Paul Auster Talking Books

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European Union. That is the summary of the headlines. Now, on BBC News,


it is time for talking Books USA. I M Razia Iqbal, and my guest on


Talking Books USA is the novelist Paul Aster. He is in London to


promote his latest book, an autobiographical worhical wor


known for the New York Trilogy, three this they connected stories


based on the detective form, but an examination of identity and


existentialism. He is also continually drawn to the themes of


chance and fate. From his very first memoir, the invention of


father, father, to his latest witty journal,


an exposition on age and mortality. -- went to a journal.


The port Paul Auster, welcome to Talking Books. Your latest book,


Winter Journal, is written in the winter of your life. I hope you


don't mind me pointing that out. I made that point myself. It is set


on New York. It is about ageing and the physicality of the body in


decline. It is written in second person, which is unusual, because


you tend to write very much in the first person. It is not the first


wanted to ask you why you would draw Timman war again. Well, I will


tell you. I don't think of this book as a memoir at all. It is an


autobiographical book, a book of fragments, as you know, having read


it. To me, and then why is to continue the story. And narrative


that moves chronologically to retire. This book jumps around. I


think a bit more as music, actually. Composed of little


pieces. Now, the second person was an instinctive decision. I did not


question it. But then, as I got into the book, I began reflecting


on why I was writing it in that way. I came to these conclusions. 1, my


life is not interesting at all. I have got nothing momentous to tell


anybody about. Therefore, I think of this book as a way of sharing


with others simply what it means to be alive, in the body, in space.


What it feels like to be alive. The first person, therefore, seems to


if I was announcing a story to the world. But that truly does not


interest me very much. Third person would have been too distant. I have


used to third person, in the Invention of Solitude. It can be


very effective in the right place. But this was not the right place.


What is left his second person, which establishes, I think, a kind


of distance, and at the same time, intimacy. It gave me a chance to


enter into some quiet dialogue with myself. Then I think there is a


subsidiary effect. The in the hands of the reader, second person


automatically draws that person in. It makes him or her feel that it is


a two-way street. Both the Ryder and the read-out participate in


making this book. -- the writer. want to talk to you about intimacy,


and water are trying to do in the book. You look at your body and you


are thinking about the physical body. You are sharing the stories


of your life. But you are also same, this is a quote from the book, but


we are aliens to ourselves. If we have any sense of who we are, it is


only because we live inside the eyes of others. What do you mean by


that? Well, we don't look at ourselves. Except in mirrors, we


almost never see ourselves. We certainly never see ourselves from


behind, except in photographs. We are not in constant touch with how


we look to other people. It is only by my booking into your eyes, and


you are looking into my eyes, that I had the sense that I am here,


really. I can see my legs. I can see my hands. But I certainly


cannot see my face. And the faces what identify as us. So it is


curious. You bought through life not knowing what to look like. You


certainly don't know what to affect his when you're with other people.


Another quote from the book which actually shocked me, even though I


had read a lot of you are the works, no doubt you are flawed and wounded


person, a man who has carried a went with him from the very


beginning. Why else would you spend the whole of your adult life


leading your words onto the page? - - bleeding. That sounds like the


classic tortured writer speaking to himself. My feeling is that all


artists are damaged people. I have slowly come to this conclusion over


many years of experience, not only my own experience but the


experiences of writers and painters and artists that I know. We are the


people for whom the World Is Not live in and Swindin reality as we


know what. -- swimming in a reality. But artists have to create other


worlds. But two in their right mind wants to spend 50 years of a


lifetime sitting alone in a room? Most people don't want to do this,


but writers do. So I think truly happy successful people don't need


to make art. I think the ones to a damaged in one way or another are


the ones who feel the necessity. Your very first book, The Invention


of Solitude, which watched your career, was written in the


aftermath of your father's death. It -- all watched your career. It


is an incredibly difficult book to forget. You had been writing poetry


before that, and I wondered why you felt the need to write that book.


Was it Qatada us -- was it catharsis? My father's death was so


sudden and unexpected. He was only 66, and in perfect health. He never


smoke or drink, he played tennis every day. I thought he would live


to be 90. And we had, it was not a difficult relationship, it was a


strange relationship. A distant one. I describe him in the book. He was


somebody she was not quite there. And it was hard to make connections


with him. There was no hostility towards me at all. And I certainly


did love him. But he was dense, opaque. Losing him like that, so


unexpectedly, filled me with an immense regret. I regret that I


would never be able to talk to him again. All of the things I had been


saving up to speak to him about were born. Thinking that one day


you would have been able to, despite his remoteness? Exactly. I


thought I had to write about him, Elsie would disappear completely.


