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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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Conclusion: The useless quest and the journey doomed to failure 199

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CONCLUSION The useless quest and the journey doomed to failure In Auster's fiction the quest is a fecund metaphor, which coalesces his autobiographic concerns with philosophical notions and metafictional reflections. The Invention of Solitude adumbrates the motif that will become the core of Auster's poetic world-the quest for the father and for the mystery of the self. The quest is transformed into the master- narrative of all the subsequent novels and is associated with different generic conventions and literary traditions, which are simultaneously evoked and deconstructed. In the transition from the extra-textual to the textual space, autobiographic motifs are filtered through the prisms of American myths, central concepts in contemporary philosophical and psychological theories and postmodern writing strategies. Sometimes, as in the Trilogy, the central quest is epistemological-a detective investigation, addressing and undermining the tacit assumptions of the genre, the belief in causality and logic. More often, as in Moon Palace or in The Music of Chance, it is a physical journey, ostensibly affiliating these novels with a central tradition of American letters, while questioning the values and ideological premises of that tradition. When the external quest is internalized, it becomes the narrativization of desire, evoking psychoanalytic theories in which desire plays a pivotal role. When the quest is transposed from the fictional to the metafictional plane, its continuously deferred ending is projected from the fictional protagonists' pursuit to that of their author and questing becomes a metaphor for narration. If the quest is omnipresent in Auster's fictional world, it...

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