Paul Auster : Cruel Universe

Adrian Gargett on the writing of Paul Auster

Paul Auster is not a realist. As the title of his latest book The Book of Illusions suggests, he inhabits a world of illusion. His novels are worldly, finely tuned, elegant and knowingly self-referential. An academic whose wife and two sons die in a plane crash, leaving him so distraught with grief that he becomes like a zombie lumbering through a living-death; an enigmatic silent movie star of the Twenties, who vanished in bizarre circumstances 80 years ago, with only the haunting mute image remaining as a trace: these two characters form the intricate story of The Book of Illusions, with the first man trailing the second only to lose himself so that he may find himself.

The plots of Auster’s books resemble each other: private detectives and characters disappearing and changing their names are the principal recurring themes. These are instruments for exploring the subject that most excites him: the nature of identity. This constant thematic echo confers upon Auster’s work an over-arching coherence. There are certain repetitions in his books, such as dislocation, the intrusion of the unknown, an exploration of the way in which lives can take different directions that, regardless of technical variation, provide an essence in consistency.

The Book of Illusions is a detective story shadowed by tragedy, the salvation of self as its object and, at its emotional heart, loss and a cold, deep silence. This is unmistakably Auster’s cruel universe of doubles, parallels, labyrinths, swarming obscurity, masks and symbols, of deaths within deaths, stories within stories, like a Borgesian puzzle with no revelations.

Auster’s novels explore the mysteries of the mind in such a way that their process can be shared from the inside by the reader. “It’s a question of inhabiting the character, almost the way an actor inhabits his role. It’s like hearing the music in your head and trying to write it across the page,” Auster has said.

“To speculate, from the Latin, Speculatis, meaning to spy out, to observe, and linked to the word speculant, meaning mirror, or looking glass. For in spying out at Black across the street it is as though Blue were looking into a mirror and instead of merely watching another he finds that he is also watching himself”
(The New York Trilogy)

The writer is to some extent always a voyeur. The experience of “reading” is itself an experience of looking from a distance at something that is occurring.

The comprehensive worlds constructed in Paul Auster’s fiction function like a Mobius strip. The Mobius strip that results from joining the two ends of a strip of twisted surface is unexpected and ambiguous. It is a surface with only one side, which may be called either the top or the bottom. The surface itself leaves everything visible to anyone who travels along it; nothing can be obscured or located on such a surface, because it has only one side. It might be regarded as an impossibility, but with a kind of “cruel transcendence” it follows singular mechanical laws. Auster’s bleached-out humanism, is one-sided and unique.

Auster provides an entire “new” universe for his illuminated but incarcerated characters, describing cruel relationships and situations under the gaze of an audience – readers, who themselves are unable to reach a transcendence, trapped in the ruins of their personal values. The Auster characters inhabit an inverted world of chaos. They experience pain, transgress borders/limits, and come into existence in situations that are stimulated by pain. They come to accept a pleasure or at least a state of being that is understood in terms of suffering/endurance.

Paul Auster’s work is primarily idiosyncratic and thought-provoking and ultimately centres upon the nature of identity, the resonances and epiphanies of memory, the strange and indefinable forces that shape our lives.

“Everything I write is about Life and emotion, and trying to figure things out as honestly as I can”
(Paul Auster)

In Auster’s fiction language is unstable and nothing is real except chance. His characters are not the central points around which the text revolves. Auster’s books work “from the inside outwards”. The principle themes are interior – explorations of the nature of identity, the constant press of memory of the past and the present, the hope of transcendence and redemption. They are intrigued with the possibilities of ambiguity. The contexts are frequently quirkish, enigmatic and puncturated with improbable black “comedy” and dark import. There is an eternal sense of destabilisation. Protagonists exist in improbable circumstances; plots spin bizarrely. Recognising incidences of synchronicity have come to characterise the structure of the narratives.

Auster’s texts do not operate simply, like literature or philosophical argument; the style, structure, rhetoric and message are so intimately connected that the text is infinitely dense. The principle factor is the close connection between the content and the vocabulary. The structure and style of the narrative are so vital that what is said often seems secondary. To interpret one is required to dismantle the structure of the text, its grammar and its theatrical qualities. Only then is its radical quality truly apparent.

In order to fully appreciate Auster’s ideas one needs to maintain the comprehension that he is the “author” of these novels. The reader will have no direct experience of the scenarios Auster describes. His statements can neither be true nor even probable. Therefore, his narrative creates what there is. If his texts create a fictional world, then the ambiguous/enigmatic ideas do not denote things which are disconnected from the text. The narrative itself is the fundamental component. The motivating fictional element is a subversive or ambiguous move.

