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(Fachbereiche): Literaturwissenschaften Amerikanistik
Titel Paul Auster's "The New York Trilogy" as Postmodern Detective Fiction 
Autor/in Matthias Kugler 
Seiten 164 Seiten 
Hochschule Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg Deutschland 
Art der Arbeit Magisterarbeit 
Abgabe 1999 
Note 2,1 
Preis 38,00 EUR (inkl. MwSt.)
Bestellnummer 39001852 
Sprache Englisch 
Medien Papier / CD 

Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, published in one volume for the first time in England in 1988 and in the U.S. in 1990 has been widely categorised as detective fiction among literary scholars and critics. There is, however, a striking diversity and lack of consensus regarding the classification of the trilogy within the existing genre forms of the detective novel. Among others, Auster's stories are described as: "metaanti-detective-fiction;" "mysteries about mysteries;" a "strangely humorous working of the detective novel;" "very soft-boiled;" a "metamystery;" "glassy little jigsaws;" a "mixture between the detective story and the nouveau roman;" a "metaphysical detective story;" a "deconstruction of the detective novel;" "antidetective-fiction;" "a late example of the anti-detective genre;" and being related to 'hard-boiled' novels by authors like Hammett and Chandler." Such a striking lack of agreement within the secondary literature has inspired me to write this paper. It does not, however, elaborate further an this diversity of viewpoints although they all seem to have a certain validity and underline the richness and diversity of Auster's detective trilogy; neither do I intend to coin a new term for Auster's detective fiction. I would rather place The New York Trilogy within a more general and open literary form, namely postmodern detective fiction. This classifies Paul Auster as an American writer who is part of the generation that immediately followed the 'classical literary movement' of American postmodernism' of the 60s and 70s. His writing demonstrates that he has been influenced by the revolutionary and innovative postmodern concepts, characterised by the notion of 'anything goes an a planet of multiplicity' as well as by French poststructuralism. He may, however, be distinguished from a 'traditional' postmodern writer through a certain coherence in the narrative discourse, a neo-realistic approach and by showing a certain responsibility for social and moral aspects going beyond mere metafictional and subversive elements. Many of the ideas of postmodernism were formulated in theoretical literary texts of the 60s and 70s and based an formal experiments include the attempt of subverting the ability of language to refer truthfully to the world, and a radical turning away from coherent narrative discourse and plot. These ideas seem to have been intemalized by the new generation of postmodern writers of the 80s to such a degree that the ideas themselves turn into objects of investigation and experiment. Paul Auster seems to be an the right way of leaving the stony ground of "The Literature of Exhaustion", which according to John Barth only leads to "replenishment" if we creatively make use of 'what has been there before'. "It might be conceivable to rediscover validly the artifices of language and literature--such farout notions as grammar, punctuation...even characterization! Even plot!--if one goes about it the right way, aware of what one's predecessors have been up to." This paper asserts that Paul Auster's NYT can be adequately described as a particular form of postmodern detective fiction that may be defined, or rather 'redefined', as a form which an the one hand still makes use of several well-known variations of the detective novel that have developed during the Jong tradition of the genre, such as the classical and the hard-boiled detective novel; but which, an the other hand are only applied by Auster to deviate from this course, subvert the existing elements and deliberately negate the fundamental purposes of the genre by introducing a great variety of postmodern aspects. In this, Auster follows the tradition of the anti-detective novels by such authors as Pynchon or Robbe-Grillet. He does, however, create a new form, that goes even beyond the familiar features of the anti-detective novel by adding a neo-realistic approach, that links the traditional features of the genre with the experimental, metafictional and ironic features of postmodernism.

Only in the recent years has there been a certain critical response to the prose work of Paul Auster, who has been publishing poetry, translations and essays since the beginning of the 70s. He has acquired a certain reputation in Europe (especially in France through his translations of Mallarme and several other French avant-garde poets as well as his special interest in philosophy) as well as later in the U.S. The publication of the NYT has raised a lot of interest in the works of Paul Auster, which has helped me to strengthen my arguments by having a large amount of secondary literature at my disposal. As should be the case with every work dealing with literature in general, this paper maintains a close proximity to the primary texts by using relevant quotes where appropriate.

To support the arguments in this paper, chapter 1 analyses the history of detective fiction to clarify the formula and cultural background of the classical, 'hardboiled', and anti-detective story, how its history evolved, and what it seems to be evolving into through the work of authors like Paul Auster. The structure and context of the classical, the 'hard-boiled', and the anti-detective novel, provide a general orientation and a basis to categorise the NYT within the genre. Apparent patterns and styles connect the old detective novel and the new and provide us with evidence demonstrating that all three varieties can be found in Auster's stories.

In chapter 2, this paper discusses elements which are generally agreed an by scholars and critics in the relevant secondary literature to adequately characterise postmodernism and which are at the Same time part of Paul Auster's postmodern aesthetic in the NYT such as: fragmentation, indeterminacy, seif-less-ness, hybridization, the decentered subject, the doubling of characters, the blurring or nonexisting boundaries between the fictional and the 'real' world, and the question of text, author(ity), reading, writing, reader and writer.

The following chapters analyse in detail each of the three novels City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room in the scope of such concepts as 'truth and meaning' (eh. 3), 'the quest for identity' (ch. 4), 'concepts of reading and writing' (ch. 5), 'language' (eh. 6) and 'intertextuality' (ch. 7), always taking into consideration the arguments of the first two chapters.