It was a way to keep him alive a little longer. And that is why I


did it. When I started writing, I had no idea it would be a book. I


was just writing for myself. But it turned into something longer, full


board, and it seemed to be publishable. So I eventually


published it. Your agent, who has represented due since the beginning


of your career, says that the beginning of all your novels are in


that autobiographical work, The Invention of Solitude. Do you think


that is true? No, I don't think that is true at all. But I do think


that is the foundation will work for me. -- Foundation off. The


fiction I have written since these emerging out of a lot of the


preoccupations that are articulated in that book. I picked that book


out of the pile my shop, which I knew I had to read it to prepare


for this interview, a few days after my father died. Oh my


goodness. And I had no idea the book was a meditation on your


relationship with your father. After I finished it, I was thinking


about some things in your work, such as the nature of chance and,


incidents. It really spooked me that that was the first book that I


picked up. I wondered why you were continually drawn to the themes of


chants? It is an indisputable fact that chance is part of what I call


the mechanics of reality. Unexpected things happen all the


time, to everybody. Much of life is about chance. There are very few


necessary facts. I suppose the only one is that once we are born and we


are destined to die. Pretty much everything in between is up for


grabs. I think the thing that I read about in the Red Notebook,


years ago, which I referred to it in a Winter of Journal, is the


experience at the age of 14 of being in a summer camp and going on


a hike the 20 buyers -- 20 boys. We got caught in a lightning and


thunder storm. I was right next to a boy who was killed by a bolt of


lightning. This absolute be changed my life. I think about it every day.


It never goes away. It was my first big lesson in the capriciousness of


life. How unstable everything is. How quickly everything can change,


from one eye blink to another. Here was a 14-year-old boy, happy and


alive, and an instant later he was dead. I have not lived through wars,


pestilence, but this is my war experience. This is, I think, the


kind of thing that saw just go through all the time. I was very


young and it made an enormous impression on me. So if you want to


talk about my philosophy, that is the kernel of the whole thing. That


experience. The idea that you continually go back to looking at


fate, and the route not taken, the whimsy of chance, places you come


up for a lot of people, in the context of being much more of the


European writer. They said you have a European sensibility, more than


an American one. I wonder whether you accept that, at that judgement


imposed on you from the outside? don't really know what people are


talking about, to tell the truth. LAUGHTER. It is better to stop up


your ears and not listen to it. I have always written about America.


America is my country and my subject. I think that the American


writers I'm closest to are the ones from the 19th century, not the 20th


century. People like Hawthorne and Melville are very important to me.


I think that if I work more in line with their eyes, it is more in line


with the questions I am asking. They are the quintessential


American writers. I suppose today they look bizarre, in the context


of contemporary life. I do not know. Tell me what it is about somebody


like Hawthorne, that really makes an impact on you. Is it to do with


the idea of the illusion of writing that is interesting to? I am


thinking about the scarlet letter now, in particular. Why is it that


to trace your own profile, if you like, in terms of writing back to


him? Hawthorne, you see, is involved in philosophical questions.


He is a master psychologist at the same time. These are the things


that strongly to him. His best stories are utterly captivating.


But they always have a kind of philosophical question that they


are examining. Novel, even more. -- Melville. That is a truly


philosophical novel, or the level of Shakespeare. Melville comes out


of the Bible and Shakespeare. And he was so derided during his


lifetime, so ignored, so absolutely considered and nobody, that when he


died people thought he was already dead. He died in 1891. And he was


utterly, utterly erased from the history of American literature. It


was not until 1920 that a critic, a professor from Harvard, discovered


Moby Dick in a second-hand bookstore. He picked it up,


remembering the name Melville, and readied, and understood that this


was the great American masterpiece. Since then, his reputation has


grown and grown. But isn't it curious, that he could be eclipsed


for literally half a century, and now he is fundamental? It is like a


case of Bach, in music. Just to be raced, and then suddenly everybody


How about something that occurs with all starting with the main


character having lost something, maybe the wife for the child, and


you seem to be so interested in the alternative path that the person


may take in life. White is that the starting point for your stories of


so much interest? I somehow like to do this because it comes


instinctively. I don't just sit down and think about that way to


write the novel. It seems we're in point where it some major event has


happened. Often, a tragic event or a loss of some kind. The character


is thrown back and the ground opens reconstitute himself or Bjorn? How


does he fit around how to keep living? These are the questions


that fascinate me. We only find out who we are at a moment of crisis.


When things go along easily, you don't really know who you are and


you are never tested. I am interested in people being tested.


