Paul Auster

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Paul Auster
Paul Auster BBF 2010 Shankbone.jpg
Auster at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival
BornPaul Benjamin Auster
(1947-02-03) February 3, 1947 (age 67)
Newark, New Jersey, United States
Pen name

Paul Queen[1]

Paul Benjamin
OccupationNovelist and poet
GenreAbsurdist fiction, crime fiction, mystery fiction
Literary movementPostmodernism
SpouseLydia Davis (1974–1977; divorced; 1 child)
Siri Hustvedt (1981–present; 1 child)
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Paul Auster
Paul Auster BBF 2010 Shankbone.jpg
Auster at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival
BornPaul Benjamin Auster
(1947-02-03) February 3, 1947 (age 67)
Newark, New Jersey, United States
Pen name

Paul Queen[1]

Paul Benjamin
OccupationNovelist and poet
GenreAbsurdist fiction, crime fiction, mystery fiction
Literary movementPostmodernism
SpouseLydia Davis (1974–1977; divorced; 1 child)
Siri Hustvedt (1981–present; 1 child)

Paul Benjamin Auster (born February 3, 1947) is an American author and director whose writing blends absurdism, existentialism, crime fiction, and the search for identity and personal meaning in works such as The New York Trilogy (1987), Moon Palace (1989), The Music of Chance (1990), The Book of Illusions (2002), and The Brooklyn Follies (2005).


Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey,[2] to Jewish middle class parents of Polish descent, Queenie (née Bogat) and Samuel Auster.[3] He grew up in South Orange, New Jersey [4] and Newark[5] and graduated from Columbia High School in Maplewood.[6] After graduating from Columbia University in 1970, he moved to Paris, France where he earned a living translating French literature. Since returning to the U.S. in 1974, he has published poems, essays, and novels of his own, as well as translations of French writers such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Joseph Joubert.

He and his second wife, writer Siri Hustvedt (the daughter of professor and scholar Lloyd Hustvedt), were married in 1981, and they live in Brooklyn.[2] Together they have one daughter, Sophie Auster. Previously, Auster was married to the writer Lydia Davis. They have one son together, Daniel Auster.

He is also the vice-president of PEN American Center.

In 2012, Auster was quoted as saying in an interview that he wouldn't visit Turkey to protest their treatment of journalists. The Turkish Prime-Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan replied: "As if we need you! Who cares if you come or not?".[7] "According to the latest numbers gathered by International PEN, there are nearly one hundred writers imprisoned in Turkey, not to speak of independent publishers such as Ragip Zarakolu, whose case is being closely watched by PEN Centers around the world", responded Auster.[8]

As of November 2010, Auster has been at work on a new novel, but has said that in the past few years he has found it harder to come up with ideas: "I used to have a backlog of stories, but a few years ago I found the drawers were empty. I guess I’m getting to the point where I tell myself if I can’t write another book it’s not a tragedy. Does it matter if I publish 16 or 17 novels? Unless it’s absolutely urgent, there’s no point in writing."[9]


Auster greeting Israeli President Shimon Peres with Salman Rushdie and Caro Llewellyn in 2008

Following his acclaimed debut work, a memoir entitled The Invention of Solitude, Auster gained renown for a series of three loosely connected detective stories published collectively as The New York Trilogy. These books are not conventional detective stories organized around a mystery and a series of clues. Rather, he uses the detective form to address existential issues and questions of identity, space, language, and literature, creating his own distinctively postmodern (and critique of postmodernist) form in the process. Comparing the two works, Auster said, "I believe the world is filled with strange events. Reality is a great deal more mysterious than we ever give it credit for. In that sense, the Trilogy grows directly out of The Invention of Solitude."[10]

The search for identity and personal meaning has permeated Auster's later publications, many of which concentrate heavily on the role of coincidence and random events (The Music of Chance) or increasingly, the relationships between people and their peers and environment (The Book of Illusions, Moon Palace). Auster's heroes often find themselves obliged to work as part of someone else's inscrutable and larger-than-life schemes. In 1995, Auster wrote and co-directed the films Smoke (which won him the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay) and Blue in the Face. Auster's more recent works, Oracle Night (2003), The Brooklyn Follies (2005), and the novella Travels in the Scriptorium, have also met critical acclaim.


