing his character, the subject of his book, but he eventually decides against this, rather destroying the book and escaping in a train. As far as Marco is concerned, his escape is somewhat different. At the end of the book, Marco reaches the end of the continent and says: «This is where I start, (...) this is where my life begins.»140(*) With this open ending, Auster seems to suggest that Marco, through his successful crossing of the book, has somehow gained the status of a `free character', able to live on his own outside the novel. But on the whole, there is a method that the characters try in order to escape: to become writers in their turn, like the narrator-hero in The Locked Room who declares: «If courage is needed to write about it, I also know that writing about it is the one chance I have to escape.»141(*)


    1/ A search for authorship

    Characters in quest of their authors

    At one moment or another, the characters, somehow feeling trapped or manipulated, go in search of the one person responsible for their situation, the one who pulls the strings: the author. This is particularly apparent in Ghosts where Blue tries to find and unmask White, Blue's mysterious employer, the author of the trick. «White is the one who set the case in motion -thrusting Blue into an empty room, as it were, and then, turning off the light and locking the door.»142(*) Blue later finds his own reports in Black's apartment and discovers that Black and White are finally the same person. Therefore, the character Black/White is a figure of the two sides of the author. White is the one who sets up the trick, the plot. His role is that of the scenarist. Black records what happens, he does the writing work.A noticeable point is that the authors, or more exactly, the figures of the author, generally hide from their characters. Just as White wears a mask and takes great precautions not to be found out, Fanshawe takes great pains to hide from the narrator-hero in The Locked Room. Fanshawe is a figure of the author because he is himself a writer, but above all, he is the one who orchestrated the narrator-hero's new life, his meeting with Sophie and consequently their marriage and their financial well-being. Therefore, when he goes in search for Fanshawe, he is looking for the author of Neverland as well as the author of his new life.A rather puzzling scene occurs in City of Glass. At a point where Quinn is particularly troubled by Stillman's odd behaviour, he contacts Paul Auster who is supposed to be the real detective. As a matter of fact, it seems that Quinn, without being aware of it, directly asks his own author for help. Indeed, who other than the author himself, has the power to answer all the characters' questions? But, as it happens, Paul Auster is not a detective, he is himself a writer, working then on an essay dealing with the question of the authorship of Don Quixote, Cervantes's novel
    -according to Auster- having been written collectively by four characters of Don Quixote.

    Characters in quest of their fathers

    A curious thing is that one of the synonyms for authorship is the word `paternity'. This word obviously derives from the Latin word `pater' which means father. The analogy between these two terms is interesting in this study insofar as, along with looking for their authors, the characters very often go in search of their fathers. Indeed, a common denominator between the characters in these two novels is the absence of the father. In Ghosts, we learn that Blue's father was a cop assassinated when Blue was very young. Fanshawe also loses his father early in The Locked Room. As for Marco, he spent his childhood without a father: «there was never any father in the picture, and so it had just been the two of us, my mother and I.»143(*) As far as Solomon Barber is concerned, he grows up assuming that his father is dead. What is essential to pinpoint is that the lack of a father leaves deep traces in the characters' personalities. It can even be said that it is what defines them as Marco remarks:

    For twenty-four years, I had lived with an unanswerable question, and little by little I had come to embrace that enigma as the central fact about myself. My origins were a mystery, and I would never know where I had come from. This was what defined me, and by now, I was used to my own darkness, clinging to it as a source of knowledge and self-respect, trusting in it as an ontological necessity.144(*)

    However, if for Marco, the absence of father is partly compensated by his uncle Victor, for Solomon Barber, the death of his father is lived as a trauma. That is the reason why, at the age of seventeen, he writes a fiction about his father, that is more a therapeutic work than a piece of literature. However, through his writing, Solomon Barber transposes himself into a story in which he makes up an imaginary father. Therefore, they are somehow reunited within the work of fiction. For the characters, looking for their fathers is a quest for origins, just like the search for their authors. This quest is necessary inasmuch as they need to know from where they have come in order to know who they are and where they are going.


    The search for authorship, for paternity, is to be connected to the process of the investigation. Indeed, both processes imply a movement backward in time towards the origins of a situation. Through ratiocination, the detective tries to go back to the origins of a crime, to find the `author' of the crime. Therefore, the Whodunit -who is the author of the crime?- can be translated into a Who wrote it: who is the author of the book? In The New York Trilogy, several characters are simultaneously authors and detectives. In City of Glass, Quinn is a writer turned detective. Blue, in Ghosts, is a detective turned writer and the narrator-hero in The Locked Room is a writer turned detective. Indeed, there is a certain continuity between the activities of writing and investigating as Quinn points out in City of Glass:

    The detective is the one who looks, who listens, who moves through this morass of objects and events in search of the thought, the idea that will pull all these things together and make sense of them. In effect, the writer and the detective are interchangeable.145(*)

    Thus investigating is strongly linked around the notion of authorship in the sense that both author and detective are supposed to manage to unite disparate elements into a formal coherence. Moreover, as Madeleine Sorapure writes: «We can say that the detective is successful only insofar as he is able to attain the position of the author, a metaphysical position, above and beyond the events in the text.»146(*) Thus the detective and the author share the characteristic to be able to distance themselves from the situation, to be `beyond the events', to perceive some cohesion between the scattered fragments. In the same way the reader coherently unites the disseminated islands of fiction into a mental gathering: the archipelago. However, in The New York Trilogy, in spite of applying the logic and methods of traditional investigation, the writer-detectives are never able to reach the status of authorial omniscience. They are unable to distance themselves from the events so that they are confined in limited knowledge and imperfect understanding of the case. But we must bear in mind that The New York Trilogy is a work of metafiction and it is precisely this frustration of not knowing everything that Auster exposes as the central fact about authorship.

    2/ Seeking for authority

    Playing the puppet-master

    In Auster's novels, the desire to write, to become an author oneself, seems to stem from a need to control things, to have power over a world, exactly like in the image of Flower and Stone dominating the City of the World in The Music of Chance. Writing a story therefore boils down to creating a world over which the writer has absolute power. An essential thing to be pointed out is that the author always includes himself in his world of fiction, like Flower and Stone who are present within the small scale-model: «If you look carefully, you'll see that many of the figures actually represent Willie himself. (...)There, on the corner of that street, you see the two of us buying the lottery ticket.»147(*) Quinn, in City of Glass, is a writer of mystery novels and his detective-hero, Max Work, is no less than an idealized Quinn on paper. Quinn thus manipulates his double within a world in which he has the satisfaction of controling everything. However, when he is hired as a detective, he finds himself under the authority of someone else: the author, Auster. Quinn is himself an obvious paper-Auster: «As a young man, he had published several books of poetry, had written plays, critical essays and had worked on a number of translations.»148(*) Therefore, Auster is the central puppet-player, using his doubles in his books (Quinn, Marco, Solomon Barber, Fanshawe, Sachs...) as so many puppets to tell his own story. In The Invention of Solitude, Auster gives an eloquent illustration on this subject:

    `When he recovered his senses, the Marionette could not remember where he was. Around him all was darkness, a darkness so deep and so black that for moment, he thought he had been dipped head first into an inkwell.' (...) By plunging his marionette into the darkness of the shark, Collodi is telling he is dipping his pen into the darkness of his own inkwell. Pinocchio, after all, is only made of wood. Collodi is using him as an instrument (literally, the pen) to write the story of himself.149(*)

    In actual facts, using a puppet, a double, is a way to take some distance in order to be able to write efficiently about oneself, as Auster explained in an interview: «What it came down to was creating a distance between myself and myself. If you're too close to the thing you are trying to write about, the perspective vanishes, and you begin to smother.»150(*) But above all, Auster's use of a double is a way of illustrating Rimbaud's phrase `Je est un autre'. In this same interview, Auster makes this concept more explicit: «The moment I think about the fact I'm saying `I', I'm already saying `he'. It's the mirror of self-consciousness, a way of watching yourself think.»151(*)

    Control over life and death

    In Auster's fiction, the act of writing is intertwined with the notions of life and death. It can even be said that writing seems to have an influence over life and death. First, Auster stresses that writing about a dead person somehow brings him/her back to life. This is explicitly stated in Portrait of an Invisible Man: «Instead of burying my father for me, these words have kept him alive, perhaps more so than ever.»152(*) The same kind of reflection is present in The Locked Room where Sophie says to her husband who writes the biography of her ex-husband: «Don't you see what's happening? You're bringing him back to life.»153(*) Naturally, these people do not come back to life physically, but they are literally resurrected in the characters' minds as well as in the readers' minds. But a crucial thing is that the act of writing is a process of creation. The author is a creator, his characters are literary creations...or creatures. In City of Glass, Quinn makes an interesting remark about his private-eye hero, Max Work: «Over the years, Work had become very close to Quinn. Whereas William Wilson remained an abstract figure for him, Work had increasingly come to life.»154(*) Here, Quinn is to be compared to Dr Frankenstein or Gepetto, whose creation becomes a creature, i.e. a living being. Writing is also a way to stay alive. After three weeks in the City of Destruction, it is the writing of her novel-letter that keeps Anna Blume alive. Telling stories is also the means by which Shehrzad saves her life in The One Thousand and One Nights. Besides, in The Invention of Solitude, Auster explains how Shehrzad, at the end of the book, has borne the king three sons and he concludes: «Again, the lesson is made clear. A voice that speaks, a woman's voice that speaks, a voice that speaks stories of life and death, has the power to give life.»155(*) The power to give life is a divine attribute and in effect, we can say that, over their created world, the authors are like gods.

    Who controls whom?

