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Works of Radical Imagination


An inside look into Paul Auster's art and craft, the inspirations and obsessions, mesmerizing and dramatic in turn.

A remarkably candid, and often surprisingly dramatic, investigation into one writer's art, craft, and life, A Life in Words is rooted in three years of dialogue between Auster and Professor I. B. Siegumfeldt, starting in 2011, while Siegumfeldt was in the process of launching the Center for Paul Auster Studies at the University of Copenhagen. It includes a number of surprising disclosures, both concerning Auster's work and about the art of writing generally. It is a book that's full of surprises, unscripted yet amounting to a sharply focused portrait of the inner workings of one of America's most productive and successful writers, through all twenty-one of Auster's narrative works and the themes and obsessions that drive them.


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blog — October 16

Paul Auster on the Death of His Father, Postmodernism, the Hazards of a Literary Education and More

This interview is excerpted from Paul Auster's A Life in Words: Conversations with I. B. Siegumfeldt, available for purchase from our site at 25% off list price.

In the conversation below, acclaimed novelist Paul Auster and scholar I. B. Siegumfeldt discuss "Portrait of an Invisible Man," which comprises one half of The Invention of Solutide is a pivotal piece of writing for Auster's movement into a style wholly his own. Auster discusses the hazards of literary education ("I’d come to such a point of self-consciousness that I somehow believed that every novel had to be completely worked out in advance."); the death of his father ("My father came from the generation of men who wore neckties, and apparently he kept every tie he ever owned. When he died, there must have been a hundred of them in his closet. You are confronted by these ties, which are, in a sense, a miniature history of his life."); and the vitality of the unconscious ("I understood that everything comes from within and moves out. It’s never the reverse. Form doesn’t precede content. The material itself will find its own form as you’re working through it."). We hope you enjoy!


“Everything Comes from Within and Moves Out”

The book he is writing has no meaning. (147)

ibs: The Invention of Solitude is a groundbreaking book that pushes straight through the boundaries of literary convention. You turn autobiographical material into two engaging narratives that explore ideas about memory, solitude, and ways of being in the world, which have been cornerstones in your work ever since. What prompted the writing of the first part, “Portrait of an Invisible Man”? Was it the death of your father?

pa: Yes, without question it was the death of my father, which, as you know, was unexpected and came as a shock to me. He was sixty-six or sixty-seven—I’ve never known exactly what year he was born—in any case, not an old man. He had been in good health all his life. He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke. He played tennis every day. I always assumed he would live to be ninety and had given little or no thought to his potential death. Yet, there it was. It happened. And it caused a tremendous upheaval in my life. The frustration of having so much unfinished business with my father propelled me into wanting to write about him. Suddenly he was gone, suddenly I could no longer talk to him. All the questions I’d wanted to ask no longer could be asked. But you see, it’s important to note that if he had died the year before, I might not have written “Portrait of an Invisible Man.” At that time, I was still writing poetry, exclusively poetry, and had more or less given up the idea of writing prose. But then the poetry dried up, and I couldn’t write anything. It was a miserable time for me. Then, as I’ve described in Winter Journal, I went to that dance rehearsal, and something happened. A revelation, a liberation, a fundamental something. I immediately plunged into writing White Spaces, which I happened to finish the night my father died. I went to bed at two a.m., I remember, a Saturday night/Sunday morning, thinking how this piece, White Spaces, was the first step toward a new way of thinking about how to write. Then the phone rang early the next morning, just a few hours later. It was my uncle on the line telling me my father had died that night. That was the shock. Coinciding with the fact that I had returned to prose, that I felt it was possible for me to write in prose, finally, after so many years of struggling to write fiction, and then finally abandoning it.

ibs: What made it suddenly possible?

pa: The text I finished that night.

ibs: So, White Spaces marks a crucial transition in your career as a writer?

pa: It freed me from the constraints that had been blocking me for the past year or two. I had, in a sense, retaught myself how to write. I’d unlearned all the lessons of my education—which had been more of a burden than a help, I’m afraid.

ibs: Which education do you mean?

