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Paul Auster and Postmodern Quest

On the Road to Nowhere

Series:

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 Seven: "It's an imaginary place, but it's also realistic": The Music of Chance 159

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CHAPTER SEVEN "It's an imaginary place, but it's also realistic": The Music of Chance Chance is an inherently ambiguous concept. It conflates diametrically opposed notions: hazard and destiny, good fortune and bad luck. 1 Yet, as noted by Derrida, among the multiple and contradictory associations of chance-unpredictability, haphazardness, adventure-there is one privileged sense: the fall. We tend to intuitively associate chance with a downward movement. This intuition is encoded in language: the English words "chance" and "case" originates in the Latin cadere, which signifies "to fall"; their derivations can be found in "occasion," "coincidence" and "decadence." Chance has the implication of that which we fall into, or which befalls us by surprise-the incident, the accident, the final throw of the dice. It embraces the interplay between indeterminacy and inevitability, between fortuity and fate. To believe in chance, concludes Derrida, "can just as well indicate that one believes in the existence of chance and that one does not, above all, believe in chance, since one looks for and finds a hidden meaning at all costs" ("My Chances/ Mes Chances, " p. 4 ). None of Auster's novels displays this ambiguity more starkly and more tragically than The Music of Chance ( 1990). The dual nature of chance is metaphorically conveyed through the setting of the road-tra- ditionally associated with the unpredictability of accident-juxtaposed with that of the castle and the wall, which suggest the finality of destiny. The shift from the road to the castle, the turning point of the story, is the poker...

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