    In Auster's novels, especially in The New York Trilogy, one notices that there are many mirrored situations. In Ghosts for instance, Blue's situation is perfectly symmetric to Black's: «For in spying out at Black across the street, it is as though Blue were looking in a mirror.»156(*) This characteristic raises a central issue in Auster's work: who controls whom? In The Locked Room, Fanshawe explains to the narrator-hero how he got rid of the detective (whose name is Quinn...) hired by his wife:
    «I turned everything around. He thought he was following me, but in fact I was following him (...) I was watching him the whole time.»157(*) This kind of reversal of situation is omnipresent in The New York Trilogy. In Ghosts, Blue is suddenly overcome by doubt about his supposed control of the situation: «Blue no longer knows what to think. It seems perfectly plausible to him that he is also being watched, observed by another one in the same way that he has been observing Black. If that is the case, then he has never been free.»158(*) The detective who is supposed to be the observer, the one who works in the dark, actually finds himself the subject of someone else's investigation. The detective, initially assimilated to the writer, then loses his status as an author to become a character in the hands of some other author. An illustration of this turnaround is given in City of Glass where Quinn, who has been tailing Stillman, realizes that Stillman's wanderings in fact spell out the phrase `the Tower of Babel':

    Thus, he had created the letters by the movements of his steps, but they had not been written down. It was like drawing a picture in the air with your finger. The image vanishes as you are making it. There is no result, no trace to mark what you have done. And yet, the picture did exist -not in the streets where they had been drawn, but in Quinn's red notebook.159(*)

    Thus Stillman becomes the author as he is able to write in Quinn's notebook. Consequently, Quinn somehow becomes the puppet through which Stillman writes his own story. The issue a stake here is that of freedom. When Blue considers that perhaps `he has never been free', he expresses the typically American dread that someone else is patterning your life. Therefore, all this seriously calls into question Uncle Victor's statement according to which «every man is the author of his own life.»160(*) Indeed, The New York Trilogy challenges this view and casts a doubt in the reader's mind: am I the author of my life or am I the work of some external author?
    In other words, am I a character of some fiction? This question is asked by Jorge Luis Borges in «Magie Partielle du Quichotte»:

    Pourquoi sommes-nous inquiets que la carte soit incluse dans la carte et les mille et une nuits dans le livre des Mille et Une Nuits? Que don Quichotte soit lecteur du Quichotte et Hamlet un spectateur d'Hamlet? Je crois en avoir trouvé la cause: de telles inventions suggèrent que si les personnages d'une fiction peuvent être lecteurs ou spectateurs, nous, leurs lecteurs ou leurs spectateurs, pouvons être des personnages fictifs. En 1833, Carlyle a noté que l'histoire universelle est un livre sacré, infini, que tous les hommes écrivent et lisent et tâchent de comprendre, et où, aussi, on les écrit.161(*)



    1/ Constitution of worlds

    The Library of the Universe

    Auster's fiction -as previously seen- has a Russian doll-like structure. In each novel occurs a multitude of internal stories that are all very closely interwoven. Moreover, we have seen that connections also take place between his different books, be they works of fiction, autobiographical works or even essays. Besides, a global understanding of Auster's work necessitates a knowledge of all his books, each one being a key to enter and understand his universe. And indeed, Auster's work constitutes a universe in itself, i.e. a coherent unity among all his books and himself. So, each one of his books can be compared to a planet with its own independence but that belongs nevertheless to a larger order: Auster's universe. It is therefore reasonable to assume that his words constitute a world. There is a significant point here and that is that the universe is often compared to a library. For instance, in
    Les Mots et Les Choses, Michel Foucault quotes Charles Bonnet who exposes the following comparison: «Je me plais à envisager la multitude innombrable de Mondes comme autant de livres qui composent l'immense Bibliothèque de l'Univers ou la vraie Encyclopédie universelle.»162(*) Now, how can one fail to notice the similarity between this statement and a remark from Auster as a young boy: «He remembers speculating that perhaps, the entire world was enclosed in a glass jar and that it sat on a shelf next to dozens of other jar-worlds in the pantry of a giant's house.»163(*) If we replace jars by books, the shelf then becomes a bookshelf and the pantry a library.But the most eloquent description of the Universe as a library is perhaps the one made by Jorge Luis Borges in La Bibliothèque de Babel:

    L'Univers (que d'autres appellent la Bibliothèque) se compose d'un nombre indéfini, et peut être infini, de galeries hexagonales, avec au centre de vastes puits d'aération bordés par des balustrades très basses. De chacun de ces hexagones, on aperçoit les étages inférieurs et supérieurs, interminablement. (...) Chacun des murs de chaque hexagone porte cinq étagères; chaque étagère comprend trente-deux livres, tous de même format; chaque livre a quatre cent dix pages; chaque page, quarante lignes, et chaque ligne, environ quatre-vingts caractères noirs.164(*)

    This detailed description of the Universe as an immense library is significant concerning the point at stake here, that is that the words form sentences which form paragraphs which form books which form...the Universe. But, later on, Borges exposes an axiom of the Library which is crucial: «Il n'y a pas dans la vaste Bibliothèque, deux livres identiques. (...) la Bibliothèque est totale et ses étagères consignent toutes les combinaisons possibles des vingt et quelques symboles orthographiques (nombre quoique très vaste, non infini), c'est à dire tout ce qu'il est possible d'exprimer dans toutes les langues.»165(*) So, according to Borges, the Universe is total though not infinite and this comes from the very nature of our language which is itself not infinite. This opinion seems to be shared by Auster, but this will be our subject in another part of this essay.

    Worlds within the word

    If the words put together then form sentences and chapters and books, thus composing a world or a universe, Auster, through his approach to words, seems to show that there exist worlds within the word. Therefore this conception implies a movement opposite to the one of the Library of the Universe. Indeed, in the concept of the Library of the Universe, the word is somehow the base of the construction of the Universe. Here, the movement regresses from the word towards the worlds included in it. In City of Glass, Quinn encounters Stillman, a linguist who declares to Quinn: «Most people (...) think of words as stones, as great unmoveable objects with no life, as monads that never change.»166(*) Indeed, the `stones' are a material used to build larger structures, like a gigantic library for example. But, as Quinn answers, the stones are not perpetual: «stones can change. They can be worn away by wind or water. They can erode. They can be crushed. You can turn them into shards, or gravel, or dust.»167(*) Therefore, Auster suggests that the word is not the minimal entity. On the contrary, he asserts that the word can be further deconstructed, for the word is itself a container. What is striking is that Stillman's metaphor of words as stones is echoed in Moon Palace where Marco makes a similar observation:

    Everything was constantly in flux, and though two bricks in a wall might strongly resemble each other, they could never be construed as identical. More to the point, the same brick was never really the same: it was wearing out, imperceptibly crumbling under the effects of the atmosphere, the cold, the heat, the storms that attacked it, and eventually, if one could watch it over the course of the centuries, it would no longer be there.168(*)

    So, if the words are `stones' or `bricks', they are nevertheless not perpetual, they can change according to what is around them, as Auster explains in The Invention of Solitude: «As in the meanings of words, things take on meaning only in relationship to each other. `two faces are alike' writes Pascal. `Neither is funny by itself, but side by side their likeness makes us laugh.' The faces rhyme for the eye, just as two words can rhyme for the ear.»169(*) Auster's approach to words follows this principle. This explains why he is so fond of puns, the most famous one being the triad «room, tomb, womb»170(*), which is a fundamental key to his universe. But this kind of pun also appears in his work of fiction. When Anna Blume introduces herself to the rabbi in In The Country of Last Things, he says: « `Blume. As in doom and gloom, I take it.' `That's right. Blume, as in womb and tomb. You have your pick.'»171(*) Naturally, Stillman the linguist cannot resist punning on Quinn's name:

    `Hmmm. Very interesting. I see many possibilities for this word, this Quinn, this...quintessence...of quiddity. Quick, for example. And quill. And quack. And quirk. Hmmm. Rhymes with grin. Not to speak of kin. Hmmm. Very interesting. And win. And fin. And din. And gin. And pin. And tin. And bin; Even rhymes with djinn. Hmmm. And if you sat it right, with been. Hmm. Yes, very interesting. I like your name enormously Mr Quinn. It flies off in so many directions at once.'172(*)

    Watching carefully the words that Stillman associates with Quinn, it is puzzling to notice that a lot of these words are actually tied up with Quinn's character. As François Gallix explains in his critical work on Moon Palace, «Auster seems to be showing that if all words can be punned on, it is only because each word contains another world of words, in a metaphysical mise en abyme that reflects the human mind as much as it is a flight of fancy on the reader's part.»173(*)

    Language makes our world and us.

    In all his books, Auster attempts to write stories within the confines of a universe where language itself seems to be already and inevitably a confining structure determining the shape of the world it represents. Indeed, as Marco remarks cleverly when he is confronted with the difficulty of describing the world to a blind man, «The world enters us through our eyes, but we cannot make sense of it until it descends into our mouths.»174(*) With this seemingly trivial sentence, Marco actually illustrates Wittgenstein's theory according to which it is impossible to think outside language. What Wittgenstein means by this is that when we think, we do not manipulate concepts, we manipulate words, the word being the physical medium through which the concept is expressed. Consequently, as the number of words -though immense- is not infinite, the set of possible words is limited, thereby our perception of the world is limited as well. It seems that Auster agrees with this conception of the language as a confining structure. Furthermore, not only considering language as the instrument of thought, he seems to show that language is the constitutive element of the world of man. In this regard, he meets Hans Georg Gadamer's thinking on the ontological dimension of language. In Vérité et Méthode, Gadamer exposes his theory according to which the world is made up through and by language: «Le monde se constitue langagièrement. Le monde où ce qui est objet de connaissance et d'énoncé est depuis toujours compris dans l'horizon du monde de la langue.»175(*) So, it is not our perception of the world that is limited, but the world itself, as it is constituted by a language that is already a limited and confining structure.We know Auster's attachment to Rimbaud's phrase `Je est un autre'. Indeed, Auster discourses at length upon this phrase in The Invention of Solitude as well as in many interviews. But this phrase leads us to think that Auster believes in the confining effect of language upon man. Let us bring some light on this issue, by examining a very instructive extract from Le Signe: Histoire et Analyse d'un Concept, by Umberto Eco:

    Le langage nous précède et nous détermine. Dans ce langage existe en effet une différence entre sujet de l'énonciation et sujet de l'énoncé, différence qui explique le processus par lequel le langage nous arrache à une `nature' inconnaissable, pour nous introduire à une `culture' dans laquelle nous nous objectivons. L'enfant qui, par l'usage de la parole, décide de se reconnaître comme sujet est le sujet de l'acte d'énonciation : il voudrait se désigner comme /je/, mais dès l'instant où il rentre dans l'orbe langagière, le /je/ qu'il émet est déjà le sujet de l'énoncé, de la phrase, du syntagme linguistique par lequel il s'extériorise : ce /je/ est déjà un produit culturel. (...) En s'identifiant au sujet de l'énoncé, le sujet de l'énonciation s'est donc déjà disqualifié comme subjectivité: le langage l'emprisonne dans une altérité, à l'intérieur de laquelle il devra s'identifier pour se construire, mais dont il ne parviendra plus jamais à se libérer.176(*)

    In view of this, Auster's use of `Je est un autre' seems to suggest that he, as a writer and a man, feels imprisoned by language, not only because it is a barrier between him and the world, but also because it is a barrier between him and himself.