According to a dissertation by Heiko Jakubzik at the University of Heidelberg, two central influences in Paul Auster's writing are Jacques Lacan's psychoanalysis and the American transcendentalism of the early to middle nineteenth century, exemplified by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Lacan's theory declares that we enter the world through words. We observe the world through our senses, but the world we sense is structured (mediated) in our mind through language. Thus our unconscious also is structured as a language. This leaves us with a sense of anomaly. We can only perceive the world through language, but we have the feeling that something is missing. This is the sense of being outside language. The world can only be constructed through language, but it always leaves something uncovered, something that cannot be told or be thought of, it may only be sensed. This is one of the central themes of Paul Auster's writing.

Lacan is considered to be one of the key figures of French poststructuralism. Some academics are keen to discern traces of other poststructuralist philosophers throughout Auster's oeuvre - mainly Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, and Michel de Certeau - although Auster has claimed to find such philosophies 'unreadable.'[11]

The transcendentalists believe that the symbolic order of civilization separated us from the natural order of the world. By moving into nature - as Thoreau did in Walden - it would be possible to return to this natural order.

The common factor of both ideas is the question of the meaning of symbols for human beings.[12] Auster's protagonists often are writers who establish meaning in their lives through writing and they try to find their place within the natural order, to be able to live within "civilization" again.

Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel Beckett, and Herman Melville have also had a strong influence on Auster's writing. Not only do their characters reappear in Auster's work (such as William Wilson in City of Glass or Hawthorne's Fanshawe in The Locked Room, both from The New York Trilogy), Auster also uses variations on the themes of these writers.

Paul Auster's reappearing subjects are:[13]


Instances of coincidence may be found throughout Auster's work.[citation needed] Auster claims that people are so influenced by the continuity among them that they do not see the elements of coincidence, inconsistency, and contradiction in their own lives:


Failure, in Paul Auster's works, is not just the opposite of the happy ending. In Moon Palace and The Book of Illusions it comes from the individual's uncertainty about the status of one's own identity. The protagonists start a search for their own identity and reduce their life to the absolute minimum. From this zero point they gain new strength and start their new life and they also are able to regain contact with their surroundings. A similar development also may be seen in City of Glass and The Music of Chance.

Failure in this context is not the "nothing" - it is the beginning of something all new.


Auster's protagonists often go through a process that reduces their support structure to an absolute minimum: they sever all contact with family and friends, go hungry, and lose or give away all their belongings. Out of this state of "nothingness" they either acquire new strength to reconnect with the world or they fail and disappear for good.


"Over the past twenty-five years," opined Michael Dirda in The New York Review of Books in 2008, "Paul Auster has established one of the most distinctive niches in contemporary literature."[17] Dirda also has extolled his loaded virtues in The Washington Post:

Ever since City of Glass, the first volume of his New York Trilogy, Auster has perfected a limpid, confessional style, then used it to set disoriented heroes in a seemingly familiar world gradually suffused with mounting uneasiness, vague menace and possible hallucination. His plots — drawing on elements from suspense stories, existential récit, and autobiography — keep readers turning the pages, but sometimes end by leaving them uncertain about what they've just been through.[18]

Literary critic James Wood, however, offers Auster little praise in his piece "Shallow Graves" in the November 30, 2009, issue of The New Yorker:

What Auster often gets instead is the worst of both worlds: fake realism and shallow skepticism. The two weaknesses are related. Auster is a compelling storyteller, but his stories are assertions rather than persuasions. They declare themselves; they hound the next revelation. Because nothing is persuasively assembled, the inevitable postmodern disassembly leaves one largely untouched. (The disassembly is also grindingly explicit, spelled out in billboard-size type.) Presence fails to turn into significant absence, because presence was not present enough.[19]

Dirda and Wood--both based in the United States--assess Auster's literary qualities more than his view of American society, which Morris Berman suggests is the basis for his European popularity:

It’s interesting that the theme of Paul Auster’s novels is that American society is incoherent, that it lacks a true identity, and that it’s nothing more than a hall of mirrors. He’s been saying that for decades and by and large Americans don’t know who Paul Auster is and they don’t read him. Auster is tremendously popular in Europe, he’s been translated into more than twenty languages: those are the bulk of his sales. Americans are not interested in this kind of perception.[20]

But, since so few (if any) novelists are important media figures in the United States (e.g. they are no longer interviewed on television for their political opinions, as used to be common), it is more likely that Auster's format is responsible for his relative obscurity in the United States: as it is he is one of the country's more commercially successful novelists.


