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Paul Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Jewish middle class
parents of Polish descent Samuel and Queenie Auster. He attended school in
Maplewood, New Jersey and graduated from Columbia High School. After graduating
from Columbia University in 1970, he moved to Paris,France where he earned a
living translating French literature. Since returning to USA in 1974, he has
published his own poems, essays, novels and translations of French writers.
He married his second wife, writer Siri Hustvedt, in 1981. Previously, Auster was married to the acclaimed writer Lydia Davis. He is the father of two children.
He is also the Vice-President of PEN American Center.
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, creating his own distinctively postmodern form in the process.
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 or increasingly, the relationships between men and their peers and environment. 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 and Blue in the Face. Auster's more recent works, Oracle Night (2004), The Brooklyn Follies (2005) and the novella Travels in the Scriptorium have also met critical acclaim.
Two strong elements in Paul Auster's writing are Jacques Lacan's
psychoanalysis and the American transcendentalism of the early to middle 19th
century, namely amongst others Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry
In short Lacan's theory describes that we constitute the world in words. We observe the world through our senses but they only enter our mind when we find the right words. Thus our subconscious is also structured in language.
The transcendentalists believe in the fact that the symbolic order of civilization separated us from the natural order of the world. By moving into nature - like Thoreau 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. Auster's protagonists are often writers who establish meaning to their lives through writing and they try to find their place with the natural order to be able to live again in the civilization.
Paul Auster's reappearing subjects are:
Instances of coincidence can be found all over Auster's work. Auster himself claims that people are so influenced by all the consistent stories that surround 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 or The Book of Illusions it results from the individual's uncertainty about the status of his 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 are also able to get into contact with their environment again.
Failure in this context is not the "nothing" - it is the beginning of something all new.
Auster's protagonists often have to go through a development that reduces their existence to the absolute necessary: They cut off contact to their family and friends, hunger and lose or give away all their belongings. Out of this approximation of their nil they either gain new strength to connect to the world again or they fail and finally disappear.