    2/ Between the World and the Self

    The inadequacy of the word

    In City of Glass, Stillman is a mad linguist. Yet, he is some kind of spokesman for Auster who uses this character to expose some of the fundamental questions he asks himself about language. In the first dialogue between Quinn and Stillman, Stillman brings out an issue that is particularly recurrent throughout Auster's work: the frontier between the `real' world and its modes of representation. In his speech, generally referred to as `the umbrella speech', Stillman exposes his view about language:

    `Our words no longer correspond to the world. (...) Hence, every time we try to speak of what we see, we speak falsely, distorting the very thing we are trying to represent. (...) Consider a word that refers to a thing -`umbrella' for example. When I say the word `umbrella', you see the object in your mind. You see a kind of stick, with collapsible metal spokes on top that form an armature for a waterproof material which, when opened, will protect you from the rain. This last detail is important. Not only is an umbrella a thing, it is a thing that performs a function -in other words, expresses the will of man. (...) Now, my question is this. What happens when a thing no longer performs its function? Is it still the thing, or has it become something else? When you rip the cloth off the umbrella, is the umbrella still an umbrella? (...) Is it possible to go on calling this object an umbrella? In general, people do (...) To me this is a serious error, the source of all our troubles. Because it can no longer perform its function, the umbrella has ceased to be an umbrella. (...) The word, however, has remained the same. Therefore, it can no longer express the thing. It is imprecise; it is false; it hides the thing it is supposed to reveal. And if we cannot even name a common, everyday object that we hold in our hands, how can we expect to speak of the things that truly concern us?'177(*)

    Here, Stillman points out the inadequacy of our language of words. Furthermore, he illustrates the classical theory according to which the clarification of language becomes the prerequisite and actually the exclusive task of philosophy.178(*) This issue is dear to Auster as the `umbrella speech' is echoed in Moon Palace where Effing and Marco encounter Orlando, a man walking with an umbrella over his head, the protective cloth having been stripped off its armature. The same issue is declined in Portrait of an Invisible Man: «At what moment does a house stop being a house? When the roof is taken off? When the windows are removed? When the walls are knocked down? At what moment does it become a pile of rubble?»179(*) It seems obvious then that Auster resents the gap between the world and the word. Language appears to Auster as a closed system. The representation of the world being the result of the interrelation of resemblances and differences within this closed system. That is precisely the reason why Marco has so many difficulties when describing the world to Effing. Effing makes Marco realize the huge frontier between the words and the world: «I was being plunged into a world of particulars, and the struggle to evoke them in words, to summon up the immediate sensual data, presented a challenge I was ill-prepared for.»180(*)

    The rift between thinking and writing

    As we have seen, Auster's novels are riddled with writer-characters. What is noticeable about these writer-characters is that a great majority of them share the common feeling of the ineffectiveness of language. In other words, they feel they are unable to express what they want through words. If they nevertheless persist in doing so, the result does not satisfy them at all. One example of this is Peter Aaron in Leviathan, who compares his use of language to Sachs's: «Language has never been accessible to me in the way that it was for Sachs. I'm shut off from my own thoughts, trapped in a no-man's land between feeling and articulation, and no matter how hard I try to express myself, I can rarely come up with more than a confused stammer.»181(*) Peter Aaron is not the only one to feel unsatisfied with language, Blue, in Ghosts, makes a similar observation as he reads over the reports he has made: «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 they are trying to say.»182(*) In The Locked Room, when he starts writing the biography of Fanshawe, the narrator-hero has difficulty telling in words the life of his friend: «Every life is inexplicable, I kept telling myself. No matter how many facts are told, no matter how many details are given, the essential thing resists telling.»183(*) So, for Austerian characters, writing never exhausts what there is to say. It seems that words fail to convey `the essential thing'. This is somehow the other flaw of language according to Auster. Stillman, the linguist, brings out the ineffectiveness of words to express things, likewise, the writer-characters pinpoint the ineffectiveness of words to express thought. Furthermore, Auster seems to suggest that the evocative power of words diminishes as the thought becomes more important. This is what the narrator-hero in The Locked Room notices as well: «For when anything can happen -that is the precise moment where words begin to fail.»184(*) It is this same feeling that Anna Blume expresses when she writes: «Words do not allow such things. The closer you come to the end, the more there is to say.»185(*) This unavailability of words at the precise moment when an important thought springs to the mind of the writer is resented by Auster himself when he writes Portrait of an Invisible Man:

    So great was my need to write that I thought the story would be written by itself. But the words have come very slowly so far. (...) Never before have I been so aware of the rift between thinking and writing. For the past few days, in fact, I have begun to feel that the story I'm trying to tell is somehow incompatible with language, that the degree to which it resists language is an exact measure of how closely I have come to saying something important, and that when the moment arrives for me to say the one truly important thing (assuming it exists), I will not be able to say it.186(*)

    So, through his writer-characters, Auster expresses his own difficulty with writing, once again presenting the language of words as an inadequate medium to convey thought. However, we shall see later that Auster's characters are not all dissatisfied with language, and that some of them manage to find ways to use it successfully.

    Investigation of language/ Investigation of the self

    For most of the writer-characters in Auster's novels, writing is a means to find themselves, to know who they really are, and consequently to find their place in society. However, as we have seen, almost all the author-characters -at one moment or another- are confronted with the issues raised by language: the inadequacy of the language of words in the representation of the world, or the ineffectiveness of language in the conveyance of thoughts. As a result, the characters, to a large or lesser degree, embark on an investigation of language. Of course, the most obvious example of this is The New York Trilogy, in which the genre of the detective novel offers a parallel structure for the investigation of language. With regard to this idea, critic Alison Russell brings light on the way the Trilogy is an investigation of language:

    City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room are essentially retellings of the same story. All three employ and deconstruct the conventional elements of the detective story, resulting in a recursive linguistic investigation of the nature, function and meaning of language. (...) This quest for correspondence between signifier and signified is inextricably related to each protagonist's quest for origin and identity, for the self only exists insofar as language grants existence to it.187(*)

    Indeed, if we consider Gadamer's or Umberto Eco's view, according to which the self is constituted by language, the investigation of language is actually no less than `a quest for origin and identity'. Quinn, working on the Stillman's case, is made aware of the issue of language to such a degree that he soon abandons the case to concentrate exclusively on language, in the hope of finding who he really is. Likewise, Marco's adventure in Moon Palace can be assimilated to a initiatory voyage in the world of words. The reason why so many characters are also writers is therefore clearer. It is not the book in itself which helps one to find oneself, but the necessary interrogation and investigation that the act of writing implies. Notwithstanding, it should be noted that the investigation of language can take on the form of a simple and playful manipulation of words, such as puns or play on words, as Auster explains: «Language is not truth. It is the way we exist in the world. Playing with words is merely to examine the way the mind functions, to mirror a particle of the world as the mind perceives it.»188(*)


    1/ To go back to the origins


    Faced with the problem of the ineffectiveness and inadequacy of language, Auster's characters develop different methods towards a mastering of language. One particular method which is given great importance in The New York Trilogy is that of Stillman. Stillman is a linguist who wrote under the pseudonym of Henry Dark, a pamphlet called The New Babel. In his work, he exposes his theory according to which it is possible «to undo the fall [of man], to reverse its effects by undoing the fall of language, by striving to recreate the language that was spoken in Eden.»189(*) Following this principle, for nine years, Stillman will keep his son isolated from human speech and contact, keeping him locked in a small and lightless room so that he might learn the original language of God. This language, also referred to as the adamic or prelapsarian language, is the supposedly lost language that God asked Adam to invent to name the creatures. This language was supposed to convey the essence of things, thereby leaving no gap between the word and the thing. But let us examine Michel Foucault's definition of the prelapsarian language that he gives in Les Mots et Les Choses:

    Sous sa forme première, quand il fut donné aux hommes par Dieu lui-même, le langage était un signe des choses absolument certain et transparent, parce qu'il leur ressemblait. Les noms étaient déposés sur ce qu'ils désignaient, comme la force est écrite dans le corps d'un lion, la royauté dans le regard de l'aigle.(...) Cette transparence fut détruite à Babel pour la punition des hommes. Les langues ne furent séparées les unes des autres et ne devinrent incompatibles que dans la mesure où fut effacée d'abord cette ressemblance aux choses qui avait été la première raison du langage.190(*)

    Stillman considers that Babel is the cause of all the problems he meets with language. That is the reason why he tries to counteract the fall of language, by recreating a prelapsarian language that will at last express things satisfactorily. Stillman's attempt, though it is a total failure, is not unfounded. In effect, it follows a long trend, as Umberto Eco explains: «Un grand rêve traverse la culture humaniste et l'empirisme anglais, de Bacon au XVIII e siècle tout entier (Formigari, 1970) : celui de decouvrir la langue de nos aïeux, ou de recréer une langue universelle valable pour tous les hommes.»191(*) Besides, this trend gave way to a number of similar experiments as early as in Ancient Egypt, as Quinn is able to remember.192(*) Therefore, Stillman is a Babelist, and we are inclined to think that Auster is himself fond of the myth of Babel. Indeed, his work is full of allusions to Babel. In The Locked Room, the tall building where Fanshawe hides himself in Boston is made of bricks and as Stillman pinpoints in City of Glass «for there [in Boston] -as nowhere else in the world, the chief construction material is brick -which as set forth in verse three of Genesis II, was specified as the construction material of Babel.»193(*) In Squeeze Play, a pot boiler written by Auster under a pseudonym in 1978, George Chapman, the private eye, has a poster of The Tower of Babel by Bruegel in his office. Furthermore, it should be noted that Auster wrote an essay called New York Babel.

