Mirrors of Madness: Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy Steven E.

Alford My true place in the world, it turned out, was somewhere beyond myself, and if that place was inside me, it was also unlocatable. This was the tiny hole between self and not-self, and for the first time in my life I saw this nowhere as the exact center of the world. —The Locked Room

Introduction Among the many puzzles in Paul Auster's remarkable The New York Trilogy, a persistent one involves the identity of the narrator(s) of these novels. In answering the question, "who narrates these three stories?" I will demonstrate that thematically the novels develop the problematic of self-identity. Along the way I will show how questions of identity flow into questions about textuality, and undermine the ontologically distinct categories of author, narrator, and reader. Thematically, The New York Trilogy argues that the self—within the novels and without—is a textual construct, and subject to the difference and deferral inherent in language. The novels enact a series of binary oppositions— between characters engaged in dramatic psychological and physical confrontation—that demonstrates the impossibility of a pure opposition between self and other. From within every conflicted doubling a triad emerges, challenging our commonsense notions of the self. Previous scholars have examined The New York Trilogy from different angles. Alison Russell linked the novels to Derrida's analysis of polysemy and the problems such polysemy produces

for our senses of identity and unity, and for the ability of language to refer truthfully to the world. In addition, she briefly explored the relation between The New York Trilogy and the romance (including the detective story), as well as noting the connection between it and travel literature. Norma Rowen's 1991 essay focused exclusively on City of Glass, arguing that the novel concerns the madness involved in the search for absolute knowledge, symbolized in the book (among other ways) as Peter Stillman's search for a prelapsarian language. While relying on their excellent work, I am concerned here to explore the issue of the identity of the narrator(s) of these stories. The New York Trilogy is nominally a collection of detective stories that, within the generic constraints of detective fiction, engage in a series of self-oriented metaphysical explorations.1 While these tales could be characterized accurately as postmodern, in that they employ a pop culture form to reflect on issues more profound than "whodunit," postmodern detective fiction did not originate the concern with metaphysical issues. Julian Symons offers some examples of metaphysical detective fiction at virtually the beginning of the genre. We can see, for example, a predecessor of Auster's Daniel Quinn-William Wilson-Max Work triad in Frederick Irving Anderson's Adventures of the Infallible Godahl (1914): "Godahl, a criminal who always succeeds, is the creation of a writer named Oliver Armiston. In one of the best stories the two become confused in a Borgesian manner, as Armiston is duped into using Godahl's talents to provide the means of committing an actual crime" (83). And Maurice Leblanc's Arséne Lupin poses "in the novel 813 (1910) ...as the Chef de la Sureté for four years, and arrests himself during the investigation" (84), echoing in fiction the experiences of the real-life Vidocq, whose own Mémoires were thought to be largely fictional (32). These latter dramas, that reveal the border between lawfulness and criminality as nonexistent, echo the erasure of the borders between one self and the other that we find between Black and Blue in Ghosts, and between the narrator

Unlike Hammett. concealments. and this fiction. In turn. both inside and outside the text...2 Hence. (xxi) What Stephen Marcus is suggesting here about Hammett's text could be asserted about Auster's works as well. the making of the author. Closer to our own time.. . a narrative. . however. is a story. and thus demystify the fictional—and therefore false—reality created by the characters. and mystifications. Dashiell Hammett. including those nominally regarded as nonfictional. a coherent yet questionable account of the world.He is making a fiction (in writing) in the real world." but how the other is implicated in the self-constitution of the investigator. is coherent but not necessarily rational. falsehoods. is continually doing the same thing as the Op and all the other characters in the fiction he is creating. the solution to the mystery is not the discovery of the criminal "other." the same could be said about any story about the world. it begins to dissolve and disappear. . decompose. in Auster 65).. and presumably should reveal behind it the "real" reality that was there all the time and that it was masking. in Auster's work. with whom he is involved. And given that the "real" authors of stories are themselves a part of the world. Dashiel Hammett's Continental Op isn't innocent of a metaphysical flavor. What one both begins and ends with.. Yet what happens in Hammett is that what is revealed as "reality" is still a further fiction-making activity . the writer. His major effort is to make the fictions of others visible as fictions. When a fiction becomes visible as such. inventions.and Fanshawe in The Locked Room. crooks or not. Auster recognizes that while detective stories are "coherent yet questionable. just as Dupin claims that detection involves "an identification of the reasoner's intellect with that of his opponent" (qtd. then. as well as the narrator is the making of a fiction.. like the real world itself. As Steven Marcus has noted [The detective] actively undertakes to deconstruct.

