I remember going to Andy Warhol’s Time Capsule exhibition and seeing his film Kiss. It captured something in so much detail that I was left unsure exactly what to think about it. I had a similar experience reading Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy.
The ‘trilogy’ includes three separate novels – City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986) – that serve as something of a whole. However, as Robert Briggs discusses, the trilogy is not straight-forward.
Nevertheless, a few points of correspondence can be found between the three stories, which could define Auster’s collection as not so much a nonidentical or uncertain trilogy as rather a trilogy about the nonidentical and the uncertain. So, although there is little continuity between genre and character, there is a certain persistence of duplicitous identities.Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs
In a discussion on BBC World Service, Auster posits that ‘triptych’ might be a better word for the series, but does not have the same sound, therefore trilogy it is.
The novel has been described as ‘anti-detective’.
The re-working of the detective story as a search for the ultimate language shows that it is not the final and speculative textualization that is most appropriate for the postmodern world, but instead, the text that is written about the text. Stories about stories and books of questions, as opposed to books of answers, are the forms that best typify the difficult reality of our times. The New York Trilogy participates in the deconstruction of the legendary tower of the ancestral city and its language, as it describes the Babel-like shattering of the contemporary metropolis at the same time that it expresses the crisis surrounding linguistic representation. Its ideological structure of a wandering through and a detachment from pre-existing principles forces the postmodern subject to question the basis of all legendary archetypes.Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento
For me, this is where a gun is oddly both just a gun as well as something more, and you are never really sure which it is. Auster has said that the genre serves as a means to an end in the same way as Beckett uses vaudeville in Waiting for Godot. Whereas detection fiction is usually about answering question, Auster flips this expectation by using it to ask questions. This approach creates a feeling of excess, where there is always too much happening. Our desire for sense and control is always challenged. Take this quote from the end of City of Glass:
For the most part his entries from this period consisted of marginal questions concerning the Stillman case. Quinn wondered, for example, why he had not bothered to look up the newspaper reports of Stillman’s arrest in 1969. He examined the problem of whether the moon landing of that same year had been connected in any way with what had happened. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that Stillman was dead. He tried to think about eggs and wrote out such phrases as “a good egg,” “egg on his face,” “to lay an egg,” “to be as like as two eggs.” He wondered what would have happened if he had followed the second Stillman instead of the first. He asked himself why Christopher, the patron saint of travel, had been decanonized by the Pope in 1969, just at the time of the trip to the moon. He thought through the question of why Don Quixote had not simply wanted to write books like the ones he loved— instead of living out their adventures. He wondered why he had the same initials as Don Quixote. He considered whether the girl who had moved into his apartment was the same girl he had seen in Grand Central Station reading his book. He wondered if Virginia Stillman had hired another detective after he failed to get in touch with her. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that the check had bounced. He thought about Peter Stillman and wondered if he had ever slept in the room he was in now. He wondered if the case was really over or if he was not somehow still working on it. He wondered what the map would look like of all the steps he had taken in his life and what word it would spell.
All in all, it is a novel that attempts to find a means of coming to grips with the world.
One must understand how the universe functions before one confronts it with the force of creativity; this is the writer’s task. In citing Samuel Beckett, Auster defines his own ideological and literary bent, thereby depicting his profound critical acumen and his feeling for the mission of the artist: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento
Another interesting feature of the novel is the place of ‘New York’. This is as much as an internalised space. Clara Sarmento makes the comparison between New York and Walden’s forest.
The confining within the walls of New York is very similar to the solitude of the forest found in Henry Thoreau’s Walden, recollections of which dominate the Trilogy. In both these works, the authors achieve perfect isolation within the spaces delineated by the city or the forest that endows them with a transcending ability to observe and reflecSource: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento
In the end, the New York Trilogy feels like one of those conversations that you forget how or why it actually started once it has finished. Auster’s style has a music and rhythm to it in which you can easily become consumed. I like how Robert Briggs captures this in his reading of the novel:
Even though you might start off reading fiction, you can’t expect, in the end, not to find yourself writing the story of your life.Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs
While Gary Matthew Varner argues that the book is ‘rhizomatic’ in that is ‘nullifies endings’:
What makes Auster’s Trilogy endless, and rhizomatic, is that it “nullif[ies] endings” (Deleuze and Guattari 25) … Readers may not want to begin reading Auster’s book at any point in any volume, but the Trilogy nevertheless nullifies its own “endings.”Source: Paul Auster’s rhizomatic fictions by Gary Matthew Varner
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