Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English & Rhetoric

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061

alex.blazer@gcsu.edu

alexeblazer.com

 

Infinite Interiority in Paul Auster and Maurice Blanchot

What was around me was also inside me, and I had only to look into myself in order to see the world.

(Paul Auster, The Book of Illusions 108)

 

Even at the innermost heart of interiority, it is always irruption of the outside, exteriority shaking everything.

(Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation 414)

Like The New York Trilogy (1986) and many of his novels before it, Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions (2002), commences with a protagonist hollowed out by the loss of his wife and son. Empty, professor David Zimmer withdraws from the world into his domicile of drunken destitution and can only begin to reemerge when he is provoked first to laugh by a fifty year old silent film comedy starring Hector Mann, who himself literally disappeared from the world shortly after making the film, and then to pursue, in academic detective style both in the world and in a book, the elusive illusionist. The third-person point of view novel is composed of nested narratives such as Zimmer's monograph on the fictional Mann and the story of Hector's life as told by his cameraman's daughter, compelling the reader to piece together the full story from these illusory fragments; however, the final chapter reveals that the protagonist David Zimmer is actually the narrator of the novel, The Book of Illusions, writing fifteen years after the action and living on borrowed time due to a heart attack. Paul Auster puts Maurice Blanchot's existential theory that the inside, interiority, is deconstructively constituted by the outside, exteriority, into artistic praxis: Zimmer's Self encounters the absolutely Different Other, that is death, and proceeds to create a fiction in which the innermost nested doll, Zimmer the character, is actually the outer frame narrator, if not the original author, Paul Auster. Between Being and Nothingness lies the infinite conversation of literature for which no final interpretive synthesis exists because the work of art remains forever in play. The postmodern narrative play of Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions is existentially serious: rather than invoking meta-referential irony that situates the author as gamemaster and the text as a labyrinthine dungeon of diegetic illusions, the novel constitutes an inwardness in infinite, dialectical, and creative conversation with its Self, which is radically Othered by death and loss.

 

This abstract summarizes my presentation, "Infinite Interiority in Paul Auster and Maurice Blanchot," The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900, Louisville, KY, 19 Feb. 2010.