A couple of weeks ago I attended an interview/discussion with Paul Auster. I am not sure what it was that drove me to take a four-hour flight just to be a witness -one of many- of a public conversation. I have read all his works, i have seen the movies he wrote and/or co-directed, i have listened to many interviews he has given, and yet, i went to the trouble of taking time off from work, catching a plane and standing in line to be admitted into the crowded auditorium. His place on the stage was indicated by a simple sign that said -very simply and plainly- "Paul Auster". I sat in the crowd. I had no sign to indicate my presence other than the fact that i was there. That's what i knew to be true.
I arrived a day late. If i had taken the morning flight the day before, as opposed to the red-eye flight that saved me some time and money, i would have met Paul Auster in person. Maybe we could have exchanged a few words, maybe we would have had a profound conversation, maybe we could have elaborated on stories, narratives of the reader and the writer, where trajectories intersect at moments of empathy. Or maybe not. I arrived in good time to find a seat in the fourth row of the auditorium. It was the closest i could get to Paul Auster as a physical being. Was i really hoping to feel the physical proximity? Was i expecting it to have an effect on me? Incur some mental transformation or some epiphanic experience? No. Before getting on the plane, i had called home to say goodbye (a precaution of some sort, a pre-emptive gesture of the umentionable possibility of perishing mid-air) and my husband said "enjoy the presentation; ask him a lot of questions". But i had no questions for Paul Auster; i never had any questions for Paul Auster. My students have many questions, questions of the work they study, "The New York Trilogy". But like the wise imperfect human beings that they are, they never seek to question Paul Auster, the man on the cover of the book, the one that put the words together, the auteur, the master-builder. They question the world in the work, they question their assumptions, they probe into what they feel and perceive, but they too have no questions for Paul Auster.
One can construct thousands of questions about deconstructing the work, identifying the references to the genre of the American novel, the intetextuality in the works, the geography of identity, the search for the self, the subtle Beckettian twists. One can proceed to dismantle the architecture of the characters' (or the author's) discontent, search for instances of cosmic rhyming, observe the mechanics of reality as it is exposed in a storyline that turns upon itself. One can interrogate the goose that laid the golden egg. Where did it come from and how can we get our hands on it, how can we make it ours, ours, ours, and keep it forever? How can we possess the work, a piece of the author, a sliver of his inspiration, a fragment of his existence? I sat there quietly and waited for the Q&A to finish. This is the man who created a world i inhabit. One of many worlds i inhabit as a reader, but the one that i have come to wish to inhabit. A world that i enter effortlessly and without shame or self-consciousness. Is it the humility and humanity of that world and its creator that grant me license to call it my own? Is it some invisible algorithm that led me to the entrance of this world? And is this something i would need to know and understand?
"Maybe after the book signing we can get you to meet him" my friend, John, his agent, said to me. And i started waiting for Paul Auster. We had dinner, a bottle of wine, and i waited. We walked by the restaurant where he was having dinner with the publishers. We went back to his hotel and canceled the message we had left for him. I waited. As i was secretly hoping for the cosmic rhyme that would have Paul Auster bumping into us outside the restaurant, or the hotel, i was also thinking that this would have been too trivial, too obvious, too mundane. John was torn. We got into the car and started on our way home. On the way we kept deliberating whether we should go back. John felt he hadn't kept his promise that i would get to meet the author; maybe shake the hand of the duck after enjoying the foie gras? This is not how cosmic rhyming works. One cannot invent the mechanics of reality for oneself or for others. Some are waiting for the barbarians. Some are waiting for Godot. I am waiting for Auster.