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Paul Benjamin Auster (born February 3, 1947) is an American author known for works blending absurdism and crime fiction, such as The New York Trilogy (1987), Moon Palace (1989) and The Brooklyn Follies (2005).


Auster was born in Newark, New Jerseymarker, to Jewish middle class parents of Polish descent Samuel and Queenie Auster. He grew up in South Orange, New Jerseymarker and graduated from Columbia High Schoolmarker in adjoining Maplewoodmarker. After graduating from Columbia University in 1970, he moved to Parismarker, Francemarker where he earned a living translating French literature. Since returning to the U.S. in 1974, he has published poems, essays, novels of his own as well as translations of French writers such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Joseph Joubert.

He married his second wife, writer Siri Hustvedt, in 1981, and they live in Brooklynmarker. Together they have one daughter, Sophie Auster. Previously, Auster was married to the acclaimed writer Lydia Davis. They had one son together, Daniel Auster.

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, space, language and literature, creating his own distinctively postmodern (and critique of postmodernist) 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 (The Music of Chance) or increasingly, the relationships between men 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 (2004), 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 Universty of Heidelberg, two central influences 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 David Thoreau.

In short 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 subconscious is also 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 of a lack. The lack is the sense of a being outside of language. The world can only be constructed through language but it always leaves something uncovered, something that can not be told and be thought of, it can only be sensed. This can be seen as 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 himself has claimed to find such philosophies 'unreadable' [4139]

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 in their lives through writing, and they try to find their place within the natural order to be able to live again in civilization.

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 Austers work (like William Wilson in New York Trilogy or Hawthorne's Fanshawe in The Locked Room). Auster also uses variations on the themes of these writers.

Paul Auster's reappearing subjects are:
  • coincidence
  • frequent portrayal of an ascetic life
  • a sense of imminent disaster
  • obsessive writer as central character/narrator
  • loss of the ability to understand
  • loss of language
  • depiction of daily and ordinary life
  • failure
  • absence of a father
  • writing/story telling, metafiction
  • intertextuality
  • American History
  • American Space


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 and 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. A similar development can also 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 approximation of their nil 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." Dirda has also 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.

Respected book 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.

Public Appearances

On March 12, 2009, Paul Auster gave the sixth annual Lewis Mumford Lecture on Urbanism at the City College of New York (CCNY), with the title "City of Words."


Published works




Essays, memoirs, and autobiographies

Edited collections

  • The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry (1982)
  • True Tales of American Life (First published under the title I Thought My Father Was God, and Other True Tales from NPR's National Story Project) (2001)



Other media

  • In 2005 his daughter, Sophie, recorded an album of songs in both French and English, entitled Sophie Auster, with the band One Ring Zero. The lyrics of three of the songs (in English) are by Paul Auster; and he also provided for the accompanying booklet translations of several French poems which form the lyrics of other songs on the album.

  • In 1993, a movie adaptation of The Music of Chance was released. Auster features in a cameo role at the end of the film.

  • Jazz trumpeter and composer Michael Mantler's album Hide and Seek uses words by Auster from the play of the same name.

  • Paul Auster's voice can be heard on the 2005 album entitled We Must Be Losing It by The Farangs. The two tracks are entitled "Obituary in the Present Tense" and "Between the Lines".

  • The lyrics of Fionn Regan's 2006 song Put A Penny In The Slot mention Auster and his novella Timbuktu.

  • Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth's composition ... ce qui arrive ... (2004) combines the recorded voice of Paul Auster with ensemble music and live electronics by Markus Noisternig and Thomas Musil ( Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics (IEM)). Paul Auster is heard reading from his books Hand to Mouth and The Red Notebook, either as straight recitation, integrated with other sounds as if in a radio play, or passed through an electronically realized string resonator so that the low tones can interact with these of a string ensemble. A film by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster runs throughout the work featuring the cabaret artist and actress Georgette Dee.

  • Paul Auster narrated "Ground Zero" (2004), an audio guide created by the Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva) and Soundwalk and produced by NPR, which won the Dalton Pen Award for Multi-media/Audio, (2005), and was nominated for an Audie Award for best Original Work, (2005).

  • In the 2008 Russian film Плюс один (Plus One), the main character is in the process of translating one of Auster's books.