Auster’s notion of subversion entails firstly that the repetition of coincidence and enigmatic actions alienates the reader from what is recounted. Secondly, it entails that an interpretation of the situation is never coherent. The story is ambiguous both externally and internally.

Comprised of three short sections, Auster’s New York Trilogy examines the changing identity of the main characters in a novel, while consecutively investigating “the imbalance between the physical author of a book, the individual who puts his name onto the cover, and the authentic author who I am not certain is the same person”. The first section, ‘City of Glass’, uses the conventions of the crime thriller in a metaphysical apologia about man in relation to subconscious control and solitude. ‘Ghosts’, the middle section, also uses the detective story in order to illustrate a man compelled in effect to “tail” himself. The final section, ‘The Locked Room’ , is an autobiography by the unnamed friend of a disappeared literary giant. Although the plot lines and styles are contrasting, in essence they are the same narrative, with ‘The Locked Room’ completing the series.

In the second half of The Invention of Solitude, in an essay entitled ‘The Book of Memory’ (one of Auster’s most explicitly autobiographical works), he writes a prolonged meditation on the way memory shapes our lives and the isolation of the writer. Auster suggests that it is in the most intense periods of solitude that we finally realise we are not alone: “that suddenly you see how you’re inhabited by memories of all the people you’ve ever cared about, the experiences you’ve shared. We do not make ourselves alone; we’re made by other people. And understanding this is maybe what defines maturity”. It is with this recognition that he says he was able finally to discover his own voice as a writer. “I do believe you have to dismantle yourself before you can achieve anything.”

In Auster’s fiction protagonists attempt to construct a framework of understanding but ultimately lose it to the extent that they get near to it. Each of them tries to decipher his own chaos within that of others, in a labyrinth of confusion. The characters Daniel Quinn and Fogg both subject themselves to extreme situations, probing the limits of their possibilities, as if they were trying to test the essential boundaries of self. Each of them endures a period of poverty and social dislocation, neither has to live that way, but they decide to do it. It is always for a reason that has to do with what they want to be and what they think they really are.

“New York was an inexhaustible space, a labyrinth of endless steps and no matter how far he walked, no matter how well he came to know its neighbourhoods and streets, it always left him with a feeling of being lost. Lost, not only in the city but within himself as well. Each time he took a walk, he felt as though he were leaving himself behind. And by giving himself up to the movement of the streets, by reducing himself to a seeing eye, he was able to escape the obligation to think, and this, more than anything else, brought him a measure of peace. A salutary emptiness within”.
(The New York Trilogy)

New York’s ephemerality flows constantly through Auster’s narratives. In ‘City of Glass’, the New York Trilogy’s first section, the metropolis of glassy transparency becomes absolute – a vector to pure absence. Viewing the mesmeric psychic landscape affords little personal space – you look out and see fifty different narratives. On some level you have to detach yourself. It is essential to create a sense of isolation to counter the claustrophobic voyeurism produced by all those reflective surfaces.

In Auster’s fiction the main characters are mutable, changing with the environment. Characters are impermanent, evolving through states, losing identity, until he/she literally reaches a vanishing point. In Auster’s novels the individual identity fades out and/or splits, and the city is often a catalyst in this process. In the three sections of The New York Trilogy, two principally distinct characters melt into one another. In ‘City of Glass’, the City itself becomes an operative factor – the events that occur within it have a vacancy of meaning, the lost meaning/vacuum being supplied by casual nihilistic disruption. The conclusion of Quinn’s passage results in complete transformation. He has trailed the city’s avenues until, as if forced by the invisible power of malevolent nature, he consequently turns into the man he has been “shadowing”. He has mutated into his ‘other’. In ‘Ghosts’, to focus is also malignant nature – a zone of place-absence. The city is initially a borderline between two opposite points, where the viewpoints eventually become mutual and fatally converge in the end. In ‘The Locked Room’, the process reaches a destructive conclusion. New York’s nihilism has moved from the streets into the apartments, now inhabited by ‘ghosts’.

