Conversations with Paul Auster

Conversations with Paul Auster

Edited by James M. Hutchisson
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hvkr
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Conversations with Paul Auster
    Book Description:

    Paul Auster (b. 1947) is one of the most critically acclaimed and intensely studied authors in America today. His varied career as a novelist, poet, translator, and filmmaker has attracted scholarly scrutiny from a variety of critical perspectives. The steadily rising arc of his large readership has made him something of a popular culture figure with many appearances in print interviews, as well as on television, the radio, and the internet. Auster's best known novel may be his first, City of Glass (1985), a grim and intellectually puzzling mystery that belies its surface image as a "detective novel" and goes on to become a profound meditation on transience and mortality, the inadequacies of language, and isolation. Fifteen more novels have followed since then, including The Music of Chance, Moon Palace, The Book of Illusions, and The Brooklyn Follies. He has, in the words of one critic, "given the phrase 'experimental fiction' a good name" by fashioning bona fide literary works with all the rigor and intellect demanded of the contemporary avant-garde.This volume--the first of its kind on Auster--will be useful to both scholars and students for the penetrating self-analysis and the wide range of biographical information and critical commentary it contains. Conversations with Paul Auster covers all of Auster's oeuvre, from The New York Trilogy--of which City of Glass is a component--to Sunset Park (2010), along with his screenplays for Smoke (1995) and Blue in the Face (1996). Within, Auster nimbly discusses his poetry, memoir, nonfiction, translations, and film directing.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-926-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xx)
    JMH

    Paul Auster has granted a lot of interviews, more so perhaps than most contemporary writers and most writers like Auster, who seems to present a persona to the public of a brooding, philosophical artist, so devoted to his art as to be willingly cut off from the world. When one questioner in 2003 asked him if he’d prefer just to stay “locked away somewhere” and write, he responded that he would rather “not say a word to anybody” but that he felt an obligation to his publisher to “present [his] book[s] to the public.” Yet by his own account he...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xxi-2)
  5. Translation
    (pp. 3-4)
    Stephen Rodefer and Paul Auster

    STEPHEN RODEFER: When did you begin doing translations?

    PAUL AUSTER: Back when I was nineteen or twenty years old, as an undergraduate at Columbia. They gave us various poems to read in French class—Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine—and I found them terribly exciting, even if I didn’t always understand them. The foreignness was daunting to me—as though works written in a foreign language were somehow not real—and it was only by trying to put them into English that I began to penetrate them. At that point, it was a strictly private activity for me, a method to help...

  6. Interview with Paul Auster
    (pp. 5-12)
    Joseph Mallia and Paul Auster

    MALLIA: In your book of essaysThe Art of Hungeryou cite Samuel Beckett as saying, “There will be a new form:” Is your work an example of that new form?

    AUSTER: It seems that everything comes out a little strangely and my books don’t quite resemble other books, but whether they’re “new” in any sense, I really can’t say. It’s not my ambition to think about it. So I suppose the answer is yes and no. At this point I’m not even thinking about anything beyond doing the books themselves. They impose themselves on me, so it’s not my...

  7. An Interview with Paul Auster
    (pp. 13-39)
    Larry McCaffery, Sinda Gregory and Paul Auster

    LARRY McCAFFERY: At one point inMoon Palace, Marco Fogg says that art’s purpose is “penetrating the world and finding one’s place in it.” Is that what writing does for you?

    PAUL AUSTER: Sometimes. I often wonder why I write. It’s not simply to create beautiful objects or entertaining stories. It’s an activity I seem to need in order to stay alive. I feel terrible when I’m not doing it. It’s not that writing brings me a lot of pleasure—but not doing it is worse.

    SINDA GREGORY: Your books have always relied more on chance and synchronicity to move...