    Giving names to things

    «Adam's one task in the Garden had been to invent language, to give each creature and thing its name»194(*) This statement read by Quinn in Stillman's pamphlet is interesting in view of the various methods to master language. Indeed, it happens that several characters in Auster's work are depicted giving names to things. As Quinn realises, Stillman's wandering in the streets of New York are due to his principal activity: collecting broken items off the sidewalks and inventing names for them. Stillman's behaviour (though not so harmful) is not far from the experience he carried out on his son thirteen years earlier. In effect, he still wants to cancel the inadequacy of words in the representation of things as he explains to Quinn: «I give them names. (...) I invent new words that will correspond to the things.»195(*) Thus, instead of trying to find the prelapsarian language empirically, Stillman now tries to create it, somehow turning himself into a new Adam. But what is worthwhile to notice, is that Marco, in Moon Palace, behaves similarly. When he ends up in Central Park, living like a bum, he also gives names to things: «I began giving funny names to the garbage cans. I called them cylindrical restaurants, pot-luck dinners, municipal care packages.»196(*) Here again, the act of naming has obvious Edenic overtones. Central Park has certain similarities with the Garden of Eden when it is described by Marco:

    [the park] offered a variety of sites and terrains that nature seldom gives in such a condensed area. There were hillocks and fields, stony outcrops and jungles of foliage, smooth pastures and crowded networks of caves. (...) There was the zoo, of course, down at the bottom of the park, and the pond.197(*)

    Consequently, Marco, sauntering about the park somehow becomes a new Adam too. Naturally, Marco's motivations for giving new names to things is different from Stillman's. On the one hand, Stillman's inventions of words are part of a complex investigation of language with lofty motives: to cancel the fall of man. On the other hand, for Marco, giving names to things is one performance of the art of hunger. Indeed, in La Faim, the novel by Knut Hansum -a strongly influential work for Auster- the narrator-hero, at the peak of a crisis of inanition, invents a name:

    Soudain, je fais claquer plusieurs fois mes doigts et ris. ça alors, formidable ! hé ! Je m'imaginai avoir découvert un mot nouveau. Je me dressai dans le lit et dis : Il n'existe pas dans la langue, je l'ai inventé, kubouô. Il y a des lettres comme un mot, bonté divine, l'homme, tu as inventé un mot ... kubouô ... d'une grande importance grammaticale. Je reste les yeux ouverts, étonné de ma trouvaille, riant de joie. (...) J'étais entré dans la joyeuse démence de la faim. J'étais vide et sans douleurs, ma pensée n'avait plus de bride.198(*)

    However, the hero cannot think of a meaning for his word and struggling vainly to find what it can refer to, he eventually faints. These three examples of characters giving names to things have a common denominator, the act of creation. Indeed, creating a word, like creating a work of art, seems to be for Austerian characters a step towards the mastering of a situation. When they invent a new word, the characters create a new medium through which a new concept is expressed. The narrator-hero in La Faim realizes that his word `kubouô' actually means something spiritual: «Non, en fait ce mot était fait pour signifier quelque chose de spirituel, un sentiment, un état d'âme.»199(*) As for Marco in Central Park, the names he gives to the garbage cans correspond to the new function they have for him. Thus, creating names belongs to the process of reducing the gap between the world and the word.

    Giving names to people

    If the characters give new names to things, it is worth mentioning that they also give new names to people. In The Locked Room, the narrator-hero meets a girl in a bar and he renames her: «She told me her name, but I insisted on calling her Fayaway»200(*) Besides, he introduces himself as Herman Melville. This episode is to be put side by side with Marco's rescuing in Central Park. When Kitty Wu gets closer and bends down to look at him, Marco does not really recognize her and he calls her `Pocahontas' (MP, 70). Here again, a parallel can be drawn with La Faim in which the hero courts a girl and invents a name for her: Ulayali, and refuses to call her by any other name. So, renaming someone seems to be a way to fit the person with a name that expresses her personality more truly. As creating new words is a way to reduce the gap between the thing and the word, inventing names is part of a similar process: to reduce the gap between the person and its referent, its name. This raises a problem about identity. Indeed, if we examine the definition of identity, here is what we find: «The condition or fact of a person being that specified unique person as a continuous unchanging property throughout existence; the characteristics determining this.»201(*) Therefore, we are in a position to ask whether the name is a characteristic determining someone's identity. This question is central in Auster's work. Some of his characters have no name at all, some are called according to colours, many have an assumed identity. However, there are characters whose names are meaningful and completely suited to the characters' identity: Marco Stanley Fogg, Daniel Quinn, Thomas Effing... Yet it appears that one's name is closely related to one's identity in Auster's novels. Indeed, when Julian Barber decides to change his name in Thomas Effing, not only does he change his name, he becomes literally a new man, with a new identity. When Quinn, in City of Glass, usurps Paul Auster's identity, he `becomes' Paul Auster, he turns himself into a detective and when he introduces himself to Peter Stillman. He gives a `false' name, Quinn. «Since he was technically Paul Auster, it was the name he had to protect. Anything else, even the truth, would be an invention, a mask to hide behind and keep him safe.»202(*) Therefore, inventing a new name is to create a new identity, a new person. In The Locked Room, when he meets a vaguely familiar young man in Paris, the narrator-hero decides that this person will be Fanshawe. «This man was Fanshawe because I said he was Fanshawe, and that was all there was to it.»203(*) This statement directly echoes Humpty Dumpty's speech in Through The Looking Glass, also referred to in City of Glass : «When I use a word» Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, «it means just what I choose it to mean -neither more or less». «The question is» said Alice «whether you can make words mean so many different things.» «The question is» said Humpty Dumpty, «which is to be master -that's all.»204(*) The common point between the narrator-hero in The Locked Room and Humpty Dumpty is that they are masters of naming, as the narrator-hero in The Locked Room remarks: «My happiness was immeasurable. I exulted in the sheer falsity of my assertion, celebrating the new power I had just bestowed up on myself. I was the sublime alchemist who could change the world at will.»205(*) Therefore, the power of naming is almost a divine power since it somehow comes down to creating a person. With regard to this, naming and creating are closely linked. In the same way an author creates a character and gives him a name. So, not only can the namer-characters be compared to new Adams, but also to some extent to gods.

    2/ To capture the essence

    Factuality: a failure

    In Auster's fiction, as previously seen, all the main characters, at one moment or another, are confronted with the issue of the inadequacy of language. If the writer-characters resent the frontier between the world and the word and `the rift between thinking and writing', they also become aware of the paramount difficulty in capturing and conveying the essence of things. Furthermore, when faced with this issue, many Austerian characters are forced to radically revise their use of language. A striking illustration of this can be found in Moon Palace. When Marco takes Effing on walks downtown, he is asked to describe the environment and this is precisely the moment when Marco realizes that his use of language is totally inefficient in order to convey the feel of things to a blind man. In effect, Marco indulges in the extreme over-exactness of data, delivering an over-detailed description of what he sees, but he soon recognises the inefficacy of his method: «I was piling too many words on top of each other, and rather than reveal the thing before us, they were in fact obscuring it, burying it under an avalanche of subtleties and geometric abstractions.»206(*) But Marco is not the only character who calls into question the inefficacy of factuality. In Ghosts, when he has to write his first report, Blue considers including the stories he has made up about the case but he decides against this, rather sticking just to the facts, as usual:

    He painstakingly composes the report in the old style, tackling each detail with such care and aggravating precision that many hours go by before he manages to finish. As he reads over the results, he is forced to admit that everything seems accurate. But then why does he feel so dissatisfied, so troubled by what he has written? He says to himself: what happened is not really what happened. 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 they are trying to say.207(*)

    Quinn, the detective in City of Glass, also relies on this method: «He decided to record every detail about Stillman he possibly could.»208(*) However, factuality -as they all come to conceive it- is a failure in the conveying of the essence of things. Marco only slowly learns how to convey the essence of things to Effing: «it took me weeks of hard work to simplify my sentences, to learn how to separate the extraneous from the essential.»209(*) This alleviation of the discourse is precisely the way to reveal things instead of obscuring them. In this way, words can be compared to food, as Ellmann explains in her book: The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing and Imprisonment. «If someone has their mouth so full of food that they cannot chew or swallow, that person will go hungry. In order to digest, some of the food must be taken away.»210(*) Likewise, if a discourse is swamped with too many words, it is bound to remain ineffective. In order to convey the essence of things, some words must be taken away.

    The achievements

    While Auster's main characters always encounter problems with language, it is observable that there is a set of secondary characters who seem to be perfectly at ease with language and who even seem to master it in an outstanding way. We can take for example Effing's description of Pavel Shum, his former companion: «a master of the poetic phrase, a peerless inventor of apt and stunning images, a stylist whose words could miraculously reveal the palpable truth of objects.»211(*) This description of Pavel Shum's use of language obviously contrasts with Marco's, who at that stage, is still unable to describe things efficiently to Effing. And this contrast is the whole point of the presence of those characters who master language. It is through this contradictory comparison that the main characters understand that it is possible to counteract their `bad' use of language. In Leviathan, the pair Benjamin Sachs / Peter Aaron is a perfect illustration of this. Peter Aaron, like Paul Auster, is a struggling writer. «I have always been a plodder, a person who anguishes and struggles over each sentence (...) The smallest word is surrounded by acres of silence for me, and even after I manage to get that word down on the page, it seems to sit there like a mirage, a speck of doubt glimmering in the sand.»212(*) Whereas Sachs is exactly the opposite:

    The act of writing was remarkably free of pain for him, and when he was working well, he could put words down on the page as fast as he could speak them. It was a curious talent and because Sachs himself was hardly even aware of it, he seemed to live in a state of perfect innocence. Almost like a child, I sometimes thought, like a prodigious child playing with toys.213(*)

    Sachs, for whom `words and things match up'214(*) thus strongly corresponds to the description of Adam by Stillman in City of Glass:

    In that state of innocence, his tongue had gone straight to the quick of the world. His words had not been merely appended to the things he saw, they had revealed their essences, had literally brought them to life. A thing and its name were interchangeable.215(*)

    So, it seems that Sachs's use of language bears similarities with the prelapsarian language in the sense that it manages to convey the essence of things. There is another pair of characters which highlights an opposite use of language, it is Fanshawe and the narrator-hero in The Locked Room. The narrator-hero is a struggling writer who is very reminiscent of Peter Aaron and Auster himself in his use of words. On the contrary, Fanshawe resembles Benjamin Sachs in his talent for writing. The fact that Fanshawe and the narrator-hero spent their childhood together is an important element because it brings out their interreferenciality. Indeed, in the first chapter of this story, the narrator writes: «We met before we could talk (...) he was the one who was with me, the one who shared my thoughts.»216(*) Saying this, the narrator seems to suggest that his relationship with Fanshawe preceded language, so the barrier of words did not stand between them yet. This explains why they were somehow able to share thoughts. However, as time goes by, Fanshawe's ability with words becomes increasingly impressive as the narrator-hero notices:

    By now, Fanshawe's eye has become incredibly sharp, and one senses a new availability of words inside him, as though the distance between seeing and writing had been narrowed, the two acts now almost identical, part of a single unbroken gesture.217(*)

    When he declares this, the narrator-hero indirectly compares himself with Fanshawe and it seems that beyond fascination, there is a failure to understand how his friend is able to do what himself cannot do.