The narrative forces active in Auster’s texts are primarily destructive. Their influence provides a frame for human action and its casual consequences. From a metaphysical perspective nature in Auster’s contexts is not a static thing, some kind of external world, but a dynamic principle or force, almost like a “living being”. It seems to have a will of its own. This nature possesses no values, but is destructive. Nature annihilates things, and in this respect creates a void. The trajectory is however not so easy to trace. The ruins that are resultant, as would be expected, are messy. Since the principle of nature represents chaos, or entropy, it does not leave any space for such elements as consistency of its ends.

In an Auster story chance is a way of shattering the illusion of reason and logic as it occurs in a narrative. “The unexpected occurs with almost numbing regularity in our lives”, he remarks in ‘The Art Of Hunger’. As the improbable exists in reality, the task of the writer, states Auster, is to use it as a source of imagination and present it in fiction.

It is straightforward to suggest that these narratives of chaos achieve a degree of calamity at the fictional level, but more intricately the principle of nature may demand the destruction of both the human and the artificial. If this is so the protagonist’s struggle for self-preservation and ‘development’ in life contradicts the values derivable from the principle of nature. If it is a natural consequence to destroy everything, why do characters hesitate or refuse to include their own lives in what is interpreted as everything?

The explanation is grounded in the notion that natural laws are the principle of a natural activity that constitutes a myth. Therefore we are able to shed the question of the meaning of laws, which otherwise would constitute an insoluble problem. The natural (essence of the world or everything that is “real”) which destroys should be interpreted as a myth, operating as a story with veiled meaning and covering all that is essential about life. In this sense the principle of nature is an allusion to the truth that the world is finally chaotic. In other words (causal) consequences of actions are uncontrollable, unlike (intentional) results which represent what is artificial in the social construct.

An Auster character will attempt to address discontent and frustration towards things which can neither be controlled or violated. This concept of a mythic nature is a pseudo-materialist metaphysics which has no scientific basis other than its dynamic force, which produces some form of random causal consequence. In this pseudo-materialistic construct nature as such is external and indestructible. However this fact affords little consolation (all things die so that something else can be born). In this respect only matter and force are real, that is why they cannot die – under the blind forces of life and death nature is just reconstructed. Nature destroys and procreates constantly. In Auster’s view this creation itself is chaotic because it can neither be controlled nor utilized.

The reason why nature makes characters into restless opportunists is that chaos cannot sustain normative laws/values. The human has to start building some artificial values of interpretation. The key point is that in this construct of nature nothing seems outlandish or extraordinary. Therefore the only thing to do is participate in the life of nature, which is consequently to succumb to its maleficent mercy. The contrast between creation and destruction is advanced and consequently found to be meaningless.

Auster’s fiction is composed of supremely irrational events; the inexplicable and bewildering force of nature challenges certainties and preconceptions about the world. In The Invention of Solitude, Auster remarks that his life is so fragmented, he is tempted to look for a meaning, to look beyond the facts of his existence. Quinn comments in ‘City of Glass’, “nothing is real except chance”. Auster’s texts centre around the implications of chance. In an unpredictable universe, as Marco Fogg says in Moon Palace, causality is no longer hidden demurrage that ruled the world, where down was up, first was last, the end was the beginning, the change is the only constant.

In Auster’s books the repetitive scenes of impersonal and cruel ambiguity express a desire to overcome destructive nature via an acceleration or multiplication of acts or moments of “violence”. This cruelty is the side-effect of pure negation. In the fictional perspective Auster aims to destroy all nature, including his own identity/subjectivity as the author, in order to reach an intense state – the impersonal pleasure of demonstrative reason.

Auster’s fiction is a fiction of disavowal and suspension. An Auster character can neither destroy the real nor idealize the real, but instead disavows the real and introduces an ideal within “fantasy”, an “intermezzo” space between the real and the ideal. This explores a curious inter-world in which bodies/words/things/ideas inter-penetrate and the normal demarcations between the physical and metaphysical become ambiguous. Auster effectively attempts to saturate the real with a “destructive ideal.”

In Moon Palace lightning acts as a pivotal conduit. Auster has recounted a past incident in which a summer camp comrade was killed by such an event. In many of Auster’s scenarios improbable/ambiguous/contradictory forces activate the narrative.

“People say these are impossible events – how can that be? But I would counter and say this is how the world works. Impossible things happen all the time. Open your eyes and you’ll see your own life doesn’t work in a systematic way, like most people believe. My books are realism. I would even go further and say that the people who object have read too many books and it influences the way they look at reality”
(Paul Auster)

Auster frequently employs sequences from his life experiences. It is something that entails plausibility and sincerity. When he writes about such events he draws upon a certain conviction and in this way he transcends the borderline between fiction and reality. This is the area that he seems intent to animate.