See also



Further reading

  • Paul Auster, Gérard de Cortanze La solitude du labyrinthe. Paris:Actes Sud, 1997.
  • Franchot Ballinger Ambigere: The Euro-American Picaro and the Native American Trickster. MELUS, 17 (1991-92), pp. 21–38.
  • 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)
  • Dennis Barone Auster’s Memory. The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 14:1 (Spring 1994), pp. 32–34
  • Charles Baxter The Bureau of Missing Persons: Notes on Paul Auster’s Fiction. The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 14:1 (Spring 1994), pp. 40–43.
  • Harold Bloom ed. Paul Auster. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publ.; 2004.
  • Martine Chard-Hutchinson Paul Auster (1947- ). In: Joel Shatzky and Michael Taub (eds.). Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997, pp. 13–20.
  • Alain Chareyre-Méjan, Guillaume Pigeard de Gurbert. Ce que Paul Auster n’a jamais dit: une logique du quelconque. In: Annick Duperray (ed.). L’oeuvre de Paul Auster: approches et lectures plurielles. Actes du colloque Paul Auster. Aix-en-Provence: Actes Sud, 1995, pp. 176–184.
  • Gerard de Cortanze, James Rudnick: Paul Austers New York. Gerstenberg, New York; Hildesheim, 1998
  • Gérard de Cortanze Le New York de Paul Auster. Paris: Les Éditions du Chêne-Hachette Livre, 1996.
  • Robert Creeley Austerities. The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 14:1 (Spring 1994), pp. 35–39.
  • Scott Dimovitz, 'Public Personae and the Private I: De-Compositional Ontology in Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy.' MFS: Modern Fiction Studies. 52:3 (Fall 2006): 613-633.
  • Scott Dimovitz, 'Portraits in Absentia: Repetition, Compulsion, and the Postmodern Uncanny in Paul Auster's Leviathan.' Studies in the Novel. 40:4 (Winter 2008): 447-464.
  • William Drenttel (ed.) Paul Auster: A Comprehensive Bibliographic Checklist of Published Works 1968-1994. New York: Delos Press, 1994.
  • Sven Gächter Schreiben ist eine endlose Therapie: Der amerikanische Romancier Paul Auster über das allmähliche Entstehen von Geschichten. Weltwoche (31.12.1992), p. 30.
  • François Gavillon Paul Auster, gravité et légèreté de l'écriture. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2000.
  • Charles Grandjeat Le hasard et la nécessité dans l’oeuvre de Paul Auster. In: Annick Duperray (ed.). L’oeuvre de Paul Auster: approches et lectures plurielles. Actes du colloque Paul Auster. Aix-en-Provence: Actes Sud, 1995, pp. 153–163.
  • Ulrich Greiner: Gelobtes Land. Amerikanische Schriftsteller über Amerika. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1997
  • Claude Grimal Paul Auster au coeur des labyrinthes. Europe: Revue Littéraire Mensuelle, 68:733 (1990), pp. 64–66.
  • Allan Gurganus How Do You Introduce Paul Auster in Three Minutes?. The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 14:1 (Spring 1994), pp. 7–8.
  • Anne M. Holzapfel: The New York trilogy. Whodunit? Tracking the structure of Paul Auster’s anti-detective novels. Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1996. (= Studien zur Germanistik und Anglistik; 11) ISBN 3-631-49798-9
  • Beate Hötger: Identität im filmischen Werk von Paul Auster. Lang, Frankfurt am Main u.a. 2002. (= Europäische Hochschulschriften; Reihe 30, 84) ISBN 3-631-38470-X
  • Heiko Jakubzik: Paul Auster und die Klassiker der American Renaissance. Dissertation, Universität Heidelberg 1999 ( online text)
  • Bernd Herzogenrath An Art of Desire. Reading Paul Auster. Amsterdam: Rodopi; 1999
  • Bernd Herzogenrath Introduction. In: Bernd Herzogenrath. An Art of Desire: Reading Paul Auster. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999, pp. 1–11.
  • Gerald Howard Publishing Paul Auster. The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 14:1 (Spring 1994), pp. 92–95.
  • Peter Kirkegaard, Cities, Signs, Meanings in Walter Benjamin and Paul Auster: Or, Never Sure of Any of It in Orbis Litterarum: International Review of Literary Studies 48 (1993): 161179.
  • Barry Lewis The Strange Case of Paul Auster. The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 14:1 (Spring 1994), pp. 53–61.
  • James Marcus Auster! Auster!. The Village Voice, 39 (August 30, 1994), pp. 55–56.
  • Brian McHale Constructing Postmodernism. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.
  • Patricia Merivale The Austerized Version. Contemporary Literature, 38:1 (Spring 1997), pp. 185–197.
  • Christophe Metress Iles et archipels, sauver ce qui est récupérable: la fiction de Paul Auster. In: Annick Duperray (ed.). L’oeuvre de Paul Auster: approches et lectures plurielles. Actes du colloque Paul Auster. Aix-en-Provence: Actes Sud, 1995, pp. 245–257.
  • James Peacock Carrying the Burden of Representation: Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions. Journal of American Studies, 40:1 (April 2006), pp. 53–70.
  • Werner Reinhart: Pikareske Romane der 80er Jahre. Ronald Reagan und die Renaissance des politischen Erzählens in den USA. (Acker, Auster, Boyle, Irving, Kennedy, Pynchon). Narr, Tübingen 2001
  • William Riggan Picaros, Madmen, Naïfs, and Clowns: The Unreliable First-Person Narrator. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981.