3This Paul Auster tells Quinn he is working on a book of essays. only to maintain their name. currently a piece about Don Quixote. The Paul Auster Quinn does find is a Manhattan author. Characters' names are twinned. City of Glass Told in the third person by an unnamed narrator. in another book. and then presented himself as the editor of the translation."4 Don Quixote claims the text was originally written in Arabic by Cid Hamete Benengeli. and so forth. narrator. but outright contradiction. Cervantes arranged to have it translated. concerned "with the authorship of the book. The names and interrelations of the narrators of the three books of The New York Trilogy are complex and paradoxical. nor once claims to be present during Quixote's exploits. but switch to another identity. Junior. and how it was written.the author's intellect can be identified with that of his narrator. City of Glass follows Daniel Quinn. But the connections between author. impersonates Paul Auster of the Auster Detective Agency (who seems to exist only in the imaginations of Virginia and Peter Stillman. characters appear in one book. whose name is identical to the "real" author of The New York Trilogy. characters are revealed to be imaginary beings invented by other characters. character (and the character's relation with other characters. This makes for not only complexity. the character Paul Auster argues that Cid Hamete is actually a pastiche of four people—the illiterate Sancho Panza and only witness to all Quixote's adventures. Chancing on it in the Toledo market. as well as the relation between these entities and the reader) are not as simple as a string of binary associations. the barber and . Since Cid Hamete neither appears in the novel. Who wrote it. since Quinn fails to find him). who at the prompting of a wrong number.

Cervantes hired Quixote to translate Quixote's own story. (119-120) As we shall see. and had it translated and published. Don Quixote was not mad.. he must have chosen Sancho Panza and the three others to play the roles of his "saviors. the bachelor from Salamanca. "The idea was to hold a mirror up to Don Quixote's madness. that puppets were real people? . who translated it into Arabic." Not only that. would anyone do anything so complex and bizarre? [Quixote] wanted to test the gullibility of his fellow men. so that when he finally read the book himself. to stand up before the world and with the utmost conviction spew out lies and nonsense? To say that windmills were knights. But Auster adds one last twist to his argument. to cure Don Quixote of his madness. that a barber's basin was a helmet.the priest (who transcribed Panza's dictated story). as his friends thought. City of Glass is told in third person. the final two pages shift to first . Cervantes then discovered the book. and Samson Carrasco.In other words. Since Quixote wonders repeatedly how accurately the chronicler will record his adventurers. to record each of his absurd and ludicrous delusions.. he wondered. Why. However. The proof is that we still read the book. isn't it? To any extent. Why should these men go to such trouble? According to Auster. according to Auster. That is. Quixote probably translated the Arabic manuscript back into Spanish. he would see the error of his ways" (118-119). after the bulk of the novel is rendered in third person. Would it be possible. The New York Trilogy holds a mirror up to our own madness—the assumption of our hermetic individuality. to what extent would people tolerate blasphemies if they gave them amusement? The answer is obvious.

continuing to follow the lines of the Quixote argument. Quinn. Quinn's notebook. since the only time he and Auster met was in Auster's apartment (and Quinn's account to Auster may or may not have been distorted). where Auster finds Quinn's red notebook. Presumably. when the narrator returns from a trip to Africa and calls his friend. Auster and the red notebook. for example). the narrator's only two sources are the hearsay of Auster and a text. Auster and the narrator visit Virginia Stillman's apartment. and also cannot find Virginia Stillman. we can observe some parallels.6 If we were to say provisionally that the narrator is {Paul Auster} (bracketing. but has lost track of him. presumably a real-life Quinn (who would parallel Sancho Panza) and the Stillmans (who would parallel the other three friends). The narrator has no direct experience of or information about the story he tells.7 we could say that the story {Auster} tells has been invented for him by some concerned friends. Auster has become obsessed with Quinn (who himself was obsessed with the Stillmans). However. Auster's knowledge of his narratee. for now. and his friends have concocted City of Glass to hold up a mirror to his madness. {Auster} has been having difficulty with his sanity. The narrator then confesses that he has followed the red notebook as closely as possible in telling his story. the writer Paul Auster. and gives it to the narrator for safekeeping." so . and has "refrained from any interpretation" (158). Hence. The narrator has never met Quinn. the confident professions of editorial thoroughness and sincerity lack foundation. and chosen Quinn and the Stillmans as his "saviors. we could argue as well that {Auster} has engineered the entire enterprise. his ontological status). the subject of his story. Like "editors" of previous fictions (The Sorrows of Young Werther and Notes from Underground. actually emerges only from Quinn's account.person. and has only two sources of information about him.5 Returning to the character Auster's account of Quixote.

we have three Austers. and Work was the animated voice that gave purpose to the enterprise" (6). the writer in City of Glass. Quinn himself was the dummy. which has its corollary in City of Glass. Don Quixote never existed. however. By association. "Whereas William Wilson remained an abstract figure for [Quinn].8 Hence. Wilson the dummy. he now led an independent life. after all. and even though he had been born within Quinn himself. owing to our absorption in the tale. Hence. was an invention. and character. we would then attend to the dummy's words. of Manhattan. detective fiction writer. Paul Auster. Quinn treated him with deference. failing to notice Quinn moving his lips. "William Wilson" has authored a series of books featuring a private-eye narrator. but was an invention of the "real" Paul Auster.that he could spew out lies and nonsense for people's amusement. By this account. "William Wilson. we would consider Quinn the ventriloquist. narrator. . had taken on the pseudonym of William Wilson. the same way that the character "Don Quixote" was engineered by Don Quixote. {Paul Auster} never existed. As the audience. Note the surprising role assignment in this conceit. but was invented by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra of Spain. Ordinarily. In the triad of selves that Quinn had become. Wilson served as a kind of ventriloquist. and the words of the dummy Work's story. at times even admiration. not two: author. but he never went so far as to believe that he and William Wilson were the same man" (5). The twinning has uncovered a triad. each ontologically distinct. Daniel Quinn. narrator. Work had increasingly come to life. Of course. is a character invented by {Paul Auster}. Max Work. This textual analogy suggests that Quinn exists only insofar as the words he invents give him life. Wilson is the ventriloquist and Quinn is the dummy.

