Paul Benjamin Auster
(born February 3, 1947) is an
American author known for works blending absurdism
, such as The New
(1989) and The
born in Newark, New
Jersey, to Jewish middle class parents
of Polish descent Samuel and Queenie
Auster. He grew up in South Orange,
New Jersey and graduated from Columbia High
School in adjoining Maplewood. After graduating from Columbia University in 1970, he moved to
Paris, France where he
earned a living translating French literature.
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
his second wife, writer Siri Hustvedt,
in 1981, and they live in Brooklyn.
Together they have one daughter, Sophie
. Previously, Auster was married to the acclaimed writer
. They had one son together,
He is also the Vice-President of PEN
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
questions of identity, space, language and literature, creating his
own distinctively postmodern
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
increasingly, the relationships between men and their peers and
environment (The Book of
). 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
(which won him the
Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay
) and Blue in the Face
. Auster's more recent
works, Oracle Night
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
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' 
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
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
or Hawthorne's Fanshawe
in The Locked Room
Auster also uses variations on the themes of these writers.
Paul Auster's reappearing subjects are:
- frequent portrayal of an ascetic
- 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
- absence of a father
- writing/story telling, metafiction
- 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
Failure in Paul Auster's works is not just the opposite of the
. In Moon Palace
and The Book of Illusions
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
Auster has established one of the most distinctive niches in
contemporary literature." Dirda has also extolled his loaded
virtues in The Washington
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
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
Because nothing is persuasively assembled, the
inevitable postmodern disassembly leaves one largely
(The disassembly is also grindingly explicit, spelled
out in billboard-size type.) Presence fails to turn into
significant absence, because presence was not present
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."
Essays, memoirs, and autobiographies
- The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French
- 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)
- 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
- 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
- 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,
- In the 2008 Russian film Плюс один
(Plus One), the main character is in the process of translating one
of Auster's books.
- 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),
- 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):
- 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
- Claude Grimal Paul Auster au coeur des labyrinthes.
Europe: Revue Littéraire Mensuelle, 68:733 (1990),
- 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 (
- 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):
- Barry Lewis The Strange Case of Paul Auster. The
Review of Contemporary Fiction, 14:1 (Spring 1994),
- 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,
- 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),
- Michael Rutschky Die Erfindung der Einsamkeit: Der
amerikanische Schriftsteller Paul Auster. Merkur, 45 (1991),
- 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
- Joseph C. Schöpp Ausbruch aus der Mimesis: Der
amerikanische Roman im Zeichen der Postmoderne. München: Fink,
- 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,
- 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,
- 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),
- Curtis White The Auster Instance: A Ficto-Biography.
The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 14:1 (Spring 1994),
- 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,
- John Zilcosky The Revenge of the Author: Paul Auster’s
Challenge to Theory. Critique, 39:3 (Spring 1998),
Auster (The Definitive Website), Stuart Pilkington's website
about Paul Auster, first set up in 2000, with comprehensive
information on the author's work and life.
about Paul Auster in Portuguese, with news and reviews.
- This is Brooklyn, Blog about Paul Auster in
Spanish, new site!
- Interview with 3:AM Magazine
- An interview and a collection of essays on Paul
Auster's The Brooklyn Follies (English and French) On
La Clé des Langues
- Guardian Books "Author Page", with profile and
links to further articles.
- Review of the collected poems
- Faber and
Faber - Paul Auster's UK publisher
- The searcher - The Guardian, May 29, 1999.
- I want to tell you a story piece by
Auster at The Guardian, November 6, 2006. The subtitle
reads: "one of America's greatest living novelists, argues that
fiction is 'magnificently useless', but the act of creation and the
pleasure of reading are incomparable human joys that we should
- 2004 Times Online article
- Reflections On the Work of Paul Auster, Garan
- Interview with Cordite, August 2, 2008
- Village Voice interview with Paul Auster by
Ruth McCann 9/9/2008
- Literaturhaus Stuttgart, October 2, 2008
- Audio interview with Auster discussing Man in the Dark with George Miller,