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Paul Auster and Postmodern Quest

On the Road to Nowhere


Ilana Shiloh

Paul Auster published his first prose work, the autobiographical The Invention of Solitude, in 1982; since then his fiction has gained ever growing popular and critical acclaim. This book is a stimulating pioneering study of eight works that make up the Auster canon: The Invention of Solitude, the three novellas that comprise The New York Trilogy, and the novels In the Country of Last Things, Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, and Leviathan. Focusing on the quest – which she sees as the master narrative of all of Auster’s novels – Shiloh examines Auster’s writing in a multi-layered context of literary and philosophical paradigms relevant to his practice, such as the American tradition of the «open road,» the generic conventions of detective fiction, postmodernist concepts of the subject, Sartre’s and Camus’s existentialist theories, and Freud’s and Lacan’s psychoanalytic models, all of which offer enriching and insightful perspectives on Auster’s poetics.


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Introduction 1


1 Sartre's existentialist theory. 4 My subsequent overview of these models and theories is by no means exhaustive; it focuses on the concepts which converge with Auster's presentation of his fictional selves. Freud's construct of psychic topography probably constitutes one of the most influential 20th century views of the subject. Freud actually posited two partially overlapping models. The early topography, presented in The Interpretation of Dreams ( 1900), divides the mind into two major areas: the unconscious and the preconscious. The later model, elaborated in The Ego and the Id (1923), suggests a structural and functional division of the subject into three compartments: the id, the ego and the super-ego. The id, present at birth, is governed by Eros, the life-integrating force, and Thanatos, the death instinct. The id seeks immediate gratification and operates on the pleasure principle; its dissatisfaction results in tension, which the id strives to eliminate. Paradoxically, the elimination of tension results in a state of quiescence, which can be achieved only in death. The second part of the personality, the ego, begins to develop out of the id in the second six months of life. It is primarily conscious and operates on the reality principle, mediating between the demands of reality and those of the id. The ego, however, has no energy of its own; it derives all its energy from the id. To illustrate this point, Freud produces an oft-quoted simile: Thus in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who...

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