To tell the story that is City of Glass. "the self is a social and linguistic construct. what does Paul Auster. the self is language. Anthony Paul Kerby argues that other views of the self. However. and if text's knowablity is endlessly deferred. Two problems with self-knowledge arise. by engaging in interior dialogue). {Auster's} only sources are a text and one person's second-hand account. He creates a text (whether it be The New York Trilogy or his other works) and through that text gains selfknowledge. rather than being implied by it. is a construct. But what kind of knowledge of self can one acquire by inventing stories. in its genesis and self-understanding. On the contrary. in a strict sense.9 In the wake of Benveniste and Michel Foucault. when we ally the notion of the linguistically constructed self with the Saussurean/Derridian notion of language as a differing/deferring process. a nexus of meaning rather than an unchanging entity" (34). which are. Paul Auster tells himself stories about himself (as we all do. then "true" self-knowledge . untrue? Auster's trilogy dramatizes the assertion that the self can gain knowledge only through language because. referring within the cognitive process only to other texts (be they physical texts or other selves). One further misconception should be mentioned: that our originary experience of the world occurs in perception. such as the Cartesian. such an insight may approach a commonplace. if the self is a text. author. by definition. have to go on? In his daily life. the self. But in terms of selfknowledge. originate in three fundamental misconceptions: a) "that there is a doer before the deed. First. b) that intentions or thoughts exist prior to their linguistic expression. and c) that "language has a certain neutrality or transparency with respect to what is expressed" (65)." that the `I' causes narration. and others tell him stories about himself. While no one would question that we do have extra-linguistic bodily experiences involving perception and sensation. the real drama begins.

We imagine the real story inside the words. the narrator suggests We all want to be told stories. that characterize postmodern theory" (20). a thing (a substance.is impossible. Second. "These [positions] are typically paradoxical. whether that term be understood as a Kantian adequatio or in some other sense) collapses. they are the masterful denials of mastery. the essentializing challenges to essences. yet these stories' criterion of correctness is not truth. and to do this we substitute ourselves for the person in the story. We understand our self as the locus of our identity by telling ourselves stories. pretending that we can understand him because we . In The Locked Room. and we listen to them in the same way we did when we were young. the cohesive attacks on cohesion. subject. we must proceed to the next step of the argument fully conscious of the paradox involved: I am asserting the truth of an argument that assumes the unavailability of a truth-based certification. we should recognize that once truth is abandoned as the transcendental criterion of self-knowledge. and Foucault. Linda Hutcheon recognizes the implicit paradox of such a position. but what we might call the adequacy of a meaningful narrative sequence. what is the guarantor of the truth of that statement? In discussing Lyotard. ego). having said that. Hence. but is a meaning constituted by a relation of figure to ground or part to whole. "this identity . {Auster} cites Baudelaire: "Wherever I am not is the place where I am myself" (132). Lacoue-Labarthe.is not the persistence of an entity.. we find ourselves in a vertiginous intellectual space in which the distinction between narrative and its traditional certifying element (truth. In practical terms. if I assert that "true" self-knowledge is impossible. Kerby explains.. It is an identity in difference constituted by framing the flux of particular experiences by a broader story" (46). Each of Auster's stories features a character who awakens to the ongoing deferral of the possibility of self-knowledge.

Where is he? Alison Russell notes: "In City of Glass. the author of The New York Trilogy (or any writer. the loser is whoever quits writing first. including violating laws of logic and nature. we become more and more opaque to ourselves. and despair. No one can cross the boundary into another—for the simple reason that no one can gain access to himself. One of the more interesting scenes in City of Glass has already been alluded to. This is a deception. do anything the author wants. to put it another way. We exist for ourselves. of course.understand ourselves. and at times we even have a glimmer of who we are. Or. we see the realization of the "substancelessness" of the self in its psychological dimension. wherein {Auster} and Auster visit the Stillman's apartment. Also. for that matter)? His work suggests that no clear dividing line exists . violence. an author's characters can. However. more and more aware of our own incoherence. what does the quandary of identity the characters' experience imply for Paul Auster. characters 'die' when their signifiers are omitted from the printed page" (75). (292) The particular contribution of The New York Trilogy is that in each story. Self-knowledge becomes a narrative agon. in particular those involving paradox and identity. Quinn has "died" since he filled up his red notebook with signifiers. perhaps. When he came to the last page. Ghosts Within the free realm of imaginative invention. only to find that Quinn has disappeared. These thematic threads run through this trilogy. he himself came to an end.10 The characters and narrators of these stories respond to their evolving insight into the "nature" of their selves with fear. they can easily breach ontological categories. but in the end we can never be sure. as has already been shown with the three Paul Austers. a contest in which there can be no declared winner. and as our lives go on.