In ‘City of Glass’, the first book in The New York Trilogy, a man named Quinn receives a telephone call from someone wishing to speak to “Paul Auster the private detective”. Quinn tells the caller he has the wrong number, and hangs up. The next night, the same thing happens, and again Quinn hangs up. When it happens a third time, Quinn plays along with the caller and takes the case. So begins Quinn’s journey into a hall of mirrors; part noir,part detective story, part existential enquiry. Folding in on noir genre conventions: the private investigators search for his private “I” contracts upon itself in a climax markedly beyond the genre. (Auster’s use of his own name in a fictional context is characteristic, as if he is determined at every possible moment to ask the question: are we really who we think we are?)

‘City of Glass’ was inspired by an incident when Auster received two telephone calls on consecutive nights from someone wanting the Pinkerton Detective Agency. In the novel, “Quinn” simply picks up the challenge that “Auster” chose not to.

Questions arise about the meaning/significance of these incidents. A religious person might regard it as the intervention of God, the mystic might suggest some higher cosmic harmony. However maybe it’s the moment at which life begins to function as art; these stories have the same internal structure as art, but they occur in an orbit of the “true”.

“One has many memories which are deeply entombed. It is the process of writing which brings these small bits of memory to the surface. But one isn’t aware of it. One doesn’t know where they come from. One cannot put them into focus. From time to time one is able to retrace the path and reach the origin……. The writer’s works are born from these hidden springs”
(Paul Auster)

Auster’s characters essentially move away from origin and identity and towards an absence – a forgetting of self. Distinct conclusions regarding actions are elusive; there appears to be no centre or stability. The only consolation left to Auster’s individuals are to reinvent themselves; uncle Victor says in Moon Palace that every person is the author of his own life. Auster’s protagonists easily came to assume another identity. Quinn becomes Paul Auster; the detective called upon to solve the mystery. To become someone else is a form of “consolation”. It affords a lightness of being – of becoming “other”. Existing only on the surface with no inner consciousness.

By having Quinn phoned by someone asking to speak to “Paul Auster” the private detective, Auster establishes an elaborate web of character and identity. This is subsequently complicated by Quinn the detective writer, choosing to become “Paul Auster the detective” and help his “client”, Peter Stillman. Although he has no idea who “Auster” is, he is willing to do what “Auster” has promised to do, as “in a kind of trance”, having “found himself doing a good impression of a man preparing to go out”, namely “Auster”. The transformation continues as he enters Stillman’s flat: “he could feel himself going blank, as if his brain had shut off”.

The task Auster attempts to confront is neither concerned with ordering nor explanation, it is rather a question of incorporating the chaos of the world beyond understanding into his fiction. It’s where allusive destiny and the belief that human life is utterly contingent blends with dark Beckett-like humour and narrative velocity. This is why for Auster disasters always contain opportunities, deaths give up life and how the solitary site of invention generates unlikely fictions.

The Music of Chance can be seen as Auster’s ultimate Nietzschean drama – in the aftermath of their lost poker game, Nashe and Pozzi examine the reasons behind their failure. Pozzi as a poker player believes in chance, and is convinced that on occasion, somewhere/sometime, he will be the chosen recipient of good fortune. He expresses the belief that the world is based on a delicate harmony which must be maintained in order to keep a state of balance. He accuses Nashe of disrupting that balance, “tampering with the universe”. He broke the rhythm of their game by leaving the room at an inappropriate moment. The consequences for the destiny of the two protagonists of The Music Of Chance are catastrophic. Not only do they lose the game but they are sentenced to a Sisyphean task. In order to pay their gambling debt they have to build a wall. The narrative moves away from freedom/movement, from a world played by music of chance, into complete isolation and fixty of place. Nashe’s attitude to his fate is fatalistic, he accepts that his freedom is taken from him and the building of the wall becomes a kind of atonement. He mocks Pozzi’s belief in a hidden purpose that explains how things work in the world – luck/God/harmony. Once released from the world of infinite chance with indefinite possibilities, Nashe stoically tolerates his new position. The Music of Chance contrasts these two disparate worlds – the improbable world of chance and the determinate world of law.

