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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 Three: "A case with nothing to do": Ghosts 57


CHAPTER THREE "A case with nothing to do": Ghosts Ghosts is the most abstract and the most metafictional of the three sections of the Trilogy. It originates in an earlier one-act play- Blackouts (1976}--which was eventually rewritten and incorporated into the Trilogy as its thematic kemel. 1 It thus functions both as a variation and as a self-reflexive comment on the central thematic and formal principle of the Trilogy-the detective quest. But this time the detective quest has been divested of its most salient features. The detective and the suspect seem unreal, mere figures of speech, and gradually become inter-changeable; there is no action, no progress in time, no crime mystery and no solution. Just the quintessence of questing has been left-the mind's desperate and futile endeavor to understand another mind. At first, the case looks deceptively simple, at least to its protagonist, Blue: White wants Blue to follow a man named Black and to keep an eye on him for as long as necessary .... White doesn't elaborate. He wants a weekly report, he says, sent to such and such a postbox number, typed out in duplicate on pages so long and so wide. A check will be sent each week to Blue in the mail. White then tells Blue where Black lives, what he looks like and so on. When Blue asks White how long he thinks the case will last, White says he doesn't know. Just keep sending the reports, he says, until further notice. (p. 135)...

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