It takes over your life. Blue spends his days writing a report about someone who spends his days writing. Hence. so to speak. Blue is a detective self-conscious about his social role. This is strange enough—to be only half alive at best. But how to get out? How to get out of the room that is the book that will go on being written for as long as he stays in the room? (202) . things aren't going well: He feels like a man who has been condemned to sit in a room and go on reading a book for the rest of his life. As Blue says in Ghosts. for the sake of argument. who lives in a third floor apartment opposite. "let's say Brooklyn Heights. Even when he's there. There is no story. In some sense. he's not really there" (209). rarely traveled street not far from the bridge—Orange Street perhaps" (163).between the characters' predicament and his own. a writer has no life of his own. perhaps it wouldn't be so bad. Blue is consigned to remain in his room and write weekly reports.12 For him. He reads True Detective and Stranger Than Fiction with devotion. That's all there is. that he is beset by the same paradoxical problems of identity in his "real" life. Some quiet. Observing Black. and he no longer wants any part of it. and little by little begin to forget himself. no plot. Blue notes that Black is composing a manuscript. But if the book were an interesting one.11 The narrator says the location is unimportant. living only through the lives of others. White. a certain detective Blue is hired by White to shadow Black. As we shall see. Owing to a peculiarity of his client. Blue realizes. In Ghosts. seeing the world only through words. He could get caught up in the story. Blue moves into the third floor of a four story brownstone to shadow Black. these problems will emerge for the readers of his texts as well. But this book offers him nothing. no action—nothing but a man sitting alone in a room and writing a book. which he mails to White. "Writing is a solitary business.

Blue's words are being generated by the person controlling him. nor White. Senior. If that is the case. But this is precisely where Black is. was the equivalent of entering himself. and once inside himself. Blue's error is an intellectual one with emotional consequences. Like Quinn. Blue gathers the courage to take the next. observed by another in the same way that he has been observing Black. Blue's anxiety mounts. but that person is neither himself. Junior (88. He discovers his fiancee is seeing another man. As . "To enter Black. then. "It seems perfectly plausible to him that he is also being watched. 100). recognizing that they are nothing more than Blue's own reports to White. From the twinning of Blue and Black. From the very start he has been the man in the middle.13 Like Quinn. The narrator notes. He tries to meet White in the post office. thwarted in front and hemmed in on the rear" (200). William Wilson. even though Blue does not know it" (88). With a creeping sense of horror.A series of events complicate Blue's life. Like Quinn. Blue is both scared of and angry with Black because he thinks that Black has somehow stolen his freedom and autonomy. Henry Dark. and Blue steals the papers on Black's desk before returning to his apartment. Blue adopts a series of disguises to get closer to his quarry. his narrator. adopted the "disguises of Quinn. Blue has uncovered a triad. The narrator comments. but White eludes him. Black. the dummy. but Black. who in his three meetings with Peter Stillman. and Peter Stillman. then he has never been free. whose words were generated by the ventriloquist. who visits Paul Auster. and therefore he denies it" (226). "For Blue at this point can no longer accept Black's existence. Black continues to scribble. "inevitable" step and confront Black directly in his apartment. Blue reads Black's papers. Black is not home. he can no longer conceive of being anywhere else. 95. one beyond his control.

isolated self. this subjectivity finds its release.. What he doesn't understand is that "autonomy. ." But the reports themselves are not a discrete product of an autonomous.is quite simply the possibility of signification. he thought he possessed the freedom one ordinarily ascribes to individuals. its expression of itself. were wrong. Kerby further suggests that If auto-affection is the possibility of subjectivity. both personal and professional. In denying Black's existence.. But he now realizes that his metaphysical assumptions about his freedom. Blue is denying his own. what might be called vouloir dire or a wanting and being able. carries it to an end. he thought he independently took the job of shadowing Black. freedom. A further level of Blue's misunderstanding involves his notion of the "job. Blue's freedom. (77) Blue's selfhood emerges as his Self in his "reports. is contingent on Black's existence. of expression.an individual. a consequence of his self-understanding. and . `I' functions in contrast to `you' in much the same way as `here' refers linguistically to `there' rather than any fixed location" (Kerby 68). in acts of signification. and in a sense he did. In his analysis of Derrida.are not pregiven or a priori characteristics but must be redefined within the context of the person's appearance within the sociolinguistic arena" (Kerby 113114)." namely that one begins a job. to say or express. As a detective. as a type of private contractor. The feeling of subjectivity that we have more or less continually.14 For. Hence. an auditor or narratee—which may be the same subject qua listener. and identity . He denies Black's existence. in most cases. but emerge as even feasible only through the possibility of the other's existence... But this subjectivity does not know itself outside the fulfillment of its desire to express. He responds with fear and projected anger. "One cannot become `I' without an implicit reference to another person.