  • Mark Rudman Paul Auster: Some ‚Elective Affinities‘. The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 14:1 (Spring 1994), pp. 44–45.
  • Michael Rutschky Die Erfindung der Einsamkeit: Der amerikanische Schriftsteller Paul Auster. Merkur, 45 (1991), pp. 1105–1113.
  • Edward H. Schafer Ways of Looking at the Moon Palace. Asia Major. 1988; 1(1):1-13.
  • Steffen Sielaff: Die postmoderne Odyssee. Raum und Subjekt in den Romanen von Paul Auster. Univ. Diss., Berlin 2004.
  • Joseph C. Schöpp Ausbruch aus der Mimesis: Der amerikanische Roman im Zeichen der Postmoderne. München: Fink, 1990.
  • Motoyuki Shibata Being Paul Auster’s Ghost. In: Dennis Barone (ed.). Beyond the Red Notebook: Essays on Paul Auster. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995, pp. 183–188.
  • Carsten Springer: Crises. The works of Paul Auster. Lang, Frankfurt am Main u.a. 2001. (= American culture; 1) ISBN 3-631-37487-9
  • Carsten Springer: A Paul Auster Sourcebook. Frankfurt a. Main u. a., Peter Lang, 2001.
  • Eduardo Urbina: La ficción que no cesa: Paul Auster y Cervantes. Vigo: Editorial Academia del Hispanismo, 2007.
  • Eduardo Urbina: La ficción que no cesa: Cervantes y Paul Auster. Cervantes en el ámbito anglosajón. Eds. Diego Martínez Torrón and Bernd Dietz. Madrid: SIAL Ediciones, 2005. 433-42.
  • Eduardo Urbina: Reflejos lunares, o la transformación paródica de la locura quijotesca en Moon Palace (1989) de Paul Auster. Siglos dorados; Homenaje a Augustin Redondo. Ed. Pierre Civil. Madrid: Castalia, 2004. 2: 1417-25.
  • Eduardo Urbina: Parodias cervantinas: el Quijote en tres novelas de Paul Auster (La ciudad de cristal, El palacio de la luna y El libro de las ilusiones). ‘Calamo currente’: Homenaje a Juan Bautista de Avalle Arce. Ed. Miguel Zugasti. RILCE (Universidad de Navarra) 23.1 (2007): 245-56.
  • Eduardo Urbina: Reading Matters: Quixotic Fiction and Subversive Discourse in Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions Critical Reflections: Essays on Golden Age Spanish Literature in Honor of James A. Parr. Eds. Barbara Simerka and Amy R. Williamsen. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2006. 57-66.
  • Various Authors. Special edition on Paul Auster. Critique. 1998 Spring; 39(3).
  • Sophie Vallas "The voice of a woman speaking": voix et présences féminines dans les romans de Paul Auster. In: Annick Duperray (ed.). L’oeuvre de Paul Auster: approches et lectures plurielles. Actes du colloque Paul Auster. Aix-en-Provence: Actes Sud, 1995, pp. 164–175.
  • Aliki Varvogli "World That is the Book: Paul Auster's Fiction". Liverpool University press, 2001. ISBN 9780853236979
  • Florian Felix Weyh Paul Auster. Kritisches Lexikon der fremdsprachigen Gegenwartsliteratur (26. Nachlieferung), pp. 1–10.
  • Curtis White The Auster Instance: A Ficto-Biography. The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 14:1 (Spring 1994), pp. 26–29.
  • Eric Wirth A Look Back from the Horizon. In: Dennis Barone (ed.). Beyond the Red Notebook: Essays on Paul Auster. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995, pp. 171–182.
  • John Zilcosky The Revenge of the Author: Paul Auster’s Challenge to Theory. Critique, 39:3 (Spring 1998), pp. 195–206.

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