Auster at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival
|Born||Paul Benjamin Auster
February 3, 1947
Newark, New Jersey, United States
|Occupation||Novelist and poet|
|Genre||Absurdist fiction, crime fiction, mystery fiction|
Lydia Davis (1974â€“1977; divorced; 1 child)
All through my writing life, I've had this impulse to write autobiographical works.
What used to keep me up at night was the fact that I didn't know how I was going to pay the rent. Now that I can pay the rent, I'm worrying about people I care about, you know, the people I love. The little aches and pains of my children that I, my family. That's always first.
People who don't like my work say that the connections seem too arbitrary. But that's how life is.
Changing your mind is probably one of the most beautiful things people can do. And I've changed my mind about a lot of things over the years.
I don't think of myself as a metafictional writer at all. I think of myself as a classic writer, a realist writer, who tends to have flights of fancy at times, but nevertheless, my feet are mostly on the ground.
Writing makes you feel that there is a reason to go on living. If I couldn't write, I would stop breathing.
We grow older, but we do not change. We become more sophisticated, but at bottom we continue to resemble our young selves, eager to listen to the next story and the next, and the next.
For some reason, all my characters come to me with their names attached to them. I never have to search for the names.
Baseball is a universe as large as life itself, and therefore all things in life, whether good or bad, whether tragic or comic, fall within its domain.
I can never say 'why' about anything I do. I suppose I can say 'how' and 'when' and 'what.' But 'why' is impenetrable to me.
Some things get written more quickly than others, but I can't really measure degrees of difficulty.
Holes in the memory. You grab on to some things, others have completely disappeared.
The world is so unpredictable. Things happen suddenly, unexpectedly. We want to feel we are in control of our own existence. In some ways we are, in some ways we're not. We are ruled by the forces of chance and coincidence.
When I write, the story is always uppermost in my mind, and I feel that everything must be sacrificed to it. All elegant passages, all the curious details, all the so-called beautiful writing – if they are not truly relevant to what I am trying to say, then they have to go.
Some like to think that a keen appreciation of art can actually make us better people – more just, more moral, more sensitive, more understanding. Perhaps that is true – in certain rare, isolated cases.
I believe that the whole idea of the consumer society is tottering. We've kept ourselves going by producing more and more goods, most of which people don't need. I'm anti-consumerism; I own four pairs of black Levis and that's it.
People look at the same passage, and one person will say this is the best thing he's ever read, and another person will say it's absolutely idiotic. I mean, there's no way to reconcile those two things. You just have to forget the whole business of what people are saying.
I've never been able to witness the birth of an idea. It seems as if one second, there's nothing particularly going on, and the next second, something is there. It's coming up out of my unconscious, up from places that I don't even know where they are.
Stories surge up out of nowhere, and if they feel compelling, you follow them. You let them unfold inside you and see where they are going to lead.
I really, truly believe that writing comes out of the body; of course, the mind is working as well, but it's a double thing and that doubleness is united. I mean, you can't separate persona from psyche; you just can't do it.
History is present in all my novels. And whether I am directly talking about the sociological moment or just immersing my character in the environment, I am very aware of it.
I guess the toughest things in translations are word play, which can never be reproduced exactly.
The book that convinced me I wanted to be a writer was 'Crime and Punishment'. I put the thing down after reading it in a fever over two or three days… I said, 'If this is what a book can be, then that is what I want to do.'
It's extremely difficult to get these jobs because you can't get a job on a ship unless you have seaman's paper's, and you can't get seaman's papers unless you have a job on a ship. There had to be a way to break through the circle, and he was the one who arranged it for me.
I started out in life as a poet; I was only writing poetry all through my 20s. It wasn't until I was about 30 that I got serious about writing prose. While I was writing poems, I would often divert myself by reading detective novels; I liked them.
I'm really trying to dredge up what one might call intellectual and moral material. For example, when do you realize that you are an American? What age does that happen to you? When do you realize what religion your parents practice? When does it all become conscious? I was interested in exploring all of that.
I really do feel part of America to my very bones; at the same time, I know that I come from somewhere else.
I woke up one day and thought: 'I want to write a book about the history of my body.' I could justify talking about my mother because it was in her body that my body began.
When you pick up a book, everyone knows it's imaginary. You don't have to pretend it's not a book. We don't have to pretend that people don't write books. That omniscient third-person narration isn't the only way to do it. Once you're writing in the first person, then the narrator is a writer.
We construct a narrative for ourselves, and that's the thread that we follow from one day to the next. People who disintegrate as personalities are the ones who lose that thread.
Films and television and even comic books are churning out vast quantities of fictional narratives, and the public continues to swallow them up with great passion. That is because human beings need stories.
I write the paragraph, then I'm crossing out, changing words, trying to improve it. When it seems more or less OK, then I type it up because sometimes it's almost illegible, and if I wait, I might not be able to read it the next day.
Our lifelong certainties about the world can be demolished in a single second.
You have to protect it too, you can't let just any stupid person take it and do something demoralizing with it. At the same time, I don't believe in being so rigid about controlling what happens either.
I was always interested in French poetry sort of as a sideline to my own work, I was translating contemporary French poets. That kind of spilled out into translation as a way to earn money, pay for food and put bread on the table.
No book includes the entire world. It's limited. And so it doesn't seem like an aesthetic compromise to have to do that. There's so much other material to write about.
In my studio, it is unkempt and unattractive. Once I'm in my work, I don't notice where I am.