pa: I’m talking about my literary education. My studies at Columbia University and the intense scrutiny of texts you engage in as a student of literature. I’d come to such a point of self-consciousness that I somehow believed that every novel had to be completely worked out in advance, that every syllable had to give off some kind of philosophical or literary echo, that a novel was a great machine of thought and emotion that could be analyzed down to the phonemes in every sentence. It was too much. I hadn’t realized that the unconscious plays such a large part in the making of stories. I hadn’t yet grasped the importance of spontaneity and sudden inspirations. It took me a very long time to learn that a lack of understanding about what you are doing can be just as useful as knowing what you are doing. White Spaces, however good or bad the piece might be, was an important step for me. I was ready to let my writing take new forms, and, in a sense, my father’s death was the excuse to go ahead. “Portrait of an Invisible Man” was written feverishly. He died in mid-January 1979, and, I would say, by early February I had started writing the book. It’s not a long text, and it took me only two months to finish it. Later, stupidly, I decided to expand it and write it in a more traditional way, but then I scrapped that longer version and went back to the original. It was clearly prompted by a combination of emotional distress, the need to say something about my father, and a very literal feeling that, if I didn’t, he would vanish. At that moment, I was artistically ready to take it on. This is crucial.

ibs: What, then, motivated the second part, “The Book of Memory”?

pa: After I finished the first part, my life went through a number of other upheavals. My first marriage was essentially over by the end of 1978. Only six weeks later, my father died. Lydia was very kind to me about it. We pulled together to get through that difficult period but stuck to the plan to separate, and by the spring I had moved into my grim little room on Varick Street in Manhattan. So much had happened to me in the intervening months that I wanted to write a chronicle of those disruptions. This then developed into “The Book of Memory.”

ibs: “Portrait of an Invisible Man” and “The Book of Memory” are very different in terms of tone, style, structure, and perspective, but I think the contrasts only inform and enrich each of the texts. You told me earlier that originally you hadn’t intended for them to be published together. What happened?

pa: I gave the first part to a poet friend of mine who had a minuscule publishing house. The plan was to put it out as a small book of about seventy-five or eighty pages. The problem was that he didn’t have much money, and by the time he’d raised the funds to publish it, “The Book of Memory” was finished. Rather than produce two short books, it was financially sounder to do them both in a single volume. I then came up with the overall title, The Invention of Solitude. The book has a unity to it, even though it’s two separate works, and, in retrospect, I’m glad it worked out that way. The two parts bounce off each other and seem to be stronger in tandem than they would have been alone.

1. "Portrait of an Invisible Man": The Spectrum of a Human Being

ibs: In “Portrait of an Invisible Man,” you describe your father as fundamentally detached from the people closest to him. Paradoxically, it’s precisely through this description that you bring into “presence” that which defined him most accurately, namely his absence.

pa: The strange thing about my father, as I say quite explicitly in the first half of the book, is that it was difficult for him to connect with the people he was most intimate with: his wife and his children. With other people it was different. For instance, if someone was stranded on a road in the middle of the night, that person would call my father because he knew he would come. He was also generous and sympathetic toward his poorer tenants and his nephew, my cousin, whom he took care of for many years. There was a lot of tenderness and a strong sense of responsibility in my father, even if it was difficult for him to express it to the people closest to him. Not so long ago, I received a letter from someone who had lived next door to him in the last years of his life. She wrote: “You have no idea how kind your father was to us when we moved in.” She had one or two small children, and he would buy presents for them—snowsuits. I was very moved by this.

ibs: That’s very strange.

pa: This was what I was trying to say in the book. The mystifying forces of contradiction: he was this, and he was that. You say one thing, and it’s true, but the opposite is true as well. Human beings are imponderable, they can rarely be captured in words. If you open yourself up to all the different aspects of a person, you are usually left in a state of befuddlement.

ibs: There’s a dynamic in this confusion, though, isn’t there? I mean, isn’t there an urge to try to piece the different aspects together?

pa: You make it sound as if I’d tried to create some kind of Frankenstein’s monster [laughs]. No, I think the only metaphor I’ve used to talk about the range of selves within a single self is the idea of a spectrum. I believe that every human being is a spectrum. We live most of our lives in the middle, but there are moments when we fluctuate to the extremes, and we run that gamut from one shade of a color to another at different moments, depending on mood, age, and circumstance.

ibs: Yes, and the notion of a spectrum makes sense. Is there anything that holds the self together, do you think? A substratum of some sort?

pa: If there is, it would have to be self-consciousness.

ibs: I’m relieved you didn’t say identity.

pa: Identity is what’s in my passport. No, I don’t even know what identity means in this context. I think a moment comes at around the age of about five or six when you have a thought and become capable of telling yourself, simultaneously, that you are thinking that thought. This doubling occurs when we begin to reflect on our own thinking. Once you can do that, you are able to tell the story of yourself to yourself. We all have a continuous, unbroken narrative within ourselves about who we are, and we go on telling it every day of our lives.

