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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 Two: "On his best of walks, he was able to feel that he was nowhere": City of Glass 35


CHAPTER TWO "On his best walks, he was able to feel that he was nowhere": City of Glass Slowly, I am coming to understand the absurdity of the task I have set for myself ... I have to invent the road with each step, and this means that I can never be sure of where I am. A feeling of moving around in circles, of perpetual back-tracking, of going off in many directions at once. -Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude Part One: The New York Trilogy The epigraph of this chapter, although taken from The Invention of Solitude, aptly prefigures the theme, structure and central metaphor interlacing the three sections of The New York Trilogy. Auster's disheartened observation about the futility of the task he has set for himself in his autobiography is echoed, at some time or other, by each one of the protagonists of the Trilogy. The task is invariably the same- the solution of a mystery. It is conceptualized in spatial terms, as the terminus of a convoluted road. The attempt to reach the end of the road-the quest-is frustrating, and ultimately futile. And although the nature of the mystery explored in The Invention of Solitude seems to be different from the mysteries pursued by Quinn, Blue, and by the nameless narrator of The Locked Room, the difference is only apparent. The three stories making up The New York Trilogy were originally published separately, as City of Glass (1985), Ghosts and The Locked Room ( 1986). Each story...

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