    Blank spaces

    After his early failures in depicting things to Effing, little by little, Marco learns how to simplify his discourse and he eventually finds out some kind of a method which reveals to convey the essence of things efficiently:

    I discovered that the more air I left around a thing, the happier the results, for that allowed Effing to do the crucial work on his own: to construct an image on the basis of a few hints, to feel his own mind travelling around the thing I was describing for him.218(*)

    This technique that Marco puts into practice with Effing comprises the essentials of Auster's conception of `effective' language. Indeed, Auster himself relies on this very technique for the writing of his novels. This stems from a genre which has had a particular influence on his work, that of fairy tales.

    In the end, though, I would say that the greatest influence on my work has been fairy tales (...) these are bare-bones narratives, narratives largely devoid of details, yet enormous amounts of information are communicated in a very short space, with very few words. What fairy tales prove, I think, is that it's the reader (...) who actually tells the story to himself. The text is no more than a springboard for the imagination. `Once upon a time there was a girl who lived with her mother in a house at the edge of a large wood.' You don't know what the girl looks like, you don't know what color the house is, you don't know if the mother is tall or short, fat or thin, you know next to nothing. But the mind won't allow these things to remain blank; it fills in the details itself, it creates images based on its own memories and experiences -which is why these stories resonate so deeply inside us. The listener becomes an active participant in the story.219(*)

    Therefore, Marco's technique to describe the world to Effing rests upon the same principle as Auster's writing: to let the listener / reader fill in the blanks with his imagination, to let him appropriate the story so that in the end, it is he who actually creates his own story: «The one thing I try to do in all my books is to leave enough room in the prose for the reader to inhabit it. Because I finally believe that it's the reader who writes the book and not the writer.»220(*) Thus, leaving blanks, in the style of fairy tales, is a solution to the issue of the conveying of the essence of things. However, between the blanks, there has to be words and all the difficulty lies in the selection of these words. For this task, another literary genre has to be requisite, that of poetry. Indeed, the descriptive accounts that Marco eventually gives to Effing are poetry no more, no less, i.e. a highly thought-of selection of words, each of them being chosen for its particular evocative power. Besides, Pavel Shum -Effing's former companion- is depicted as «a master of the poetic phrase»221(*) So, when Effing says to Marco: «Dammit, boy, (...) use the eyes in your head! I can't see a bloody thing, and here you're spouting drivel about `your average lamppost' and `perfectly ordinary manhole covers'.»222(*) He wants him to poetize his discourse, to see the world not with the eye of an `ordinary' man, but with that of a poet. In fact, he requires him to have the same approach to the world and language as the poet. For, as Auster writes about Charles Reznikoff: « [the poet] must learn to speak from his eye -and cure himself of seeing with his mouth.»223(*)


    1/ Transparency and liberty

    Between the man and the world: the sign

    In spite of the many problems they encounter with language, some Austerian characters -as we have seen- nevertheless manage to make a `successful' use of language. However, the reader is prone to ask to what degree this use of language is really successful. Even though they somehow manage to convey the essence of things, the characters nonetheless rely on the language of words, a system which
    -according to Auster- is flawed. Therefore, from the very start, the characters' attempts at mastering language perfectly are bound to fail, for the medium used is imperfect. What is imperfect in the language of words is precisely the smallest unity of the system: the word, or more exactly, the sign. Let us turn to Ferdinand de Saussure, the father of linguistics, for a definition of the sign:

    Le signe linguistique unit non une chose et un nom, mais un concept et une image acoustique. [le signifié et le signifiant] (...) Le lien unissant le signifiant au signifié est arbitraire, ou encore, puisque nous entendons par signe le total résultant de l'association d'un signifiant à un signifié, nous pouvons dire tout simplement : le signe linguistique est arbitraire.224(*)

    So, the language of words is a system whose very basic unity is defective, thereby, it is the whole system which is defective, as Umberto Eco explains:

    Les mots n'expriment pas les choses ; nous ne connaissons en effet celles-ci qu'à travers la construction d'idées complexes élaborées à partir d'idées simples. Les mots renvoient aux idées comme à leur signifié immédiat. Et dès lors, c'est un rapport arbitraire qui s'établit entre les mots et les choses.225(*)

    This opinion is exactly that of Peter Stillman in City of Glass: «The word (...) can no longer express the thing. It is imprecise; it is false; it hides the thing it is supposed to reveal»226(*) And this comes from the arbitrariness of the sign. The language of words is therefore an `independent' system whose only relationship with reality is symbolization: the representation of the `real' by a sign and the understanding of this sign as a representation of the `real'. Consequently, the sign is a gap, or a barrier between us and the world and this is what the linguist Benveniste asserts in Problème de Linguistique Générale:

    Qu'un pareil système de symboles existe nous dévoile une des données essentielles, la plus profonde peut être de la condition humaine : c'est qu'il n'y a pas de relation naturelle, immédiate et directe entre l'homme et le monde, ni entre l'homme et l'homme ; il faut un intermédiaire, cet appareil symbolique qui a rendu possible la pensée.227(*)

    With regard to this theory, language itself is a confining structure and man is to some extent locked in it. This is what Auster tends to imply when he presents us with the issue of the representation of the world through words and the problems of communication among people.

    The sign and communication

    On the one hand, Benveniste declares that the language of words, because of its arbitrariness, hinders any direct and natural relationship between the world and the man as well as among men. On the other hand, Emmanuel Lévinas, in Totalité et Infini writes: «L'essence du langage est la relation avec autrui.»228(*) These two assumptions sum up the paradoxical function of language in communication among men. Indeed, this system of symbols is indispensable to communication, yet it seems obvious that that this system is flawed and actually hampers communication. Communication, or rather bad communication is a central motive in Auster's work. Besides, this theme is somehow embodied in a figure which is recurrent throughout his novels: the deaf mute. In City of Glass, while he is waiting for Stillman at Grand Central Station, Quinn buys a pen from a deaf mute and it is with this very pen that he will write in his red notebook. In Ghosts, Blue goes to see the same film twice in two days, it is called Out of the Past. The memory of this film lingers on in his mind, especially the end «with the deaf mute boy»229(*). In Moon Palace, when Effing asks Marco to go and see Blakelock's painting at the Brooklyn Museum, he tells him: «Pretend you're a deaf-mute if someone talks to you.»230(*) So, for Auster, deaf mutes symbolize bad communication, it is therefore no coincidence if they appear in novels where bad communication is a fundamental element. Another figure of bad communication is Peter Stillman junior. As a result of his father's linguistic experiments, he is almost completely unable to communicate even though he knows the language of words: «Wimble click crumble chaw beloo. Clack clack bedrack. Numb noise, flaklemuch, chewmanna. Ya, ya, ya. Excuse me. I am the only one who understand these words.»231(*) This final remark by Stillman junior is not without recalling an observation that Anna Blume makes about the people in the City of Destruction: «Each person is speaking his own private language, and as the instances of shared understanding diminish, it becomes increasingly difficult to communicate with anyone.»232(*) The phrase `speaking his own private language' should ring a bell in the mind of the reader of City of Glass. Indeed, during their first meeting, Stillman and Quinn discourse upon Humpty Dumpty, and Stillman eventually declares: «Humpty Dumpty sketches the future of human hopes and gives the clue to our salvation: to become masters of the words we speak, to make language answer our needs.»233(*) Yet, as Martin Gardner explains in the notes of Through The Looking Glass: «if we wish to communicate accurately, we are under a kind of moral obligation to avoid Humpty's practice of giving private meanings to commonly used words.»234(*) Therefore, though imperfect, the sign is indispensable to communication between men. And, to try -like Stillman or Humpty Dumpty- to counteract the arbitrariness of the sign prevents any possible communication. So, the sign appears as an unremoveable barrier.

    The need for transparency

    Austerian characters, through their different quests, all seem to share a need for transparency. Indeed, the work of introspection they all go through boils down to the discovery of the self, i.e. the correspondence between the container -the character- and the contents, the character's personality. So, finding one's real self, unveiling one's true personality is part of a move towards transparency. Likewise, writing is the result of a similar process. First, it pursues the operation of discovery of the self and then, it permits the writer to go back to square one with a situation, to clarify it, to make it transparent. Furthermore, writing drives the writer to questions on language. In effect, the problems raised by language all deal with transparency, the transparency between the thing and the word, between the signified and the signifier, between the thought and the word... Therefore, all the characters tend to seek transparency, tend to penetrate the essence of things, of themselves, of the world. They do all this with the aim of seeing through, of being free. Besides, the titles of The New York Trilogy denotes this. The titles City of Glass and Ghosts connote transparency. So, Austerian characters are like pilgrims searching for transparency, for correspondence between signified and signifier. It is therefore no coincidence if all these seeker-characters invariably attempt to bring out significant correspondences between everything and anything. In City of Glass, Quinn watches the sky endlessly, studying the clouds, «trying to learn their ways, seeing if he could not predict what would happen to them» and he concludes «these all had to be investigated, measured and deciphered.»235(*) In Moon Palace, Marco also feels this compelling need for transparency: «the more I opened myself to these secret correspondences, the closer I felt to understanding some fundamental truth about the world. I was going mad, perhaps, but I nevertheless felt a tremendous power surging through me, a gnostic joy that penetrated deep into the heart of things.»236(*) Hence the need for transparency drives the characters to look for connectedness at all costs, but, as the next part will show, such a quest induces dangers.