ibs: And it keeps changing.

pa: It changes, the story shifts. Of course, we’re revising all the time. We tend, just as a matter of self-preservation, to leave out the worst. Oliver Sacks, the neurologist, worked with brain-damaged patients who had lost the ability to tell this story to themselves—Siri knows more about this than I do. The thread has been cut, and they don’t have personalities anymore. They’re no longer “selves” in the ordinary sense of the word. They’re utterly fragmented beings. I think what pulls human beings together is this inner narrative. It’s not “identity.” I keep reading about the search for identity in my characters, but I have no idea what that means.

ibs: Yes, but there’s almost always a search . . .

pa: But not for identity.

ibs: A search for understanding?

pa: Or just a way to live, a way of making life possible for oneself.

ibs: With the contradictions?

pa: Yes.

ibs: If the self is formed as a narrative, I suppose there’s also an element of invention? We make up things to believe about ourselves.

pa: We do—and some of us are more deluded than others.

ibs: [Laughs]

pa: Some people are able to tell a more or less truthful story about themselves. Others are fantasists. Their sense of who they are is so at odds with what the rest of the world feels about them that they become pathetic. You see it again and again in life: the aging woman who thinks she’s still twenty years old and has no idea that she looks ridiculous in the eyes of others. Or the mediocre poet who thinks he’s brilliant. It’s painful to be with these people. Then, there’s the other extreme, the people who diminish themselves in their own minds. They’re often much greater people than they think they are, and, often, much admired by others. Still, they kill themselves inside. Almost by definition, the good are hard on themselves—and the less than good believe they’re the best [laughs].

ibs: Could it be a kind of insecurity about himself that determined your father’s reluctance to sign his name? It’s a very striking scene in “Portrait of an Invisible Man”:

He could not simply put the pen against the paper and write [his signature]. As if unconsciously delaying the moment of truth, he would always make a slight, preliminary flourish, a circular movement an inch or two off the page, like a fly buzzing in the air and zeroing in on its spot, before he could get down to business. (30)

To me this is an image of someone so utterly detached from himself that it’s disturbing even to commit to his own name.

pa: Actually, I find it rather humorous. There was a popular television show in America in the fifties called The Honeymooners, starring a comedian named Jackie Gleason and his sidekick, played by Art Carney, who would always loop his hand around in hilarious circles before he could write his signature. My father did something similar, though in a much more reduced way. I always found it endearing and strange.

ibs: I thought, perhaps, your description of this reluctance to commit his name to paper was another manifestation of the “invisibility” of the portraitee, you know, to link the title to the man, or vice versa, and—in more general terms—to provide a connection between name and character.

pa: Well, if there is such a connection, it’s not one I consciously construct. Curiously, almost all the characters in my novels come to life with their names already attached to them. I can think of only one instance when I’ve changed the name of a protagonist. Jim Nashe, the hero of The Music of Chance, originally went by the old New England name of Coffin. I wrote the whole novel with Nashe as Coffin, then realized, when I was done, that even though I didn’t intend it to be symbolic . . .

ibs: It would be read that way . . .

pa: It would be read that way, and so I decided to change it. That was the only time this happened. All my other characters have kept the names they were born with.

ibs: So, the connection between the characters’ names and the role they play in the story is only rarely constructed? You’re not flaunting the artificiality of the fiction and the fact that these characters are figments of your imagination?

pa: Every fictional character is a figment.

ibs: Exactly. Many readers, I imagine, will be wondering why you chose one name rather than another, especially when some of them appear so obviously to carry meaning.

pa: “No symbols where none intended,” as Beckett wrote in Watt. I’m afraid it mostly comes out of the unconscious, out of the guts. The theater director Peter Brook once made a statement that impressed me enormously: “What I’m trying to do in my work,” he said, “is to combine the closeness of the everyday with the distance of myth. Because, without the closeness, you can’t be moved, and without the distance you can’t be amazed.” This is such a beautiful formulation. It’s so succinct and to the point, and I suppose I respond to it because it expresses what I feel about art as well.

ibs: This duality plays very much into the relationship between the inner and outer dimensions of your portrait of the father, your father, in The Invention of Solitude, doesn’t it?

pa: I hope so.