but he can't tell if it's coming from Black or himself" (231). which he masked from himself by filling his red notebook with observations about Stillman. . which he masked from himself by filling his pages with observations about Black.15 Blue disarms Black and attacks him. "Interpretation. and walks through the door. In Blue's case his other was himself. ferreting out the narrator of Ghosts is complicated by the difference in narrative time between the two books. masked and armed with a revolver. Blue ceased to exist when he completed reading Black's manuscript. Blue denies this "always-already" underway aspect of self-understanding and. which. possibly dead. Blue enters Black's apartment. Cartesian self.interpretation has always already started" (Kerby 44). "There seems to be something [breathing]. we are told. Black. Blue muses. is a continuous process with no precise starting point. Quinn ceased to exist when he completed the red notebook. However. In Quinn's case his other was himself. we know nothing" (232). He assumes that the persistent element linking one job to the other is his ongoing. Blue is. Blue returns to his apartment with Black's manuscript.. The narrator explains. in this instance. "For now is the moment that Blue stands up from his chair. denying the historical and hermeneutical dimension of selfconstitution. he responds violently. City of Glass occurs in the narrative . Blue already knew by heart. one which remains apart and exempt from whatever "case" he is under contract to pursue.. in this sense. rendering him unconscious. reads it. puts on his hat. the self ceased to exist. when he sees himself mirrored in Black (or more precisely. and leaves. mirrored in Black's text). And from this moment on. When the words of the other ceased. and Black awaits him. Who narrated Ghosts? I adduced the identity of the narrator in City of Glass from the story of Don Quixote. like understanding.moves on to the next.

but as one reflecting on its origin. beginning on 3 February 1947.16 Ghosts. on the other hand. who is establishing for himself an imaginative narrative space around the time of his birth.present and. Hence. Daniel Quinn and {Auster}. This allows him to metaphorically explore the complex issues of the relation of selfhood to language. we can date the narrative present of that book as the mid-Eighties. and Quinn's age is given as thirty-five (3). Further support for this position can be gleaned from the final paragraph. Given the paradox. or a new born infant in Ghosts. Scouting ahead a bit. however. I note that the first-person narrator of The Locked Room talks about having written both City of Glass and Ghosts (346). based on copyright and publication information. but not as a self reflecting on its own constitution (as in City of Glass). But let's consider the passage in The Locked Room immediately following his admission that he wrote City of Glass and Ghosts: "These three stories are finally the same story. Both contradictory possibilities have equal textual evidence. Neither horn of this dilemma yields much satisfaction if we consider the world(s) of these stories to be governed by empirical laws. with the action continuing through midsummer of 1948 (203). . where a series of curious semantic shifts occur. are approximately the same age. If {Auster} narrated both books. then he is either approximately thirty-five-years-old in City of Glass. but each one represents a different state in my awareness of what it is about" (346). The paragraph is worth quoting in full.17 Based on the evidence in City of Glass. the narrator. occurs approximately thirty-five to forty years before City of Glass. the narrator confesses the place names originate in narrative convenience). it seems reasonable to assume that Ghosts' narrator is {Auster}. {Auster} would have been born around the beginning of the narrative time of Ghosts. given the imaginative arbitrariness of proper name and geographic place assignments in Ghosts (everyone's name is a color.

I myself prefer to think that he went far away. Like City of Glass. our earliest childhood. we know nothing. Instead. and walks through the door. he finds that he is also watching himself" (20). a linguistic black hole in which our common sense understanding of the proper separation of ontologically discrete categories—fiction. But unlike City of Glass. Let it be China. it closes with a shift into first person. In my secret dreams. the empirical world of common. It is even possible that America was not the end of it. For now is the moment that Blue stands up from his chair. establishes the sense of his identity by projecting himself into the narrator. Just as Blue could not be Blue without including within himself Black. the reader is included along with the author. speculation. personal identity. author. Paul Auster. At this point it becomes clear that the search for a narrator. and instead of merely watching another. then. "For in spying out at Black across the street. has been swallowed up into the anti-metaphysical18 (or metaphysical detective) terms of the novel(s). I like to think of Blue booking passage on some ship and sailing to China. the narrator does not assume the role of another (albeit unnamed) character. and we'll leave it at that. {Auster}. and he into us. using the first person plural: we must remember. back in the days of our earliest childhood. the search itself.Where [Blue] goes after that is not important. boarding a train that morning and going out West to start a new life. For we must remember that all this took place more than thirty years ago. we can now understand that the identity of the narrator lies in that ontologically indistinct realm of textuality. puts on his hat. it is as though Blue were looking into a mirror. history. the narrator cannot exist without our inclusion into him. as well as the conventional distinctions . And from this moment on. Anything is possible. and holding the textual mirror up to himself. therefore. (232) Ghosts began in third person omniscient. With Ghosts.

and Paul Auster. to answer the question of who narrates Ghosts. and character—collapses. (Note that in the course of our discussion. and arranges for Fanshawe's works to be published with a calculated schedule of publication that. narrator. so long as we understand both the terms "narrator" and "author" as standing for what we might call a locus of textual space.between author. we can reply: you. or in our (!) terms. Narrated in first person. {Auster} is intrigued. this additional triad has been spawned. in the instance of Fanshawe's death or disappearance. and all seems to be going well until {Auster} receives a letter from Fanshawe. Fanshawe's works make {Auster} and Sophie rich. and fortune for both Sophie and {Auster}. 20) We would do well to investigate this pattern of triads emerging from binary oppositions. author. 1984. and he moves in with her and her child by Fanshawe. and he learns that Fanshawe has named {Auster} executor of his unpublished literary works. but more so when he contracts to write Fanshawe's biography. He gains access to Fanshawe's childhood . narrator of City of Glass and Ghosts. wherein the self and other confrontation engenders a third entity. {Auster}. {Auster} is summoned by Sophie. for the convenience of the narrative. me. following wide acceptance of Fanshawe's first novel. me. {Auster} and Sophie fall in love. and Paul Auster. engenders both Fanshawe's literary fame. Fanshawe. thanking him for his help and claiming that Fanshawe will never contact him again. all of whom are elided into an entity known. He accepts the job.19 The Locked Room We can answer the question about the narrator's identity in The Locked Room right away. The Locked Room opens in May. one which nominally includes you. So. as the narrator. Fanshawe's wife. with the disappearance of {Auster's} childhood friend. He is {Auster}.