    2/ Meaning

    Seeking connectedness

    In order to satisfy their need for transparency, Austerian characters unfailingly go in search of connectedness. This generally takes on the form of a detective investigation: no detail must be rejected, no stone must be left unturned. This method induces a number of whimsical inquiries. Quinn, in City of Glass, investigates the sky very cautiously, classifying the clouds according to their shape and colour. In Ghosts, Blues makes lists of objects according to their colour but eventually finds the task endless and boring. In Moon Palace, when he lives in Central Park, Marco adopts the same attitude; he catalogues faces according to which animals they resemble. In actual facts, Marco is a character who, from the very start, seems bound to pursue a quest for connectedness. Indeed, at the beginning of the novel, his uncle puts the following idea into his head: «everything works out in the end, you see, everything connects. The nine circle. The nine planets. The nine innings. Our nine lives. Just think of it. The correspondences are infinite.»237(*) Marco is thus prone to connectedness, and the way he connects things in his mind is one of his particularities which is much emphasized in Moon Palace. A significant instance of this is the vertiginous mental development Marco makes about the Moon Palace sign:

    Everything was mixed up in at once: Uncle Victor and China, rocket ships and music, Marco Polo and the American West. I would look out at the sign and start to think about electricity. That would lead me to the baseball games played at Wrigley Field, which would then lead me back to Uncle Victor and the memorial candles burning on my windowsill. One thought kept giving way to another, spiralling into ever larger masses of connectedness.238(*)

    Marco's manipulation of thoughts obviously echoes Auster's approach to words. Indeed, it is well known that Auster is very sensitive to the correspondences between the sonorities of words. Besides, it seems that his books circle around some of his fundamental games with words like the triad tomb/womb/room exposed in The Invention of Solitude. In this same book, remembering his childhood games with words, he writes: «he can remember himself at eight or nine years old, and the sudden sense of power he felt in himself when he discovered he could play with words in this way -as if he had accidentally found a secret path to the truth: the absolute, universal and unshakable truth that lies hidden at the center of the world.»239(*) This is very reminiscent of Marco's statement: «the more I opened myself to these secret correspondences, the closer I felt to understanding some fundamental truth about the world»240(*). Consequently, as Auster later explains, just as two words can rhyme, «it is possible for events in one's life to rhyme as well.»241(*) Thus, Auster's vision of connectedness englobes the words as well as the events in one's life and this conception pervades all his books. Indeed, what sticks out a mile in Auster's fiction is his reliance on connectedness, synchronicity and coincidence in the plots of his novels. In Moon Palace, Marco happens to be the nexus of a connection: his family. Effing, his employer, turns out to be his grandfather, and Effing's son, Solomon Barber proves to be Marco's absent father. This connectedness, disclosed by chance might seem overexaggerated, yet it is only a representation of Auster's own sense of how life operates: «I consider myself a realist. Chance is part of reality: we are continually shaped by the forces of coincidence, the unexpected occurs with almost numbing regularity in all our lives.»242(*) So, according to Auster, connectedness is everywhere and it is only the work of the mind which brings the disparate elements together, establishing a connection. Therefore, the mind is at the core of all the connections, like when it unites disparate elements into a coherent entity, the archipelago. However, Auster also suggests that there is a danger that lies behind the connection: the craving for a significance.

    Beware of meaning

    Faced with a number of instances of coincidental connectedness, Austerian characters, as previously seen, tend to cast around for other connections, in the hope of discovering `some fundamental truth about the world.»243(*) During his investigation on the Stillman's case, Quinn is subject to such a behaviour. He ends up connecting truly unrelated ideas, trying to see some significance in their connection. However, his attempts lead him nowhere:

    The centerfielder [of the Mets] he remembered, was Mookie Wilson, a promising young player whose real name was William Wilson. Surely there was something interesting in that. Quinn pursued the idea for a few moments but then abandoned it. The two Wiliam Wilsons cancelled each other out, and that was all.244(*)

    As a matter of fact, the last pages of Quinn's red notebook are filled with such attempts at connection. Quinn's attitude is perilous because he genuinely expects some revelation, some significance from the connections he makes , and this is probably the main reason why he obliterates himself at the end. Indeed, in The Invention of Solitude, there is a passage which seems to be meant to apply to Quinn and it sounds like a warning from Auster:

    Like everyone else, he craves a meaning. Like everyone else, his life is so fragmented that each time he sees a connection between two fragments he is tempted to look for a meaning in that connection. The connection exists. But to give it a meaning, to look beyond the bare fact of its existence, would be to build an imaginary world inside the real world, and he knows it would not stand.245(*)

    Hence, for Auster, seeking a meaning is the danger that lies in wait behind connectedness. Marco in Moon Palace, declares: «I was desperate for a certainty, and I was prepared to do anything to find it.»246(*) Likewise Quinn is desperate for a meaning and he actually does everything and anything to find it, going as far as to invent it, thereby «building an imaginary world inside the real world.»247(*) Quinn is therefore an illustration of the danger of seeking meaning at all costs. Contrary to him, the narrator-hero in The Locked Room realizes that «in the end, each life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of flukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose.»248(*) In this, the narrator-hero's opinion meets that of Auster who once declared : «our lives don't belong to us, you see -they belong to the world, and in spite of our efforts to make sense of it, the world is a place beyond our understanding.»249(*) So, though meaning might exist, it is nevertheless not accessible to us, and to want to find it out is risky, as Thomas R Edwards wrote in an article about Auster in The New York Review of Books: «meaning, Auster appreciates, is something we add to life at our peril»250(*) but Thomas Edwards carries on, saying: «But he also appreciates how hard it is to avoid meaning, and how much more perilous it would be to settle for a merely nominal reality without at least wanting more.»251(*) Therefore, to avoid meaning seems almost impossible, for the characters are surrounded by connections that seem to be meaningful and we must bear in mind that Austerian characters are seekers.


    As previously seen, Auster's approach to the word and the world is very close to that of Gadamer, who considers that the world is made up through and by language. In other words, it is the word which is at the root of our world and us. Now, we have seen that the Austerian characters are seekers: they quest after their real selves, they look for their origin, they pursue connectedness, they want to find their place in the world and in the end, they want to know, to understand. It is this universal need for meaning that Auster seeks to communicate in Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy. Hence, it is not surprising to see all these characters trying to interpret words or the connections between the words. This practice has a name: hermeneutics. Let us study a definition of this branch of philosophy:

    Gr: hermèneutikè « art d'interpréter » Discipline qui a pour objet la mise a jour du sens exact d'un texte. Rigoureusement parlant, ce terme s'emploie pour l'interprétation de la Bible (...). Par extension, on applique ce mot à l'interprétation des textes symboliques dont le sens est caché, et, plus généralement, à l'interprétation de tous les textes difficiles.252(*)

    Considering this definition, it seems that all the Austerian characters practice hermeneutics; they look for the exact meaning. In this respect, it can be argued that the characters somehow aim to find the exact meaning of their text, i.e. their own story that is being written by Auster. The characters try to penetrate their text `dont le sens est caché', or rather `dont le sens leur est caché'. Naturally, this interpretation is only valid on the assumption that the characters can somehow be aware, or at least have doubts about their statuses as characters. With regard to this idea, Marco's statement in Central Park takes on another dimension:

    I understood that I had already spent too much time living through words, and if this time was going to have any meaning for me, I would have to live in it as fully as possible, shunning everything but the here and now, the tangible, the vast sensorium pressing down on my skin.253(*)

    It seems that Marco somehow becomes aware that his life is just a sum of words on paper, i.e. that his life is a literary creation, the meaning of which the author keeps hidden from him. Therefore, he reacts and he claims a `real' life whose meaning could be accessible to him. Marco is the only character who goes that far. Indeed, the narrator-hero in The Locked Room concludes: «Lives make no sense, I argued. A man lives and then he dies, and what happens in between makes no sense.»254(*) As far as the other characters in The Trilogy are concerned, in spite of their doubts, they never reach Marco's state of consciousness, especially Quinn who pursues meaning till death. Eventually, it is Peter Aaron, at the end of Leviathan, who seems to hold the key to this question: «The struggle was to accept that, to coexist with the forces of my own uncertainty. Desperate as I was for a resolution, I had to understand it might never come.»255(*)


    Retrospectively considering Louise Bourgeois's drawing, it appears that the whole problematic of confinement in Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy fits into her concentric circles. Indeed, each level of confinement can be analysed in relation to this drawing. The circle being an eloquent graphic representation of the closed space, it is therefore no surprise if this picture turns out to function as a kind of map of confinement in Auster's world. Hence, depending on the location of the point we choose to focus on, the drawing offers us an unimpeded view on the issue of confinement.

    Through the process of spatial confinement, we observe that the characters withdraw towards the central circle, gradually leaving the larger circles symbolizing society and the material world. Once they have reached the smaller circle, they are completely cut off from the influence of the larger circles. As a result, they are able to set about a metaphysical reflection. Most of the time, there follows from this philosophical introspection, a rebirth of the characters. Having reached a certain state of harmony with themselves, they soon leave their small circle to stretch out towards the larger circles again. Yet, in the central circle, they have discovered something fundamental: art.

    Indeed, we have seen that the central circle is the matrix of artistic creation. It is only once they have reached this central circle that the characters are able to create works of art, books. Furthermore, the act of writing implies two movements First it enables the characters to pursue their investigation on themselves more deeply, thus moving further towards the very centre of their circle. Then it makes the characters reconnect themselves to society, hence moving back towards the larger circles. However, the writing of the book amounts to the creation of an imaginary world inside the real world. On the graphical plane, it boils downs to drawing a new circle within the series of existing circles. In this fashion, Louise Bourgeois's drawing also applies to a study of Auster's encircling fiction. Indeed, the diegeses of both Moon Palace and The New York Trilogy consist in a vertiginous superimposition of a considerable number of narrative layers, like so many concentric circles. This Russian doll-like structure is all the more confusing as some characters seem to be aware of their statuses as characters, confined in a circle of fiction. It is therefore quite naturally that they come to ask themselves Pascal's questions: «Qui m'y a mis? Par l'ordre et la conduite de qui ce lieu [ce cercle] a-t-il été destine a moi ?»256(*) Attempting to answer these questions, the characters tend to become writers in their turn, thus creating new circles inside their own circles. But this further entanglement of circles complicates the drawing and raises the issue of authorship. Indeed, it seems no longer possible to know who the author is, who controls whom. As a result, we, as readers, are prone to wondering whether we are ourselves, characters confined in some circle of fiction.

    Looking at it from a different angle, Louise Bourgeois's drawing can also evoke a galaxy -a grouping of stars that constitutes a system. In the same way, Auster's work is a system whose basic constitutive element is the word. Consequently, we can assert that the words, combined together, constitute a system comparable to a galaxy. Yet, huge as it may be, a galaxy is nevertheless not infinite; as in Louise Bourgeois's drawing, there is a larger circle that encloses all the others. Similarly -as Austerian characters come to realize- the language of words is a closed system that confines us. In order to counteract this confining effect of language, some characters try to create new words, thus widening the lexical circle. Some others rather try to distance themselves from the words, trying to stand above them in order to escape their confining force.

