In search of Self : explorations of identity in the work of Paul Auster

Van der Vlies, Andrew Edward (1998) In search of Self : explorations of identity in the work of Paul Auster. Masters thesis, Rhodes University.




Paul Auster is regarded by some as an important novelist. He has, in a relatively short space of time, produced an intriguing body of work, which has attracted comparatively little critical attention. This study is based on the premise that Auster's art is the record of an entertaining, intelligent and utterly serious engagement with the possibilities of conceiving of the identity of an individual subject in the contemporary, late-twentieth century moment. This study, focussing on Auster's novels, but also considering selected poetry and critical prose, explores the representation of identity in his work. The short Foreword introduces Paul Auster and sketches in outline the concerns of the study. Chapter One explores the manner in which Auster's early (anti-),detective' fiction develops a concern with identity. It is suggested that Squeeze Play, Auster's pseudonymous 'hard-boiled' detective thriller, provided the author with a testing ground for his subsequent appropriation and subversion of the detective genre in The New York Trilogy. Through a close consideration of City of Glass, and an examination of elements in Ghosts, it is shown how the loss of the traditional detective's immunity, and the problematising of strategies which had previously guaranteed him access to interpretive and narrative closure, precipitates a collapse which initiates an interrogation of the nature and construction of ideas about individual identity. Chapter Two develops a suggestion that City of Glass was written in response to particular emotional concerns of the author by turning to an examination of the memoir-novel, The Invention of Solitude. This chapter examines the extent to which Auster's Jewishness is implicated in his understanding of identity, and in the techniques with which he expresses his concerns. It is argued that Auster's engagement with texts and memories important to him in order to find a voice adequate to the task which he assumes in The Invention of Solitude, reveals the ethical imperative of recognizing and accepting a relationship to alterity. The influence on Auster of certain Jewish writers, like Edmond Jabes, is considered in the course of the chapter. The third chapter addresses the issue of the description of Auster's work as postmodernist, in the light of what the study has presented as Auster's ethical engagement with alterity. Critical responses to Auster's texts are canvassed, before it is suggested that aspects of the ethical phenomenology of Emmanuel Levinas may be useful in considering these important issues in Auster's oeuvre. Chapter Four returns to a consideration of The New York Trilogy, examining its final part, The Locked Room, before discussing In the Country of Last Things and Moon Palace. All three novels are narrated by first-person narrators who, in very different situations, come (consciously and unconsciously) to negotiate their own identities in relation either to other people or to adverse circumstances. The chapter thus considers the manner in which these texts figure Auster's concern with relationships between individuals and otherness. Chapter Five seeks, as a means of concluding the study, to consider aspects of Auster's presentation of the manner in which identity is connected to perception, and to an engagement with that which is other than the self This chapter focuses on Auster's figuration of necessary responses to the otherness of the objective world and to chance as a radical alterity. Beginning with a consideration of an early essay, the chapter explores relevant aspects of Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, Leviathan and Mr Vertigo, considers elements in Auster's poetry, and demonstrates the usefulness of exploring the influence on his work of the 'objectivist' poets and aspects of Dada and Surrealist poetics. The seemingly punitive severity of the fates of some of Auster's protagonists is shown ultimately to be positive, and (potentially) redemptive, reflecting Auster's profoundly ethical conception of the responsibilities and possibilities of selfhood.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Paul Auster, Identity in literature
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > English
ID Code:2770
Deposited By: Ms Chantel Clack
Deposited On:08 May 2012 09:16
Last Modified:08 May 2012 09:16
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