Each sentence erased the sentence before it. Peter Stillman" (349). he wants Fanshawe to kill him. to speak to Fanshawe. observing Sophie.. Sophie and {Auster} have a child. Quinn. "My name isn't Fanshawe. like Black. however.. It is odd. and yet they seemed to have been put together strangely. I can think of no other way to express it. "everything had been reduced to a single impulse: to find Fanshawe. and there {Auster} picks up a red notebook. each paragraph made the next paragraph impossible. saying they must meet in Boston. and so forth. Fanshawe claims to have been followed by a detective. {Auster} reads the notebook. Fanshawe/Stillman leaves the bar and {Auster} follows him. At this point. confronts {Auster}. to confront Fanshawe one last time" (317). Confronting him. Fanshawe has lured {Auster} to give him an explanation of why he left. he claims to have camped outside Sophie's apartment for months. {Auster} receives a letter from Fanshawe. He is confused: he wants to kill Fanshawe. for {Auster}. a blizzard of twinning occurs: like Stillman. In the spring of 1982. armed behind a door. filled with text.works from Fanshawe's mother. Back in the New York train station. and the child. then. and {Auster} locates him in a Paris bar. (370-371) . They have a bloody fight and Fanshawe/Stillman wins. as though their final purpose was to cancel each other out. Fanshawe says. Three years pass. he says he travelled in the West. Fanshawe's trail leads to France. with whom he begins an affair. . {Auster}. I came to the last page just as the train was pulling out. Fanshawe. At this point. It's Stillman. he wants to find Fanshawe and then walk away from him. Fanshawe uses the name Henry Dark in his travels. Paul. like Quinn. that the feeling that survives from this notebook is one of great lucidity. All the words were familiar to me.

{Auster} assaults Fanshawe/Stillman. heterogeneity. The character Fanshawe evolves from his oppositionary role as {Auster's} other into an "Everycharacter. self-other opposition is erected (as is the case in The New York Trilogy). ultimately. Along the way. rather than the self. a way-station through which our thought must pass (and conceivably return) in our understanding of postmodern texts. both characters employ the selfother opposition. This second movement.21 The final pages of The Locked Room embody these arguments. and developed further by Derrida) that describes not only the movement of meaningconstitution within language.In her discussion of the postmodern novel. confidence in their autonomy is undermined. "The modernist concept of a single and alienated otherness is challenged by the postmodern questioning of binaries that conceal hierarchies (self/other)" (61). constituted as themselves by the other. She writes. and {Auster} wants to engage in some sort of violence toward Fanshawe toward the end of the novel. or when {Auster} asserts control over Fanshawe through the decision to write his biography. it establishes a hierarchy which is both arbitrary and illusory. Instead of binary oppositions. and they increasingly see themselves as being controlled and. writing) and of the discourse that constitutes the larger tale. she suggests it is more useful to think of difference." wherein his own . Linda Hutcheon has argued that the self-other opposition is what we could call a modernist moment along the way to postmodernism. When Blue imagines his control of his case. and privilege the self as the controlling origin of the "job" (surveillance. then privileges the other. Whenever a binary. although his confusion renders his exact aim unclear. The consequence is projected anger and violence: Blue assaults Black. however. rather than binary opposition and exclusion" (61). plurality. "Difference suggests multiplicity. and the chaining movement of signifiers (originating in Saussure's insights. but self-constitution as well.

and Henry Dark. offered as so many language games. there is text. Blue. far from originating within a soul or mind. I suggested earlier that our identity. whether that be one's self-identity or the identity of the other. "reality only exists in function of the discourse that articulates it" (Thiher 27). an experiential description of the differing/deferring movement of language. Black. sentence or paragraph) cancels out the previous one. Hence. There is. for Nabokov. Allen Thiher argues. to a postmodern fiction of difference. and that each text (or. By contrast Nabokov's self-conscious play with ironic doubles exults in the arbitrary relations that obtain between signs. with only an occasional catastrophe to recall the void that waits on the other side. realizes that in the end.23 In discussing Nabokov. in this case. waiting to be seized in the form of iconic symbols. establishing not the truth of identity. standing on the train station platform. But if. exemplified in Hammett and others of the hard-boiled school. and only text. Freud appears to be a quintessential modernist insofar as the unconscious. (100) This description could well be applied to Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy. our attempts at truth-making are doomed to irrelevance. with its storehouse of time past. Instead we are left with the adequacy of a meaningful narrative sequence. alienated fiction of the other.22 {Auster}. no other discourse than this manifest play of autonomous language. The novel's surface is all that the novel is: a self-enclosed structure of self-mirrorings. in Auster's work we have moved from the modernist. can be compared to the modernist domain of revelation. There is nothing beneath this verbal surface.experiences suggest that he is the "same" character as Quinn.24 In Michael Huhn's discussion of the hard-boiled novel. has its origin in text. Stillman. but simply another text. he argues .