    Taking into consideration that the language of words is a small circle enclosed in the much larger circle of the world, it seems natural enough that the characters want to `break' the circle of language to have a direct access to the world. This desire to be able to get through all the circles corresponds to the universal need for transparency and meaning. Once again, Austerian characters seek to answer Pascal's metaphysical questions. But if, at times, they perceive connections between the different circles, it seems obvious that -being plunged into such a complex entanglement- their quest for absolute correspondence is bound to fail.

    At this stage, it seems clear that Louise Bourgeois's drawing invites us to a reflection on our position in the Universe. Alone and awake in her Brooklyn apartment in the night of the 24th of January 1995, she stylized the Universe in a series of concentric circles, rendering -with this apparently unelaborated drawing- the complexity of the issue of metaphysics. Likewise, a few years earlier, alone in his Brooklyn office, Paul Auster wrote The New York Trilogy and Moon Palace, two novels that oddly echo Louise Bourgeois's drawing in their approach to metaphysical reflection. It seems then that the philosophical quest initiated by Pascal still arouses reflection and artistic creation and always will.


    Works by Paul Auster


    · Wall Writing. Berkeley: The Figures, 1976

    · Fragments From Cold. Brewster, New York: Parenthese, 1980

    · Facing The Music. Barrytown, New York: Station Hill Press, 1980

    · Disappearances: Selected Poems 1970-1979. Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press, 1988.


    · The Invention of Solitude. New York: Sun & Moon Press, 1982. Paperback edition by Penguin Books, 1988

    · The Art of Hunger And Other Essays. London: Menard Press, 1982. Paperback edition By Penguin Books, 1993

    · The Red Notebook. London: Faber & Faber, 1996.


    · Squeeze Play. (under the pseudonym of Paul Benjamin) French translation: Fausse Balle. Paris: Gallimard, 1992.

    · City of Glass. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1985. Paperback edition by Penguin Books, 1987.

    · Ghosts. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1986. Paperback edition by Penguin Books, 1987.

    · The Locked Room. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1986. Paperback edition by Penguin Books, 1988.

    · In The Country of Last Things. New York: Viking, 1987. Paperback edition by Penguin Books, 1990.

    · Moon Palace. New York: Viking, 1989. Paperback edition by Penguin Books, 1990.

    · The Music of Chance. New York: Viking, 1990. Paperback edition by Penguin Books, 1991.

    · The New York Trilogy. New York: Penguin Books, 1990. Contents City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room.

    · Leviathan. New York: Viking, 1992. Paperback edition by Penguin Books, 1993.

    · Mr Vertigo. New York: Viking, 1994. Paperback edition by Penguin Books, 1995.

    · Timbuktu. New York: Viking, 1997. Paperback edition By Penguin Books, 1998


    · Blue in the Face. Scenario by Paul Auster. Director: Wayne Wang. 1995.

    · Smoke. Scenario by Paul Auster. Director: Wayne Wang. 1995.(awarded the Silver Bear, special jury prize at the 1995 Berlin Film Festival.

    · Lulu on The Bridge. Written and directed by Paul Auster. 1998.(Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival, 1998.)

    Critical works on Paul Auster

    · Barone, Dennis ed. Beyond The Red Notebook: Essays on Paul Auster. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995

    · Duperray, Annick (sous la direction de). L'Oeuvre de Paul Auster, Approches et Lectures Plurielles. Arles: Actes Sud, 1995.

    · Chard-Hutchinson, Martine. Moon Palace de Paul Auster ou la Stratégie de l'Ecart. Paris: Messene, 1996.

    · Pesso-Miquel, Catherine. Toiles Trouées et Déserts Lunaires Dans Moon Palace de Paul Auster. Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1996.

    · Gallix, Francois. Lecture d'une Oeuvre: Moon Palace de Paul Auster. Paris: Editions du Temps,1996.

    · Chénetier, Marc. Paul Auster as The Wizard of Odds. Paris: Didier Erudition,1996.

    · Grandjeat, Yves-Charles. Moon Palace de Paul Auster. Paris: Ellipses, 1996.

    · «Interview with Larry Mc Caffery and Sinda Gregory.» In The Red Notebook. London: faber & faber, 1996.

    · Cortanze, Gérard de. La Solitude du Labyrinthe. Interviews with Paul Auster. Arles: Actes Sud, 1997.

    · Le Magazine Littéraire n° 338, décembre 1995. Devoted to Paul Auster.

    Other works consulted

    · Borges, Jorge Luis. Oeuvres Complètes de Jorge Luis Borges. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Tome 1. Paris: Gallimard, 1993.

    · Borges, Jorge Luis. Fictions. Paris : Gallimard, Folio, 1983.

    · Bourdin, Dominique. 50 Fiches de Lecture en Philosophie. Vol 2. Rosny: Breal, 2000.

    · Bourgeois, Louise. The Insomnia Drawings. Zurich : DAROS, 2000.

    · Carroll, Lewis. Through The Looking Glass, in The Annotated Alice. Edited by Martin Gardner. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981.

    · Eco, Umberto. Le Signe: Histoire et Analyse d'un Concept. Bruxelles: Edition Labor, 1988.

    · Foucault, Michel. Les Mots et Les Choses. Paris: Gallimard, 1988.

    · Gadamer, Hans Georg. Vérité et Méthode: les grandes lignes d'une herméneutique philosophique. Paris: Le Seuil, 1996.

    · Grillo, Eric. La Philosophie du Langage. Paris: Le Seuil, 1997.

    · Hamsun, Knut. La Faim. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1986.

    · Lévinas, Emmanuel. Totalité et Infini. Paris : Librairie Générale Française, 1998.

    · Loewenthal, Elena. Judaïsme. Milan: Liana Levi, 1998.

    · Melville, Herman. Bartleby. New York: Dover Publication, 1990.

    · Mourral & Milet. Petite Encyclopédie Philosophique. Paris : Editions Universitaires, 1993.

    · Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. Paris : Bordas, Classiques Garnier, 1991.

    · Saussure, Ferdinand. Cours de Linguistique Générale. Paris: Payot, 1972.

    · Wolfson, Louis. Le Schizo et les Langues. Paris: Gallimard, 1975.

    * 1 Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. (Paris : Classiques Garnier, 1991), fragment 102, page 189.

    * 2 See page 4 for a reproduction of Louise Bourgeois's drawing.

    * 3 In Pensées, Pascal explains that man is constantly roaming and fleeing in order to avoid the anguish of immobility, for immobility sends him back to his inner self, i.e. despair. Paradoxically, for Pascal, to stay alone in a room is the only way to be happy.

    * 4 Moon Palace, page 182.

    * 5Moon Palace, page 45.

    * 6 La Faim is a novel that influenced Auster deeply. Indeed, his MA thesis was centered on its hero.

    * 7 Knut Hamsun, La Faim (Paris : PUF, 1986) page 2.

    * 8 Moon palace, page 203.

    * 9 City of Glass, page 58.

    * 10 The Locked Room, page 304.

    * 11 City of Glass, page 120.

    * 12 The Book of Memory, in The Invention of Solitude, page 91.

    * 13 Moon Palace, page 240.

    * 14 The Locked Room, page 220.

    * 15 Moon Palace, page 15.

    * 16 Moon Palace, page 120.

    * 17 The Locked Room, page 276.

    * 18 Moon Palace, page 240.

    * 19 Moon Palace, page 1.

    * 20 Moon Palace, page 168.

    * 21 City of Glass, page 118.

    * 22 City of Glass, page 114.

    * 23 Moon Palace, page 29.

    * 24 The Auster Instance: a Ficto-Biography. Curtis White, in The Review Of Contemporary Fiction, spring 1994, page 26.

    * 25 Moon Palace, page 65.

    * 26 City of Glass, page 114.

    * 27 The Art of Hunger, page 13.

    * 28 City of Glass, page 114.

    * 29 Moon Palace, page 107.

    * 30 Ghosts, page 184.

    * 31 Ghosts, page 170.

    * 32 Moon Palace, page 123.

    * 33 New York Babel, in The Art of Hunger, page 33.

    * 34 The Locked Room, page 277.

    * 35 Moon Palace, page 82.

    * 36 Moon Palace, page 298.

    * 37 Moon Palace, page 17.(my italics)

    * 38 Moon Palace, page 58.(my italics)

    * 39 Leviathan, page 63.(my italics)

    * 40 Quoted in The Book of Memory, in The Invention of Solitude, page76.

    * 41 The Book of Memory in The Invention of Solitude, page 89.

    * 42 City of Glass, page 80.

    * 43 Henry David Thoreau, Walden, page 135.

    * 44 Moon Palace, page 228.

    * 45 The Book of Memory, in The Invention of Solitude, page 80.

    * 46 The Locked Room, page 293.

    * 47 Moon Palace, page 276.

    * 48 The Invention of Solitude, pages 159-160.

    * 49 In De l'Interprétation Des Rêves

    * 50 Moon Palace, page 69.

    * 51 Moon Palace, page 166.

    * 52 The Book of Memory in The Invention of Solitude, page 100.

    * 53 Moon Palace, page 69.

    * 54 The Book of Memory in The Invention of Solitude, page 125.

    * 55 Ghosts, page 168.

    * 56 City of Glass, page 113.

    * 57 Moon Palace, page 70.

    * 58 City of Glass, page 130.

    * 59 The Book of Memory, in The Invention of Solitude, page 101.

    * 60 Preface of the Babel edition of L'Invention de La Solitude, page 7

    * 61 Moon Palace, page 306.

    * 62 An Interview with Larry Mc Caffery and Sinda Gregory in The Red Notebook, page 143.

    * 63 Moon Palace, page 124.

    * 64 An Interview with Larry Mc Caffery and Sinda Gregory in The Red Notebook, page144.

    * 65 Moon Palace, page 58.

    * 66 Nathaniel Hawthorne. Wakefield. page 161.

    * 67 The Locked Room, page 286.

    * 68 City of Glass, page 9.

    * 69 Interview with Gérard de Cortanze, in La Solitude du Labyrinthe (02 /03/1992), page 114.

    * 70 City of Glass, page 126.

    * 71 The Book of Memory, in The Invention of Solitude, page 123.

    * 72 The New York Times Magazine. August 30th 1992, Adam Begley, page 41.

    * 73 The Book of Memory in The Invention of Solitude, page 136.

    * 74 The Locked Room, page 278.