What may be described as a Nietzschean scheme, is a play in the game of truth, that is not an explanation of an entire complex, but a description of the dynamic network of the subjects shifting relationships to the process of interpretation. Nietzsche’s flow of energy encompasses what Nietzsche views as the complex/world. Flow involves the dynamic and fluid nature of becoming, while energy implies a potentiality, an inherent capacity for manifestation and progression actuated by “the will to power”. The will to power is not a universal law, but a functional imperative that operates autonomously from every position in the flow of energy and interacts with its surroundings in unpredictable ways, to produce an infinite complexity in which the subject is implicated.

Auster locates a metaphysics of flux in the Nietzschean image of the game of chance. The world of “becoming” is a world of flux and multiplicity, but also one of chance and chaos, and the affirmation of the “eternal return” is determined by this aspect of “becoming”. To join in the play of the cosmos is, as Zarathustra says, to play, “dice with gods at the gods’ table, the earth”.

If existence is a game of chance, it is a serious game because it is a game of the necessity of chance.

“Above all things stands the heaven of chance, the heaven of innocence, the heaven of accident, the heaven of wantonness….you are to me a dance floor for divine chance, that you are to me a gods’ table for divine dice and dicers!”
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

In deliberating a universe of cruel chance, Auster has expressed admiration for the high-wire artist Philippe Petit and has translated On The High Wire, a kind of manifesto of Petit’s art. High wire walking is not as might be thought an art of death but an art of life, of life lived to its extreme possibilities – life which is unafraid and uncompromising in its confrontation/relationship with death. On each occasion that Petit performs he takes life and lives it in all its exhilarating immediacy. Petit’s aesthetic is an exemplary quest, a search for a type of perfection, as Auster says, “…anyone who has ever made personal sacrifices for an art or an idea will have no trouble understanding what it is about”. In essence one might conjecture that this constitutes the fundamentals of art – useless, beautiful, extraordinary but somehow life enhancing.

“One day there is life. A man for example in the best of health, not even old, with no history of illness. Everything is as it was, as it will always be. He goes from one day to the next, minding his own business, dreaming only of the life that lies before him. And then, suddenly it happens, there is death”
(Paul Auster)

For Auster, since The New York Trilogy, comparisons have been drawn between the process of operating as a detective and being a writer, and indeed there is a parallel. There is the notion of looking out at the world, observing how people behave, collecting “evidence” and then attempting to produce connections/conclusions. In all his writing, Auster utilises half-hidden references to his own life. Only in The Invention of Solitude and Hand To Mouth are there possibly extensive “autobiographical” sections. The Invention of Solitude, for example, displays a dualistic operation – the first part, ostensibly about his father, uses the “I”, but the second part which is mostly about the author himself adopts the third person. In this respect Auster demonstrates that he is not a confessional writer, presenting his life directly. Each time he employs the first person he consciously distances himself and creates an oblique perspective.

Auster’s Timbuktu is narrated by a dog, Mr Bones, the loyal companion to a wandering “poet-saint” called Willy G. Christmas. The novel begins with Willy dying outside the home of Edgar Allan Poe, whom he celebrates as the original “Yankee scribe”. Willy has told Mr Bones that when you die you go to Timbuktu, “an oasis of the spirits”, and the story follows his attempts to find another human companion until opting for a short-cut to Timbuktu.

Willy adopted his name after a revelatory vision of Santa Claus, thereafter living according to the seasonal spirit of selfless giving. He like all Auster characters, is a writer of sorts, whose language Mr. Bones has acquired in the patchy way of a child. So he thinks, for example, he has left Willy in his ancestral Poland rather than “Poe-land”, and his encounter with a Chinese boy leaves him wondering how a human being can metamorphose into a range of animals – from blue jays to bear cubs – merely by joining a baseball team.

Music, magic and love co-exist with necessity, despair and restlessness. They represent the coincidence of a certain kind of fundamental nothingness, out of which flows an acknowledgement towards a form of “hyper-existentialism”.

Auster presents another narrative structured around journey and oblivion, and again focuses upon a protagonist who constructs an existence from vagrancy. But then what is a tramp if not a writer’s alter-ego? The mirror image of the writer, quite literally a non-entity, a missing person – as the novelist is the missing person in his own fiction. Timbuktu probably has less to do with plot – very little happens in the book – but more to do with language, which is basically Willy’s language and the way Mr. Bones interprets that language.

“Willy represents the very heart and soul of what it means to be a writer. Obviously, in worldly terms, he’s been a complete failure, but the fact is, he’s in his mid 40s and he’s been writing his entire life. This is the only thing a writer can do. The ideas of success or failure eventually vanish, and what you are left with is the work. And Willy has made his work”
(Paul Auster).