The conclusion to this paper;concisely summarises the main points from earlier chapters and tentatively investigates the possible reasons for the commercial success of the NYT and the question whether Auster has added some new dimensions to modern literature.

Gang der Untersuchung:

In der vorliegenden Arbeit widmet sich der Verfasser einem Autor und einem Thema, die sich beide in der zeitgenössischen Literaturkritik zunehmender Aufmerksamkeit erfreuen. Zunächst werden die Leitkonzepte der Analyse-Postmoderne und Detektivroman--in den Mittelpunkt von theoretischen und literaturhistorischen Vorüberlegungen allgemeiner Natur gestellt, um dann zu konkreten Textinterpretationen anhand repräsentativer Beispiele fortzuschreiten.

Im ersten Kapitel werden die Hauptstationen der Gattungsgeschichte des Genres Detektivroman im angelsächsischen Raum behandelt und in Anlehnung an die Beiträge bekannter Kritiker (Tani, Cawelti, Spanos et al.) drei Modelle von detective fiction entworfen, die epochentypischen Charakter haben. Die historisch-typologische Überblicksskizze zur Entwicklung der Gattung führt auf direktem Weg zum Untersuchungsgegenstand im engeren Sinne, Austers New York Trilogy.

Im Mittelpunkt des zweiten Kapitels steht eine ähnliche typologisch-historische Verortung von Auster und seiner Romantrilogie im Kontext der Postmoderne. Dabei wird einerseits auf die Beziehung zwischen Postmoderne und Detektivroman eingegangen, andererseits werden die postmodernen Elemente vorgestellt und definiert, auf die sich Auster in den drei Romanen stützt: u.a. Fragmentation, Unbestimmtheit, Dezentralisierung des Subjekts, Spielerei, Ironie, Selbstreflexion, Zufall, Hybridisierung und Intertextualität.

Das Kernstück der Arbeit bilden die folgenden fünf Kapitel, in denen durch die konkrete Textdiskussion die vorher identifizierten Grundelemente eines postmodernen Verständnisses von Welt, Sprache und Erkenntnis im Hinblick auf die einzelnen Romane thematisiert werden. Eine wichtige Rolle spielen dabei Problemkomplexe wie Wahrheit, Bedeutung und Bedeutungslosigkeit, Identität sowie Theorien und Systeme von Narrativik. Das siebte Kapitel befaßt sich mit Formen und Funktionen von Intertextualität bei Auster, wobei eine plausible Antwort auf bestimmte ratlose Fragen und Diagnosen der bisherigen Auster-Kritik gegeben werden soll. Von der Kritik ist in diesem Kontext immer wieder auf die ungewöhnlich hohe Frequenz intertextueller Bezüge und Querverweise bei Auster aufmerksam gemacht worden. Was Intertextualität und Postmoderne miteinander zu tun haben, ist dabei offenkundig. Es wird aber hier zusätzlich die interessante Frage gestellt, was Intertextualität und Detektivgeschichte bei Auster miteinander verbindet.

Ein Abschlusskapitel faßt das Geschriebene noch einmal konzis zusammen, ordnet die Trilogie in den Gesamtzusammenhang von Austers Werk ein und stellt die Frage nach den fliessenden Grenzen zwischen hoher und 'trivialer' Literatur. Die Arbeit ist in englischer Sprache verfaßt, legt aber Wert auf gute Lesbarkeit, was wesentlich zur Verständlichkeit dieses komplexen Sachverhalts beiträgt. Auch der ungeübtere Leser des Englischen ist deshalb in der Lage, sich dieser Arbeit gewinnbringend zu widmen.

Table of Contents:

0. Introduction 1
1. The Detective Novel and its Development--A Historical Survey 5
1.1 The Classical Detective Story 12
1.2 The Hard-Boiled Detective Novel 12
1.3 The Anti-Detective Novel 16
2. Postmodernism and Detective Fiction 21
2.1 Postmodernism and The New York Trilogy 21
2.2 Postmodernism and Paul Auster 24
3. Chance, Truth, and Meaning: The World(s) of the Detective--The Detective in the World(s), or Will he solve the case? 28
3.1 Quinn 31
3.2 Blue 38
3.3 The Nameless Narrator 43
4. The Quest for Identity: The Self and the Other, or Doubles and more Doubles 50
4.1 Quinn 53
4.2 Blue 61
4.3 The Nameless Narrator 66
5. Concepts of Reading and Writing: The Death of (the) Author(ity)? or Detecting the Postmodern Text 74
5.1 The Question of Author(ity) 75
5.2 Concepts of Writing 79
5.3 Writing and Author(ity) in City of Glass 80
5.4 Writing and Author(ity) in Ghosts 87
5.5 Writing and Author(ity) in The Locked Room 89
5.6 The Question of Plot 90
5.6.1 Plot in City of Glass 91
5.6.2 Plot in Ghosts 94
5.6.3 Plot in The Locked Room 95
5.7 Concepts of Reading 97
6. Language: The New York Babel, or 'The Arbitrariness of the Postmodern Sign' 101
6.1 Language in City of Glass 104
6.2 Language in Ghosts 113
6.3 Language in The Locked Room 116
7. Intertextuality, or the Text as a Case?--Paul Auster's 'Selected Highlights of American Literary History' 121
7.1 Intertextuality in City of Glass 126
7.2 Intertextuality in Ghosts 132
7.3 Intertextuality in The Locked Room 136
8. Conclusion 140

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