that of a set of texts. If this argument is itself a meaningful narrative sequence. realize that possession of meaning invariably lies in becoming one with the other. This is. What they don't realize. by contrast. then the readers of Quixote are themselves Quixote. Paul Auster. let us return to the beginning. (The contest within the novel is repeated on a higher level between the novelist and the actual reader. The New York Trilogy is a work written by Paul Auster. narrated by {Paul Auster} about. . the movement from the violent confrontation of the self-other to the realization that both figure in a larger whole. a contest between an author and a reader about the possession of meaning. and what carries the main thematic weight of these texts. whose shifting relations of difference and deferral form what we know as the world. {Auster's} argument suggests that Cervantes is generated by the text as much as the characters and that ultimately." However. among other characters. and the story of Don Quixote. the object of their surveillance or search." we understand that only Cervantes is "real. each of them wishing to secure it for himself. Cervantes wrote a novel narrated by Cid Hamete Benengeli about Don Quixote which is read by you and me. {Auster} argues that Quixote wrote a novel narrated by his friends about Quixote which is read by you and me. he is Quixote. is that they have failed to take the next step. insofar as their self-constitution is implicated in the texts they read. a control over the text that defines the reality of their linked situation: The main difficulty of the reading process is occasioned by the criminal's attempts to prevent the detective from deciphering the true meaning of his text.) (456) The detectives and searchers in Auster's fiction.that the contest between detective and criminal is one for control over interpretation of the clues. basically. Since Cid Hamete is ultimately a "fiction. Having reached the end.

and places in between self and world (or other) language. and is an almost de rigueur trope for postmodern fiction. We owe to Sartre's The Transcendence of the Ego the notion that "there is no ego `in' or `behind' consciousness. 8) return1 2. and the rendering problematic of any notion of an originary intentionality. then we can close best by echoing the words of {Auster's} child. Paul Auster (the real Paul Auster) has been a student of Jean Paul Sartre's works and translated Sartre's Life/Positions. . as Robert Alter notes (17). it is always `outside itself'" (Williams and Kirkpatrick 22). In this context. a wind blowing toward objects. K. Auster is echoing Cervantes. the author featuring himself as a character is not new. a la Husserl. The ego is `out there. the notion of autonomy (which would ground self-knowledge) is suspect. As Michael Holquist notes. This interposition problematizes the notion of self-knowledge. return2 3.' or container. Auster rejects the autonomy of consciousness Sartre so ardently defends (in The Transcendence of the Ego). What distinguishes Sartre and Auster in this respect is Auster's focus on language as constitutive of the self and world. myself!" NOTES 1. Chesterton's work. If this analysis of The New York Trilogy parallels that of {Auster's} of Quixote. since if everything is text. There is only an ego for consciousness. Its whole reality is exhausted in intending what is other. the term "metaphysical detective story" was coined by Howard Haycraft in his 1941 book. Of course. It is never `self-contained. in which a certain Saavedra is featured in the Captive story (1:42). an object among objects. n.' in the world. (Holquist 154. Daniel: "Goodbye. ¼ consciousness is a great emptiness. Murder for Pleasure to describe G.which is read by you and me.

who is impelled to act out the literary impulse in the world of deeds. as I will suggest {Paul Auster}. as this sentence seems to imply. Ghosts. of his counterpart. Here I would disagree with Alison Russell. when applied to City of Glass." (21) return3 4. return4 5." (74) While. as I hope to demonstrate. the Moorish chronicler who is supposedly the true author of the history. when she says that "This [Quxitoean] analysis. doesn't narrate City of Glass. being prominent among the characters of the novel as an author manqué. to be at once the creator and protagonist of his own fictions. such as the film Out of the Past. Quinn.. Don Quixote himself is another kind of surrogate for the novelist. The New York Trilogy: City of Glass. and results in endless doublings and mirror images.Note also Alter's comments about Cervantes' Brechtean impulse: ". All subsequent references will be to this combined edition of the novels. 116. the doublings and mirror images are themselves not "endless. The unnamed narrator. "Unlike Quinn and Blue. return5 In fact.. the linguistic quandaries the characters experience imply a notion of selfhood in which the possibility for selfknowledge is endlessly deferred. Cervantes' principal means for [drawing the reader into the narrative and then wrenching him away] is to split himself off into a fictional alter ego. 1985-86). raises a number of questions about the book's authorship. the signifiers. has no direct access to the character whose story he tells either. The Locked Room (New York: Penguin. Alison Russell's comment on the narrator of The Locked Room is interesting in this context." One can take the Quixote model and apply it to City of Glass (and other texts-within-the-text as well. featured in Ghosts) without the . never to his physical presence" (7980). who is. Paul Auster. the narrator of The Locked Room has access only to the language. 6.