ibs: Toward the end of “Portrait of an Invisible Man” you say, “When I step into this silence, it will mean that my father has vanished forever” (65). Is this how it felt to you? I thought, perhaps, the purpose of writing about the dead was to keep them alive. Like memory, where, as you say, things happen for the second time. Is it that you can bring something back to life only in the process of writing about it? Then it vanishes?

pa: I didn’t know what would happen, but I imagined it would be something like that. While I was working on the book, my father was very vivid to me, and the act of writing seemed to alleviate some of the shock and pain of his death. Yet, when the book was finished, it was as if I’d never written it. Everything was the same as before. Putting together the portrait didn’t solve anything. Writing isn’t therapy.

ibs: So it’s the process of writing that matters, not the final result?

pa: Yes, because even as I was writing it, I kept trying to present all sides of my father simultaneously, and I was always heartened by the positive things I discovered about him. He did have very good qualities, after all, and I feel that if he’d grown up in different circumstances, his life would have turned out quite differently. He was deeply shaped by his environment. I mean, the immigrant story, the crazy mother, the murder of his father when he was a small boy, the constant dislocations of the family—it taught him to hide himself. So, one does feel sorry for him. I certainly do.

ibs: It must have been hard to be the son of somebody who kept himself so separate.

pa: I wrote that book more than half my life ago, and the fact is that I still think about my father all the time. As I wrote in Winter Journal, I also dream about him quite often. I have conversations with him in those dreams, and even if I can never remember what we talk about, the conversations are always friendly ones. I wish he’d lived long enough to see how well I’ve managed to take care of myself—after such a rocky start.

ibs: You’d have liked him to see your successes.

pa: Yes, of course.

ibs: What about your grandmother? You said she was crazy. She comes across as a very strong character with an iron grip on her four sons.

pa: She had four sons and a daughter. My aunt Esther, the oldest of the Auster children, was the mother of the nephew my father took under his wing. She had an unhappy life. Her mother, my grandmother, was a ferocious woman.

ibs: Do you remember her?

pa: Vividly. According to family legend, she used to beat her sons over the head with a broom when she was angry at them.

ibs: Where was she from?

pa: Stanislaw, in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Galicia, which now finds itself in the western part of Ukraine, near Poland. I think she came to America when she was fourteen. She was an orphan. After she married my grandfather, they returned to Europe a number of times. The reality of immigration is much more complex than the myth. My uncle, the one just older than my father, was born in London, for example. When she was young, I believe my grandmother worked on the Lower East Side in a millinery factory—making hats. I don’t know much about her family. Her name was Perlmutter, a common Jewish name. She was uneducated and never learned to speak English very well.

ibs: But she was not illiterate?

pa: No, she read the Jewish Daily Forward in Yiddish.

ibs: And spoke it, I assume?

pa: Yes. A funny thing happened a few years ago—a family thing. Siri and I went to the funeral of one of my first cousins. Another cousin was there, the oldest of the nine grandchildren, a woman whom I’ve always liked a lot, Jane Auster . . .

ibs: Jane Auster!

pa: Yes, my cousin Jane. Anyway, we were in the cemetery where most of my father’s family is buried. We all walked over to our grandmother’s grave, and the outspoken, extremely humorous Jane looked down and said, “You know, I always hated you, Grandma. You were the worst person I’ve ever met. You were mean, and I was frightened of you. And on top of that, you were the worst cook in the world. You couldn’t make a decent meal if your life depended on it.” Everyone started laughing in a great rush of relief and amusement. No, she was ferocious, my grandmother. I was frightened of her, too. I didn’t feel any connection to her at all.

ibs: Her sons were also afraid of her, weren’t they?

pa: And devoted to her.

ibs: Out of fear?

pa: No, because of the murder. They pulled together.

ibs: So, they all knew about it?

pa: One of my uncles was a witness. My aunt Esther must have been about eighteen at the time. Yes, they knew, they all knew. They just didn’t tell anybody. They held their collective breath and never divulged the secret. Until that fluky incident, which I describe in The Invention of Solitude, when my cousin (the one who died recently) happened to sit next to a man on an airplane who started talking about Kenosha, Wisconsin. That was how the story finally came out.

ibs: The portrait of your father is exceptionally vivid, I think, because you manage to make his “absence” so very “present,” as it were. Even so, the “I” speaker—you—insists on the necessity of recognizing “right from the start, that the essence of this project is failure." Why failure?

