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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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Chapter One: "You do not stop hungering for your father's love": The Invention of Solitude 17


CHAPTER ONE "You do not stop hungering for your father's love": The Invention of Solitude The Invention of Solitude, Auster's autobiographical work published in 1982, may be read as the map to his entire fictional work. It explores the major themes and metaphors which will come to characterize his poetic world: the quest for the father and the mystery of the self, chance as the principle governing human life, the dual nature of solitude, and the image of the locked room as a scene of death and rebirth. The composition of the book, Auster's first extensive prose work, 1 was triggered by his father's sudden death, and it consists of two sections. The first part, "Portrait of an Invisible Man," constitutes Auster's attempt to fathom the mystery of his father's self, capture it in writing and commit it to memory. The second part, "The Book of Memory," is a tortuous inquiry into his own self, in which he follows Rimbaud's dictum "Je est un autre" and objectifies himself through the use of the third person, thereby becoming both the perceiving subject and the perceived object. Here the pursuit of the private self gives way to psychological, epistemological and metafictional concerns which will haunt Auster's oeuvre-the role of memory in the construction of identity, the impossibility of knowledge, the inevitable failure built in the creative endeavor. Auster's autobiography thus foreshadows the two principal motifs which will become the hallmark of his poetic world: the quest and the mystery of the self....

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