At the same time, all walks work that way. I have written many


novels now. I think up things about Mr Vertigo, that's completely


different. Timbuktu is different in the country of Last Things is


different. They don't follow that pattern I understand what you are


talking about. I was intrigued about the distinction between the


description of the Winter Journal as a memoir and use it it's


autobiographical. But like to ask about those things that you draw


upon your eyed my that end up in your fictional works. For example,


Oracle Nights, it's an anagram about Forster and many of them are


writers living in ruckman. The relationship between fiction and


fact and the elements of your own life. Is it just about identity, is


that the only thing you tried to explore? I in his things that are


close to me. Once in the novel they are fictional. You mentioned


leviathan, that's a great example. I wrote that book in New York and


also of the Mont where I went every summer and for reasons that had


nothing to do with anything and the reader would not here to include


this house in the book and the table that I was writing upon.


That's also when the book. It was a way of making everything immediate


for me and at the same time I felt I was dwelling in a completely


fictional universe. It's kind of strange, it's a strange stone that


I was in writing the novel. Having written all of the biographical


works, that was strictly fact as they say. No invention. Let's look


at the works associated with your profound interest in New York, The


New York Trilogy connecting detective stories in which you use


a detective form addressing existential issues and questions of


identity and the annihilation of identity against the kind of urban


setting. You have been seen as it modern post-modern writer. As you


explain, the view of yourself as a right it is traditional rigid in


19th century writing, off on, Edward Allan Poe, -- Edgar Allan


Poe. The first writer I fell in love with, Edgar Allan Poe, he had


a big influence on me. Do you reject the post-modern label?


don't think about it. It does not interest me interest meelf


from the app side. I just write, I did the best they can. Every book I


do is a new project. I feel I start from scratch every time. Each ball


and a story somehow imposes its own form and I find the way to tell the


story out of the material. Many people would be a way. They have


something in mind, they may write this on it. They have only 14 lines.


I never think about those terms. The big question is, is it in the


first person or third person or second person? Is at the present


tense? Is it the past tense? Is the dialogue? No dialogue? On and on,


all the things he me to figure out when you work on a new project. The


solution is different every time according to the type of story.


Reflect a little bit on New York. The city that you have chronicled


time and again as the backdrop to your books. The city that you


Chronicle mentally, it's quite different to the one that you


inhabit physically. How far does back or alienated is that? Well,


you see, there are many New York's. I cannot put myself down. The New


York Trilogy captures an era of New York that's now gone. It's really a


book about the late 70s or early 80s when New York was a complete


disarray. Crumbling, a dirty Third World city. It is not like that


anymore. It's a book about isolation. It's about loneliness. I


write about New York in different ways. Smoke is about people forming


friendships and inventing families for themselves. The book and


follies -- Roman Follies is about and neighbourhood in Brooklyn. The


Brooklyn Follies. It's a comedy. I feel that's another side at New


York. The New York of Oracle Nights is a grim moment of New York. As


many types of New York and I keep them happening in different ways or


simultaneously. How about the process of writing. Been several


novels notebooks are the key to the character. City of Glass, The Book


of Illusions, Oracle Nights, what's all that about? The right in his


kind of a fetish. A paper palace. The Magic Notebook, maybe, he


thinks. Are you interested in the process of writing? Exactly, I


worked in notebooks. Notebooks is a kind of house of words wet every


match will think that the language can do resides in the air. It's


also about the physicality of writing and scratching the pencil


on to that page in the notebook. It's a weigh into thinking about


the world through a sandwich. It's a fixation on the notebook. You go


from the notebook to an old fashioned type writer. Yes, I have


an old typewriter, it will outlive us all, it's built for another 100


years. It's an Olympia Portable, a wonderful machine. I'm not against


computers and I have used them. I don't like the touch of the


keyboard compared to the resistance that like many will play begins. It


couple tunnel syndrome. reflecting on writing and notebooks,


it reflects again in the structure of your novels, the interest within


the story within the novel, What is it that its most obvious in Oracle


Nights and Lovatt and, you get to the end and you are told it's


double that you walk are constantly saying its post-modernism but what


are you St by constantly doing this, a story within a story that never


In the. -- never ends. As I have developed as a writer I went


further and further into this realising that there's a certain


power in what I call it art of collage. That's when you have more


than one been in the frame and the space in between. Some of the


novel's had to walk three stories which intersect but a somewhat


distinct at the same time. I feel that this energy created within the


space between the elements. They create something greater than this


arm of its parts. Again, it's all by feeling this. It's not making


philosophical statements about anything. Figuring out how to tell


the story in the most powerful and immediate way, no hot and it seems


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