  8. Memory’s Escape—Inventing the Music of Chance: An Interview with Paul Auster
    (pp. 40-49)
    Mark Irwin and Paul Auster

    IRWIN: There is a wonderful obsession with space in your work which begins with early prose writings about Sir Walter Raleigh and the arctic explorer, Peter Freuchen, continues through your most recent novels, and seems to have distinguished you from many of your contemporaries. Your characters vacillate from boxed-in extremes to expansive, often vagrant wanderings. I’m reminded of Pascal’s quote, “All the unhappiness of man stems from one thing only, that he is incapable of staying quietly in his room.”

    AUSTER: I’ve never made a conscious decision to write about space in those terms, but looking back over the body...

  9. The Making of Smoke
    (pp. 50-63)
    Annette Insdorf and Paul Auster

    ANNETTE INSDORF: I gather thatSmokebegan with a Christmas story you wrote for theNew York Times.

    PAUL AUSTER: Yes, it all started with that little story. Mike Levitas, the editor of the Op-Ed page, called me out of the blue one morning in November of 1990. I didn’t know him, but he had apparently read some of my books. In his friendly, matter-of-fact way he told me that he’d been toying with the idea of commissioning a work of fiction for the Op-Ed page on Christmas Day. What did I think? Would I be willing to write it?...

  10. The Manuscript in the Book: A Conversation
    (pp. 64-94)
    Michel Contat and Paul Auster

    Michel Contat: Have you ever looked at or even studied the manuscripts of a work you were particularly fond of?

    Paul Auster: I don’t think I ever have. I’ve looked at manuscripts in books, facsimiles, and they have always attracted me. I’ve always been fascinated to see how any particular writer, especially a writer I admire, went about composing his work. But I have never studied a manuscript, no.

    MC: So if you have a very strong relationship to one particular work, you wouldn’t like to know how it was composed?

    PA: Well, I suppose this shows a certain mental...

  11. An Interview with Paul Auster
    (pp. 95-99)
    Ashton Applewhite and Paul Auster

    Applewhite: What drew you to the story ofMr. Vertigo?

    Auster: That’s a great mystery to me. I don’t know where it came from. For years I’d been walking around with a tale of a master and a disciple in my head, never very clearly defined, and never much of a story, just a situation. When I sat down to write it, I thought it would be about twenty pages. Obviously, I was wrong.

    Applewhite: You once told an interviewer that “very strong emotions, traumas even, generate [my] stories.” Was that the case withMr. Vertigo?

    Auster: Again, every book...

  12. The Futurist Radio Hour: An Interview with Paul Auster
    (pp. 100-105)
    Stephen Capen and Paul Auster

    CAPEN: I’d like to delve into the past as our departure point. You were, at one time, a merchant seaman, and I wonder how this came about.

    AUSTER: It’s true, I did work for about six months on an Esso oil tanker. I got the job after I left college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I didn’t want to be an academic, which is probably what I was best suited for, but I just didn’t want to be in school anymore, and the idea of spending my life in a university was too horrible to...

  13. Paul Auster: Writer and Director
    (pp. 106-124)
    Rebecca Prime and Paul Auster

    Rebecca Prime: Three years ago, when you were working on the postproduction ofSmoke and Blue in the Face, you did an interview with Annette Insdorf and the last question she asked you was, “Now that you’ve caught the bug, do you have any desire to direct again?” You answered her, “No, I can’t say that I do.” Obviously, you’ve had a change of heart. Any particular reason?

    Paul Auster: I guess it’s dangerous to talk about the future, isn’t it? The idea forLuluactually came to me around that time, while I was still working on those films....

  14. Off the Page: Paul Auster
    (pp. 125-131)
    Carole Burns and Paul Auster

    Carole Burns: Hello, booklovers. Welcome to “Off the Page” and welcome to Paul Auster, whose latest novel,Oracle Night, was just released (and is slated to be reviewed by Michael Dirda inBook Worldthis Sunday). We have a geographically diverse group of questioners today, and let’s get to them.

    Harrisburg, Pa.: It is great to see writing with skillful comedic touches. That is a difficult type of writing to do well. How do you approach adding humor to your work? Do you have a conscious plan in developing humor in your writing, or do you, say, simply write what...

