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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 Four: "The story is not in the words; it's in the struggle": The Locked Room 79


CHAPTER FOUR "The story is not in the words; it's in the struggle": The Locked Room In the first two sections of the Trilogy, the detective quest provided the surface narrative framework, which was gradually disrupted by a subterranean quest for the annihilation, or recuperation, of the self. This structural hierarchy is reversed in the last section. The Locked Room foregrounds the quest for the self, which is the central pursuit of both its protagonists. The detective investigation is relegated to a secondary plane and is used in a metaphorical sense, as a figure of speech for one of the strategies employed by the nameless narrator in recreating his own self and that of his alter ego, Fanshawe. It also functions as a structural cohesive device, connecting the final section to the first two parts of the Trilogy. Thus, in the same way that Quinn was hired by Virginia Stillman to follow her demented father-in-law and prevent a possible murder, and Blue was hired by White to watch Black and report his whereabouts, the narrator of The Locked Room is hired by Sophie, the wife of his childhood friend, to execute the literary will of her husband, who has disappeared. His task involves "piecing together the story of a man's life .. . gathering information, collecting names, places, dates, establishing the order of events" (p. 268). But his pursuit resembles a detective investigation only in its method, not in its telos. The enigma the protagonist is asked to solve does not concern...

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