Auster’s fiction is concerned with the principle question of incorporating the chaos of the world into language. The act of writing becomes a process of discovery, a conflict to rescue each moment from a confusion through the purity of perception.

Auster speaks of “…a kind of art that interests me: an art that springs from self-denial and spiritual struggle, from the search for one’s own limits”. In a definite sense Auster’s main protagonists share this perspective, they are obstinate/stubborn and blinded by their “moral” quests. Walt in Mr Vertigo learns his unique art of levitation after a punishing ordeal of training. Nashe in The Music of Chance has a compulsion to doubt – the “ordinary” characters are only marginal figures – engaged in a cycle of powerful existential anguish. In his novels, the central character wants to survive a cruel universe – this is the essential purpose. Such is the complexity of character depiction that Auster could be said to write “imaginary biographies”, tracing the development of character. Auster is fundamentally interested in his characters, and these characters come to “exist” in their own right. This is especially evident in those books narrated in the first person – Peter Aaron and Walt have their own style, they are precisely defined people who think and express themselves and live in their own ways. In writing Auster becomes “an actor” penetrating the character of the other.

In a recent interview Auster comments;

“People have often said that I have a very skewed sense of reality, that the things I write about are preposterous and untrue. I’ve always contended that I’m a realist: that, indeed, the world is a lot stranger than people credit; that really what they’re responding to are the conventions of fiction as they’ve been established since the late nineteenth century; that certain things are inappropriate for novels. But I believe that everything is appropriate for a novel, and if we close ourselves off to experiences, we’re not really telling the truth about the world.”

Auster sees his book, True Tales of American Life, as a vindication of his fictional method. True Tales is a collection of 179 stories written by Americans of every age, every station, every walk of life, originally read by Auster on National Public Radio – almost the only radio broadcast which reaches every corner of the vast United States. The National Story Project was begun in the autumn of 1999, with an interview in which Auster solicited the tales of his listeners: nearly 5,000 stories came in. Some are real stories; some are anecdotes; some are full of regret, others of love; some are about generosity, some about meanness. Not a few, which show lives bound by inexplicable events, or foretold by dreams, or haunted by lost objects, have an unmistakeable Austerian scent about them. The compilation reflects Auster’s original request for stories “that defied our expectations about the world, anecdotes that revealed the mysterious and unknowable forces at work in our lives.”

The lasting impression left by True Tales of American Life is of a nation longing to share this faith in the numinous and unknowable; of people finding the mundane, rational and material simply not enough of an explanation for their predicaments and pleasures. The tone of individual stories varies, but the overriding tone of the collection is bewilderment that the possibilities of their lives should have fallen out in this particular way.

As Auster says:

“Stories are fundamental to human life. I think we need stories as much as we need food and air and water and sleep, because stories are the way we organise reality. Reality is a thunderous cacophony of millions of impressions surging in on us at every moment. By isolating fragments of that invasion, which is what a story does, we are enabled to think about ourselves in the present, in the and being able to articulate them and link them over time, past, in the future. Without stories, we literally wouldn’t be able to live.”

To write, Auster says, you have to be out of the world. “Anyone who is making art of any kind is out of the world. You can’t be in it in order to do it”. This idea is at the centre of all of his work – an attempt to identify the world as part of literature, and not literature as part of the world. To undermine confidence in the idea that there is such a thing as straightforward reality. To reveal how only fiction can explore the mysterious levels of life hidden in our rational mind. Many of his novels resemble the telling of a dream conveyed with all its inconsistencies, its aimlessness; enigmatic narratives, balanced somewhere between the unspeakable and that which must be told.

“The closer you come to the end, the more there is to say. The end is only imaginary, a destination you invent to keep yourself going, but a point comes when you realise you will never get there. You might have to stop, but that is only because you have run out of time. You stop but that does not mean you have come to the end”.
(‘In the County of Last Things’).

Art and fiction is the place where the known elements of our lives are transformed. That is not to imply that we do not recognise ourselves – we progress to see something more essential, more coherent than usual. Our symbolic life can only be revealed to us through art/fiction. This symbolic life gives meaning to our everyday life, restoring its perspectives and dimensionality. Auster’s fiction acts as an intersection between art and life. Something of the symbolic value of art always touches his work. Auster’s books leave us full of questions: practical questions, emotional questions, some of which he answers, some of which he leaves to us, as fellow-conspirators.

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