The poetics of place : New York and identity in the works of Paul Auster
This thesis examines the role of New York City in the construction of identity in the works of Paul Auster. It traces how Auster moves from a position of urban nihilism to one of qualified optimism for forms of social life and community in the contemporary metropolis. The work of cultural geographers offers a theoretical framework appropriate to Auster’s urban spatial imagination. Consequently, the chapters are organised in a continuity of spatial scales and examine the dialogue between urban theory and Auster’s fiction. Chapter 1 introduces cultural geography, and relates its key concerns to those in Auster’s work. Its commentators are organised into three perspectives: the ‘systemic’, the ‘local’, and the ‘global in the local’. Chapter 2 considers Auster’s poetry and early prose to demonstrate how a ‘systemic’ experience of the metropolis forces the writer to retreat to the isolation of his room. Chapters 3 and 4 examine the central themes of alienation and the failure of language on the streets of the metropolis in The New York Trilogy, and consider how, at this early point in his career, Auster understands the practices of writing and their relationship to the metropolis. Chapter 5 explores how Auster presents a ‘local’ experience of intimate social connections in ‘downtown’, and how these provide a fleeting stability for his characters. Chapter 6 journeys out of the metropolis to consider Auster’s representations of non-New York places, and the effects on identity of space and mobility. Chapter 7 examines spaces of the imagination through Auster’s representations of dystopic and utopian places, and the role of magic and illusion. Chapter 8 demonstrates how Auster presents a community able to ground a sense of identity in the collaborative practices of story telling and film making.