in his critique of presence. As Robert Alter notes. and instead focus on how self-construction occurs in the public. character. author. biological sense of the activity of light on the eye. The New York Trilogy. both those of the "individual" and "others. In this context. optic nerve. return9 10. and brain. The problems with phenomenology have been amply examined by Jacques Derrida. far from affirming the autonomy of the artist. constitution. narrative arena in which selves. As we shall see. I will adopt the convention of referring to him as {Auster}. the problem with phenomenology's account is phenomenology's grounding of the investigation into Dasein's being in consciousness' (presumed) interiority. The problems with grounding experience in biological perception are well known. and capacity for originary linguistic intentionality. In subsequent references to the narrator. "Perception" can be understood here in two senses.danger of an argumentative mise-en-abyme. to distinguish him from Paul Auster. return6 7. return10 11. "If the Quixote calls into question the status of fictions and of itself as a fiction. return8 9. and Paul Auster. If we follow the lessons of the text. when the narrator describes his experiences as a . and in the phenomenological sense of that which is present to consciousness. Paul Auster. calls into question his very selfhood: its origin. in the scientific. however. it also affirms a new sense of the autonomy of the artist who has conceived it" (15)." are constructed." dimension of a single human subject. return7 8. we would have to abandon the notion of psychology as the investigation of some "interior. The studied arbitrariness of these names is emphasized in The Locked Room.

When Blue. in his Fuller Brush Man disguise.. "When my imagination flagged. In their final confrontation. I have reason to believe that 3 February 1947 is author Paul Auster's birthdate. return14 15. Black is "standing in a doorway with an uncapped fountain pen in his right hand. still poised in a writing position" (Auster 111).. or that White has given his mask to Black to wear. White. return16 17. also supports this assumption. Black. But you're nowhere. Blue's paranoia is justified. Black says to Blue. visits Black. "I've needed you from the beginning ¼ to remind me of what I was supposed to be doing. In either case. This mask is the same one "White" wore in the post office when Blue attempted to confront him. Green. Blue. Quinn finds "In his right hand. Having spent this much time on the Trilogy. suggesting either that White and Black are the same person. and the narrator of The Locked Room a writer turned detective" (79). such as Mookie Wilson's tenure on the New York Mets. The similarity between Quinn and Blue is highlighted by detail: when {Auster} opens the door to Quinn. there were certain mechanical devices to fall back on: the colors (Brown. and I've done it. return12 13. Gray. Blue a detective turned writer. return17 . I've had my job to do. return15 16. return11 12. he held an uncapped fountain pen. . Blue)" (Auster 294). return13 14. Internal evidence. At least I know what I've been doing. fixed between his thumb and first two fingers. You've been lost from the first day" (Auster 230). Russell notes the continuity among the three stories: "Daniel Quinn is a writer turned detective.census taker involved in inventing families to fulfill his quota. as thought interrupted in his work" (Auster 218).

and Auster. narrator and character. Senior. Mr. Blue. Black. We should keep in mind. Among the three books Black recurs as Walter J. and Black as an arbitrary name. Ghosts—The three primary characters are White. within the developing argument." in "private eye": "investigator" "I" and "physical eye of the writer. Henry Dark. the number and type of triads are dizzying." Fiction qua fiction relies for its understanding on the distinction. Stillman. has a wife and child. White occurs in all three books. The Garden and the Tower: Early Visions of the New World.18. Junior. As we will see below. Like the binary oppositions. the character. two characters are called Green: Stuart Green. and Work. and Black. editor. however. he refers to the builders of the tower of Babel: those who wanted to dwell in heaven. City of Glass— Quinn talks about the three senses of the term "eye. and Roger Green. and those who wanted to worship idols. editor of Walden. Paul Auster occurs as author. is illegitimate. and. but here are a few to support the idea." or "Everything is a text. see Crittenden 158-174. had a wife and child. those who wanted to wage war against God. return19 20. and Peter Stillman. that such insights are not equivalent to claims such as "People qua people are merely the consequence of a grammatical reference simpliciter. Columbus is mentioned in . preceding a term with "anti" establishes a binary opposition that. Green occurs in City of Glass. Stuart's brother and the narrator's friend. return18 19. however imprecise." To conflate this important distinction into a comprehensive claim about the fictionality of persons or "reality" would be to empty the term of any meaning. in The Locked Room. Mr. Quinn had a wife and child. Wilson. under differing auspices." Quinn had a triad of selves: Quinn. between "reality" and "fiction. For a traditional and common sense discussion of such issues. In Peter Stillman's book. black Jackie Robinson." or "The world is a fiction. Quinn has three meetings with Stillman: where Quinn is Quinn.

62. See Hutcheon. in that final confrontation in The Locked Room. And we learn in City of Glass that Henry Dark wasn't a "real" person anyway. "Narrative is what translates knowing into telling. return24 . In this inquiry I have uncovered two sets of three: first. and it is precisely this translation that obsesses postmodern fiction" (121). author. return23 24. hidden behind a door) threatens violence. the text. return22 23. and New York's Columbus Square serves as a meeting place in Ghosts. as does Boston's Columbus Square in The Locked Room. Second. but one imagined by Peter Stillman. return21 22.Peter Stillman's book. and you. myself as the author of this article. for the purposes of his argument. return20 21. the narrator {Auster}. I'm confident more can be uncovered. again either toward {Auster} or toward himself if {Auster} does not do his bidding. And. Fanshawe himself (or someone we assume is Fanshawe. the reader. and the reader of the Trilogy. Senior. Paul Auster. As Hutcheon observes.