You see, the interesting thing about books, as opposed, say, to films, is that it's always just one person encountering the book, it's not an audience, it's one to one.
I knew from the age of 16 that I wanted to be a writer because I just didn't think I could do anything else. So I read and read and wrote short stories and dreamed of escape.
Even in New York, there are a lot of very attractive girls pedaling around. That just happens to be one of the nice sights in our city, seeing a young woman on a bike.
Children, I mean, think of your own childhood, how important the bedtime story was. How important these imaginary experiences were for you. They helped shape reality, and I think human beings wouldn't be human without narrative fiction.
The funny thing is that I feel close to all my characters. Deep, deep inside them all.
I guess I wanted to leave America for awhile. It wasn't that I wanted to become an expatriate, or just never come back, I needed some breathing room. I'd already been translating French poetry, I'd been to Paris once before and liked it very much, and so I just went.
I think if we didn't contradict ourselves, it would be awfully boring. It would be tedious to be alive.
Writing has always had that tactile quality for me. It's a physical experience.
You can't put your feet on the ground until you've touched the sky.
Don't be a writer; it's a terrible way to live your life. There's nothing to be gained from it but poverty and obscurity and solitude. So if you have a taste for all those things, which means that you really are burning to do it, then go ahead and do it. But don't expect anything from anybody.
It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.
We all die, we all get sick, we all feel hunger and lust and pain, and therefore human life is consistent from one generation to the other. We all – most of us, anyway – want connections with other people and spend our lives looking for them.
I'm generous. I give good tips. It's just – the way I live my life, ironically enough, is: I don't want anything. I'm not a consumer. I don't crave objects.
The human body is strange and flawed and unpredictable. The human body has many secrets, and it does not divulge them to anyone, except those who have learned to wait.
Becoming a writer is not a 'career decision' like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don't choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you're not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.
I think it's a very good thing to leave your country and look at it from afar.
Each book I've done somehow finds its own unique form, a specific way it has to be written, and once I find it, I stick with it.
When I'm writing, I don't feel neurotic. So it's better for the family if I'm working.
I barely can go shopping for clothes. I find it difficult to walk into stores. The whole thing bores me so much.
There's love, and certainly children you care about more than yourself. But nevertheless, we're alone in our heads.
Those of us who can remember our childhoods will recall how ardently we relished the moment of the bedtime story, when our mother or father would sit down beside us in the semi-dark and read from a book of fairy tales.
I don't know if she should worry too much, I mean some of our greatest writers have had movies made of their books, lots of Hemingway novels were turned into movies, it doesn't hurt the book.
Chance is an element of life. What I try to do is study what I call the mechanics of reality as carefully as I can.
The most challenging project I've ever done, I think, is every single thing I've ever tried to do. It's never easy.
Money's important. Everyone cares about money. And when you don't have money, money becomes the overriding obsession of your life.
I don't think that you can be prescriptive about anything, I mean, life is too complicated. Maybe there are novels where the author has not in the least thought about it in terms of film, which can be turned into good films.
I'm living in the present, thinking about the past, hoping for the future.
The most deeply personal of my works are the non-fiction works, the autobiographical works, because there, I'm talking about myself very directly.
I think I hate cynicism more than anything else. It's the curse of our age, and I want to avoid it at all costs.
Writing is such a strange, utterly mysterious process. First, there was nothing; then, suddenly, there was something. I don't know where thoughts are born. Where the hell does it come from? I don't know. I really don't know.
I was always very curious as a young man about why older writers who I met seemed so indifferent to what was going on, whereas I, in my 20s, was reading everything. Everything seemed important. But they were only interested in the writers they admired when they were young, and I didn't understand it then, but now, now I understand it.
With a computer, you make your changes on the screen and then you print out a clean copy. With a typewriter, you can't get a clean manuscript unless you start again from scratch. It's an incredibly tedious process.
What keeps me up at night? Anxiety. Anxiety, the inability to go to sleep, it's quite literally that.
I've learned not to look at reviews. Early on, I did. I was always curious.
You tend to feel very hurt when people attack you and feel indifferent when you get praise. You think, 'Of course they like it. They should like it.'
All I wanted to do was write – at the time, poems, and prose, too. I guess my ambition was simply to make money however I could to keep myself going in some modest way, and I didn't need much, I was unmarried at the time, no children.
I've always written by hand. Mostly with a fountain pen, but sometimes with a pencil – especially for corrections.
I never experiment with anything in my books. Experimentation means you don't know what you're doing.
Human beings need stories, and we're looking for them in all kinds of places; whether it's television, whether it's comic books or movies, radio plays, whatever form, people are hungry for stories.
For me, a paragraph in a novel is a bit like a line in a poem. It has its own shape, its own music, its own integrity.
Movies are not novels, and that's why, when filmmakers try to adapt novels, particularly long or complex novels, the result is almost always failure. It can't be done.
If I could write directly on a typewriter or a computer, I would do it. But keyboards have always intimidated me. I've never been able to think clearly with my fingers in that position. A pen is a much more primitive instrument. You feel that the words are coming out of your body and then you dig the words into the page.
You see the film, you might be entertained, and if it's not a great film, it loses its power very quickly. I think even simply acceptable books stay with us a lot longer.
When you're young, you keep reading new writers and you keep changing your mind about how you ought to sound.
How is it possible for someone who believes that the world was created in six days to have a rational conversation with me, who doesn't believe that, about other possibilities?
Every generation always thinks it was better before, and I think people have been saying this for probably thousands of years.