    * 75 In La Solitude du Labyrinthe, Interview with Gérard de Cortanze. 02/03/1992, page 87.

    * 76 Conversation With Edmond Jabès, in The Art of Hunger, page149.

    * 77 Elena Loewenthal, Judaïsme. Milan : Liana Levi, 1998. Pages 16-17.

    * 78 The Art of Hunger, page 18.

    * 79 The Art of Hunger, page11.

    * 80 Moon Palace, page 27.

    * 81 Moon Palace, page 31.

    * 82 Knut Hamsun, La Faim (paris : PUF. 1989) page 12.

    * 83 City of Glass, page 38.

    * 84 In The Country of Last Things, page 79.

    * 85 Moon Palace, page 128.

    * 86 The Invention of Solitude, page 6.

    * 87 Harold Pinter, an introduction to Plays Two, called Writing For Myself, page IX.

    * 88 The Invention of Solitude, page 32.

    * 89 In La Solitude du Labyrinthe, interview with Gérard de Cortanze. 02/03/1992, page 141.

    * 90 The Invention of Solitude, page 65.

    * 91 In The Country of Last Things, page 114.

    * 92 An Interview with Larry Mc Caffery and Sinda Gregory in The Red Notebook, page 116.

    * 93 Ghosts, page 175.

    * 94 An Interview with Larry Mc Caffery and Sinda Gregory in The Red Notebook, page 136

    * 95 Moon Palace, page 170.

    * 96 The Invention of Solitude, page139.

    * 97 Moon Palace, page 4.

    * 98 Moon Palace, page 17

    * 99 Moon Palace, page 17

    * 100 City of Glass, page 59

    * 101 Moon Palace, page 63

    * 102 Moon Palace, page 171

    * 103 In La Solitude du Labyrinthe, Interview with Gérard de Cortanze. 02/03/1992, page 87.

    * 104 Moon Palace, page 217

    * 105 Moon Palace, page 23

    * 106 Moon Palace, page 240

    * 107 Moon Palace, page 262

    * 108 The Invention of Solitude, page 164

    * 109 110 City of Glass, page 130.

    * 111 Moon Palace, page 171.

    * 112 Moon Palace, page 172.

    * 113 Moon Palace, page 171.

    * 114 Moon Palace, page 41.

    * 115 City of Glass, page 130.

    * 116 Christophe Metress, `Iles et Archipels, Sauver ce qui est récupérable : la fiction de Paul Auster' in L'Oeuvre de Paul Auster, Approches et Lectures Plurielles, (Arles : Actes Sud, 1995), page 250.

    * 117 In The Country of Last Things, page 36.

    * 118 The Invention of Solitude, page 85.

    * 119 Le Magazine Littéraire,(décembre 1995) page 18.

    * 120 City of Glass, page 92.

    * 121 The Invention of Solitude, page 150.

    * 122 The Music of Chance, page 81.

    * 123 Interview with Joseph Mallia, in The Red Notebook, page 109.

    * 124 Ibid.

    * 125 Moon Palace, page 5.

    * 126 Moon Palace, page 159.

    * 127 Portrait of an Invisible Man, in The Invention of Solitude, page 65.

    * 128 Moon Palace, page 181.

    * 129 Ghosts, page 165.

    * 130 City of Glass, page 102.

    * 131 Interview with Joseph Mallia, in The Red Notebook, page 110.

    * 132 Moon Palace, page 184.

    * 133 The Locked Room, page 225.

    * 134 The Invention of Solitude, page 146.

    * 135 City of Glass, page 111.

    * 136 Moon Palace, page 305.

    * 137 Ghosts, pages 169-170.

    * 138 Ghosts, page 193.

    * 139 Ghosts, page 196.

    * 140 Moon Palace, page 306.

    * 141 The Locked Room, page 235.

    * 142 Ghosts, page 169.

    * 143 Moon Palace, page 3.

    * 144 Moon Palace, page 295

    * 145 City of Glass, page 8.

    * 146 Madeleine Sorapure : `The Detective and the Author : City of Glass' in Beyond The Red Notebook, Dennis Barone, page 72.

    * 147 The Music of Chance, page 79.

    * 148 City of Glass, page 9.

    * 149 The Invention of Solitude, pages 162-163.

    * 150 Contemporary Literature (Madison W1, spring 1992), page 18.

    * 151 Ibid.

    * 152 The Invention of Solitude, page 32.

    * 153 The Locked Room, page 285.

    * 154 City of Glass, page 6.

    * 155 The Invention of Solitude, page 153.

    * 156 Ghosts, page 144.

    * 157 The Locked Room, page 307.

    * 158 Ghosts, page 168.

    * 159 City of Glass, page 71.

    * 160 Moon Palace, page 7.

    * 161 Jorge Luis Borges, `Magie Partielle du Quichotte' in Autres Inquisitions (Paris : Gallimard, 1993) page 709

    * 162 Michel Foucault, Les Mots et Les Choses (Paris : Gallimard, 1988), page 100.

    * 163 The Book of Memory in The Invention of Solitude, page 168.

    * 164 Jorge Luis Borges, La Bibliothèque de Babel, in Fictions (Paris : Gallimard, 1983), pages 71-73.

    * 165 Ibid, page 75.

    * 166 City of Glass, page 75. (my italics)

    * 167 Ibid.

    * 168 Moon Palace, page 122.

    * 169 The Invention of Solitude, page 161.

    * 170 The Invention of Solitude, page 160

    * 171 In the Country of Last Things, page 101

    * 172 City of Glass, page 75

    * 173 François Gallix, Lecture d'une OEuvre, Moon Palace de Paul Auster (Paris : ed. du temps,1996), page 110.

    * 174 Moon Palace, page 122.

    * 175 Hans Georg Gadamer, Vérité et Méthode (Paris : Le Seuil, 1996), page 501.

    * 176 Umberto Eco, Le Signe : Histoire et Analyse d'un Concept. (Bruxelles, Labor, 1988), page 153.

    * 177 City of Glass, pages 77-78.

    * 178 Encyclopédia Universalis, la philosophie du langage.

    * 179 Portrait of an Invisible Man, in The Invention of Solitude, page 26.

    * 180 Moon Palace, page 121.

    * 181 Leviathan, page 55.

    * 182 Ghosts, page 147.

    * 183 The Locked Room, page 247.

    * 184 The Locked Room, page 301.

    * 185 In The Country of Last Things, page 183.

    * 186 Portrait of an Invisible Man, in The Invention of Solitude, page 32.

    * 187 Alison Russell, `Deconstructing The New York Trilogy : Paul Auster's Anti-Detective Fiction' (Review of Contemporary Fiction, Winter 1990.)

    * 188 The Invention of Solitude, page 161.

    * 189 City of Glass, page 47.

    * 190 Michel Foucault, Les Mots et Les Choses (Paris : Gallimard, 1988), page 51.

    * 191 Umberto Eco, Le Signe : Histoire et Analyse d'un Concept (Bruxelles : Labor, 1988), page 168

    * 192 City of Glass, page 33.

    * 193 City of Glass, page 48

    * 194 City of Glass, page 43.

    * 195 City of Glass, page 78.

    * 196 Moon Palace, page 60

    * 197 Moon Palace, page 63

    * 198 Knut Hamsum, Faim (Paris: PUF, 1994), page 59.

    * 199 Ibid, page 60.

    * 200 The Locked Room, page 295.

    * 201 The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1993)

    * 202 City of Glass, page 74.

    * 203 The Locked Room, page 296.

    * 204 Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass, in The Annotated Alice (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), page 269

    * 205 The Locked Room, page 296.

    * 206 Moon Palace, page 123.(my italics)

    * 207 Ghosts, pages 147-148. (my italics)

    * 208 City of Glass, page 62.

    * 209 Moon Palace, page 123

    * 210 Maud Ellman, The Hunger Artists : Starving, Writing and Imprisonment. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), page 65

    * 211 Moon Palace, page 121.

    * 212 Leviathan, page 55.

    * 213 Leviathan, page 55. (my italics)

    * 214 Leviathan, page 55.

    * 215 City of Glass, page 43. (my italics)

    * 216 The Locked Room, page 199.

    * 217 The Locked Room, page 277.

    * 218 Moon Palace, page 123.

    * 219 Interview with Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory in The Art of Hunger (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993), page 304.

    * 220 Interview with Joseph Mallia in The Art of Hunger, page 272.

    * 221 Moon Palace, page 121.

    * 222 Moon Palace, page 120.

    * 223 The Decisive Moment, in The Art of Hunger, page 35.

    * 224 Ferdinand de Saussure, Cours de Linguistique Générale (Paris: Payot, 1972), pages 99-100.

    * 225 Umberto Eco, Le Signe : Histoire et Analyse d'un Concept (Bruxelles: Labor, 1988.), page 171.

    * 226 City of Glass, page 77.

    * 227 Encyclopédia Universalis.

    * 228 Emmanuel Lévinas, Totalité et Infini. (Paris : Librairie Générale Française, 1998), page 227.

    * 229 Ghosts, page 161.

    * 230 Moon Palace, page 130.

    * 231 City of Glass, page 17.

    * 232 In The Country of Last Things, page 89.

    * 233 City of Glass, page 81.

    * 234 Martin Gardner (editor), The Annotated Alice (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), page 270.

    * 235 City of Glass, page 117.

    * 236 Moon Palace, page 33.

    * 237 Moon Palace, page 14.

    * 238 Moon Palace, page 32. (my italics)

    * 239 The Invention of Solitude, page 160.

    * 240 Moon Palace, page 33.

    * 241 The Invention of Solitude, page 161.

    * 242 An interview with Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory in The Red Notebook, page 117.

    * 243 Moon Palace, page 33.

    * 244 City of Glass, page 128.

    * 245 The Invention of Solitude, page 147.

    * 246 Moon Palace, page 74.

    * 247 The Invention of Solitude, page 147.

    * 248 The Locked Room, page 217.

    * 249 An interview with Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory, in The Red Notebook, page 117.

    * 250 New York review of Books: Sad Young Men (August, 17, 1989), page 53.

    * 251 Ibid.

    * 252 Mourral et Millet, Petite Encyclopédie Philosophique (Paris : Editions Universitaires, 1993.), page 146.

    * 253 Moon Palace, page 63.

    * 254 The Locked Room, page 250.

    * 255 Leviathan, page 272.

    * 256 Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. (Paris : Classiques Garnier, 1991), fragment 102, page 189.

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