Published works[edit]




Essays, memoirs, and autobiographies[edit]

Edited collections[edit]



Other media[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hand to Mouth
  2. ^ a b Freeman, John. "At home with Siri and Paul", The Jerusalem Post, April 3, 2008. Accessed September 19, 2008. "Like so many people in New York, both of them are spiritual refugees of a sort. Auster hails from Newark, New Jersey, and Hustvedt from Minnesota, where she was raised the daughter of a professor, among a clan of very tall siblings."
  3. ^ Conversations with Paul Auster - Google Books. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  4. ^ Begley, Adam. "Case of the Brooklyn Symbolist", The New York Times, August 30, 1992. Accessed September 19, 2008. "The grandson of first-generation Jewish immigrants, he was born in Newark in 1947, grew up in South Orange and attended high school in Maplewood, 20 miles southwest of New York."
  5. ^ Auster, Paul. Winter Journal (New York, NY: Henry Holt, 2012), p. 61.
  6. ^ Freeman, Hadley. "American dreams: He may be known as one of New York's coolest chroniclers, but Paul Auster grew up in suburban New Jersey and worked on an oil tanker before achieving literary success. Hadley Freeman meets a modernist with some very traditional views", The Guardian, October 26, 2002. Accessed September 19, 2008. "Education: Columbia High School, New Jersey; 1965-69 Columbia College, New York; '69-70 Columbia University, New York (quit after one year)"
  7. ^ Associated Press in Ankara (2013-03-27). "Turkish PM criticises US writer Paul Auster over human rights comments, Guardian, 01.02.2012". Guardian. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  8. ^ Itzkoff, Dave. "Paul Auster Responds After Turkish Prime Minister Calls Him ‘an Ignorant Man’, The New York Times, 01.02.2012". Turkey: Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  9. ^ Author interviews. "Paul Auster interview". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  10. ^ Mallia, Joseph. ""Paul Auster", "BOMB Magazine", Spring, 1988.
  11. ^ "A conversation with author Paul Auster". Charlie Rose. 2004-03-04. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  12. ^ Heiko Jakubzik: Paul Auster und die Klassiker der American Renaissance. Dissertation, Universität Heidelberg 1999 (online text)
  13. ^ Dennis Barone (ed.): Beyond the Red Notebook. Essays on Paul Auster. Penn Studies in Contemporary American Fiction. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia (2. ed. 1996)
  14. ^ Dirk Peters: Das Motiv des Scheiterns in Paul Austers "City of Glass" und "Music of Chance". unpublished MA dissertation, Christian-Albrechts Universität Kiel, 1998
  15. ^ Paul Auster from Mark Irwin, "Inventing the Music of Chance" In: The Review of Contemporary Fiction Vol. XIV, no. 1
  16. ^ Martin Klepper, Pynchon, Auster, DeLillo. Die amerikanische Postmoderne zwischen Spiel und Rekonstruktion. Campus, Frankfurt am Main u.a. 1996. (= Nordamerikastudien; 3) ISBN 3-593-35618-X
  17. ^ Dirda 2008.
  18. ^ Dirda 2003.
  19. ^ Wood 2009,
  20. ^ "Pirate Television: Morris Berman - Why America Failed". YouTube. 2012-02-16. Retrieved 2013-05-01.  - Berman discusses Auster beginning at 24:40 & finishes at 25:08
  21. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 16 April 2011. 
  22. ^ Paul Auster décoré par la France à New York sur le site de France 3.
  23. ^ Paul Auster décoré par Bertrand Delanoë from the website of L'Express June 11, 2010
  24. ^ Another Paul Auster novel, 'Man in the Dark', was due to be published by Henry Holt in the U.S. on Monday 1st September 2008.[1]
  25. ^ Flood, Alison (October 29, 2008). "Paul Auster talks to Alison Flood". The Guardian. 
  26. ^ Akbar, Arifa (2009-10-30). "Innocence of youth: How Paul Auster excavated his own past for his latest novel - Features - Books". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-04-20. 
  27. ^ for more information about some of the poets included in this volume see:French Poetry since 1950: Tendencies III by Jean-Michel Maulpoix
  28. ^ pdf version for download in
  29. ^ Boxer, Sarah. "Sounds of a Silent Place" The New York Times. Sept. 11, 2004. Accessed Sept. 12, 2009.
  30. ^ Soundwalk Accessed Sept. 12, 2009.
  31. ^ Dalton Pen Communications Awards. Accessed Sept. 17, 2009.
  32. ^ Audio Publishers Association. Accessed Sept. 17, 2009.


Further reading[edit]

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