pa: Because I don’t feel you can fully capture anyone. It’s something you try to do, but, as we said earlier, you can never crack the mystery of a human being. In a sense, all writing is failure. You know that Beckett phrase—to cite Beckett once more—“Fail again, fail better.” Fail better, yes, that’s what you do. You keep going—and try to “fail better.”

ibs: Can you explain that to me? Why is the success of a piece of writing conditional on failure?

pa: Because you can never achieve what you hope to achieve. You can come close sometimes and others may appreciate your work, but you, the author, will always feel you’ve failed. You know you’ve done your best, but your best isn’t good enough. Maybe that’s why you keep writing. So you can fail a little better the next time.

ibs: These reflections on the processes and mechanisms of writing you weave into the narrative are another reason why “Portrait of an Invisible Man” is so good, I think. The substratum of meta-commentary engages the reader in ways traditional autobiographical texts do not. For instance, here:

I have a sense of trying to go somewhere, as if I knew what I wanted to say, but the farther I go the more certain I am that the path toward my object does not exist. I have to invent the road with each step, and this means that I can never be sure of where I am. A feeling of moving around in circles, of perpetual back-tracking, of going off in many directions at once. And even if I do manage to make some progress, I am not at all convinced that it will take me to where I think I am going. Just because you wander in the desert, it does not mean there is a promised land. (32)

pa: With this book, I was finding my path as I went along. And this is reflected in the work itself. I’ve always been interested in exposing the inner workings of what I’m doing—or trying to do—because the process of thinking seems to me just as interesting as the results of that thinking.

ibs: This is one of the reasons people say your work is postmodern.

pa: I don’t understand that.

ibs: Because conventionally, a work of art will present itself as a complete entity informed by its own beauty and truth, which is passed on to a more or less passive recipient.

pa: And we hide all our doubts!

ibs: Yes, because everybody pretends the story is real: author as well as reader.

pa: Well, I guess I’m interested in not pretending. But again, “postmodern” is a term I don’t understand.

ibs: It’s just a label.

pa: Yes, but you know, there’s an arrogance to all this labeling, a self-assurance that I find to be distasteful, if not dishonest. I try to be humble in the face of my own confusions, and I don’t want to elevate my doubts to some status they don’t deserve. I’m really stumbling. I’m really in the dark. I don't know. And if that—what I would call honesty—qualifies as postmodern, then okay, but it’s not as if I ever wanted to write a book that sounded like John Barth or Robert Coover.

ibs: No, no, I’m not implying that at all. I understand what you are saying about honesty. It’s the backbone of your work, and it’s what makes it evocative and stimulating. There’s that wonderful line in the passage we have just read: “Just because you wander in the desert, it does not mean there is a promised land.” Is this a comment on the process of writing in general, or is it specific to the composition of this particular portrait?

pa: No, it’s a general statement. It doesn’t apply just to writing but to any kind of human endeavor. You grope toward something. Scientists, too—they “wander in the desert” looking for a solution to a scientific problem. It doesn’t mean they’re going to find it. You need to be a little lost sometimes.

ibs: A journey toward something, but you don’t know where it’s going to end?

pa: You have no idea.

ibs: And no guiding principles?

pa: No, no. No method.

ibs: Well, one doesn’t get the impression that you were “wandering in the desert” when you wrote The Invention of Solitude. It’s usually regarded as an innovative and elegant undermining of the conventions of biography and autobiography. Given what you have said about the motivation for the book, I don’t suppose you deliberately set out to renovate literary form and genre?

pa: No, well, how shall I put it . . . The Invention of Solitude was the product of the breakthroughs I’d made in my own thinking about how to make art, how to make writing. I understood that everything comes from within and moves out. It’s never the reverse. Form doesn’t precede content. The material itself will find its own form as you’re working through it. And so, I didn’t arrive at a solution before I started, I simply found it as I was writing. It seemed necessary to do it that way. It wasn’t a desire to be different so much as to find a way to tell what I had to tell. Then, if it came out sounding different from the conventions of the genre, so be it.

ibs: “Portrait of an Invisible Man” introduces the theme we have called “Abandoned Things” to signify the importance attached to the remains of a dead person, which is so prominent in many of your books:

Things are inert: they have meaning only in function of the life that makes use of them . . . And yet they say something to us, standing there not as objects but as remnants of thought, of consciousness, emblems of the solitude in which a man comes to make decisions about himself. (10–11)