  15. Paul Auster: The Art of Fiction
    (pp. 132-148)
    Michael Wood and Paul Auster

    INTERVIEWER: Let’s start by talking about the way you work. About how you write.

    PAUL AUSTER: I’ve always written by hand. Mostly with a fountain pen, but sometimes with a pencil—especially for corrections. If I could write directly on a typewriter or a computer, I would do it. But keyboards have always intimidated me. I’ve never been able to think clearly with my fingers in that position. A pen is a much more primitive instrument. You feel that the words are coming out of your body and then you dig the words into the page. Writing has always had...

  16. Jonathan Lethem Talks with Paul Auster
    (pp. 149-162)
    Jonathan Lethem and Paul Auster

    JONATHAN LETHEM: What were you doing today before I appeared in your house?

    PAUL AUSTER: The usual. I got up in the morning. I read the paper. I drank a pot of tea. And then I went over to the little apartment I have in the neighborhood and worked for about six hours. After that, I had to do some business. My mother died two years ago, and there was one last thing to take care of concerning her estate—a kind of insurance bond I had to sign off on. So, I went to a notary public to have...

  17. A Conversation with Paul Auster
    (pp. 163-178)
    Mary Morris and Paul Auster

    Interviewer: Midway throughThe Brooklyn Follies, Nathan’s nephew Tom asks him about his work in progress, “The Book of Human Folly,” and Nathan responds that he is “charging ahead with no end in sight,” that each story he writes seems “to give birth to another story and then another story and then another story.” Would you say that this in some way describes your own process in writing this book, one story giving way to another, and perhaps your process as a writer in general? Is that somehow a description of your own self?

    Auster: Possibly, although in this particular...

  18. The Making of The Inner Life of Martin Frost
    (pp. 179-192)
    Céline Curiol and Paul Auster

    Céline Curiol: You already wrote part of Martin Frost’s story inThe Book of Illusions. Why go back to it, expand it, and turn it into a screenplay?

    Paul Auster:The Inner Life of Martin Frosthas had a rather complicated history. In 1999, I was approached by a German producer to make a thirty-minute film for a series she was putting together of twelve short films by twelve different directors on the subject of men and women, so-called Erotic Tales. I was intrigued by the proposal and decided to take the plunge. It was early in the year, I...

  19. Interview: Paul Auster
    (pp. 193-197)
    Greg LaGambina and Paul Auster

    The A.V. Club: The story ofMan in the Darkbegins literally with a man in the dark, telling himself a story to cope with his insomnia. How did this story come to you? Do different stories come to you in different ways?

    Paul Auster: It’s always a mystery to me, I have to confess. I’ve never been able to witness the birth of an idea. It’s as if one second, there’s nothing going on, and the next second, something is there. Stories come up out of my unconscious, up from places that are inaccessible to me. If it’s compelling...

  20. A Connoisseur of Clouds, a Meteorologist of Whims: The Rumpus Interview with Paul Auster
    (pp. 198-202)
    Juliet Linderman and Paul Auster

    Rumpus: What were you doing before we met today? What is a typical day in the life of Paul Auster?

    Paul Auster: There are two kinds of typical days. There’s the typical day when I’m writing a novel, and there’s the typical day when I’m not. I just finished something new, so I’m unemployed again, which means that I had a pretty lackadaisical day. When I’m writing a novel, I stick to a rigid routine. I get up between seven and eight, I have orange juice and tea, read the paper, and then go off to a little apartment I...

  21. Interview: Paul Auster on His New Novel, Invisible
    (pp. 203-212)
    Nick Obourn and Paul Auster

    Nick Obourn: Why choose the Vietnam era to open this book?

    Paul Auster: I can never say “why” about anything I do. I suppose I can say “how” and “when” and “what.” But “why” is impenetrable to me. Stories surge up out of nowhere, and if they feel compelling, you follow them. You let them unfold inside you and see where they are going to lead. This one fascinated me. I think I was interested in exploring youth again. My previous three books had all been about older people. I thought maybe I had explored that enough for a while....

  22. Index
    (pp. 213-220)