In the Country of Last Things is literally set among abandoned things; in City of Glass, Stillman collects and renames broken items found in the gutter; there are husbands obsessively sorting through their deceased wives’ closets; a father playing with the toys of his dead sons . . .

pa: In The Book of Illusions, yes.

ibs: Everywhere! Things that are broken or no longer have owners.

pa: Disconnected, yes. Lost objects. Also in Sunset Park: Miles taking photographs of abandoned objects. Bing’s Hospital for Broken Things. It’s true. So this is something that keeps recurring. And?

ibs: And why this penchant for the vacated or masterless? Where does it come from?

pa: I’m not sure. I think it’s visceral. Certainly in Portrait it was about a direct emotional experience. My father came from the generation of men who wore neckties, and apparently he kept every tie he ever owned. When he died, there must have been a hundred of them in his closet. You are confronted by these ties, which are, in a sense, a miniature history of his life. What will you do with them? You have to throw them out or give them to charity, but who wants a tie that was made in 1943? It was so poignant. That was the only time I cried. I didn’t cry when I heard the news of my father’s death, and I didn’t cry at the funeral. Nothing. But I teared up when I was carrying the ties out to the truck to give them away. I was clutching his one hundred ties. They were all that was left of him. So, my interest in these abandoned things, as you call them, didn’t come out of thoughts or ideas about objects, it was simply the experience of these things in my own life. Maybe that’s the origin of the theory about objects in movies I developed later on in Man in the Dark. The great filmmakers are able to invest objects with human emotion and tell stories through them.

ibs: You do that in your writing.

pa: Well, not as well as some people. In my films, I’ve never figured out how to do it.

ibs: Think of the moment in The Book of Illusions where David Zimmer is sorting out the baseball cards . . .

pa: And the toys and the Lego . . .

ibs: That’s one of the most moving scenes in the book. You can almost see the boys playing on the floor, even if they’re hardly described at all. You have achieved precisely that effect: abandoned objects bring their absent owners to life, if only momentarily.

pa: Only to reinforce their absence. That’s why it becomes tragic or, if not tragic, poignant.

ibs: So, they become doubly absent in that way.

pa: Yes.

ibs: Photos are very important in this connection, aren’t they, because they evoke the absent person in two-dimensional visual flashes. This brings us to the trick photo in “Portrait of an Invisible Man,” which so effectively epitomizes the father’s lack of engagement with the world that one thinks it must have been invented to perfect the portrait: the uncanny dearth of presence, the lack of communication.

[I]t is as if he has come there only to invoke himself, to bring himself back from the dead, as if, by multiplying himself, he had inadvertently made himself disappear. There are five of him there, and yet the nature of the trick photography denies the possibility of eye contact among the various selves. Each one is condemned to go on staring into space, as if under the gaze of the others, but seeing nothing, never able to see anything. It is a picture of death, a portrait of an invisible man.

pa: Only to reinforce their absence. That’s why it becomes tragic or, if not tragic, poignant.

ibs: So, they become doubly absent in that way.

pa: Yes.

ibs: Photos are very important in this connection, aren’t they, because they evoke the absent person in two-dimensional visual flashes. This brings us to the trick photo in “Portrait of an Invisible Man,” which so effectively epitomizes the father’s lack of engagement with the world that one thinks it must have been invented to perfect the portrait: the uncanny dearth of presence, the lack of communication.

[I]t is as if he has come there only to invoke himself, to bring himself back from the dead, as if, by multiplying himself, he had inadvertently made himself disappear. There are five of him there, and yet the nature of the trick photography denies the possibility of eye contact among the various selves. Each one is condemned to go on staring into space, as if under the gaze of the others, but seeing nothing, never able to see anything. It is a picture of death, a portrait of an invisible man. (31)

pa: Have you seen the picture? It's right here on the wall.

Paul Auster is one of the very few giants of English-language literature who has successfully made the leap from the twentieth to the twenty-first century. A poet and translator before he crossed over to mainstream relevance as a memoirist and novelist, Auster continues to challenge and dazzle his readers in America and around the world. A testament to his literary statures, his book A Life in Words: Conversations with I. B. Siegumfeldt records three years of dialogue during the creation of the Center for Paul Auster Studies at the University of Copenhagen. Auster's most recent novel is 4 3 2 1. He lives in Brooklyn.

I. B. Siegumfeldt is an associate professor of English, Germanic, and Romance Studies at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the driving force behind the university's forthcoming Paul Auster center.