The Resurrection of Illusory Beliefs from Old Texts: Paul Auster's In the Country of Last Things

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Author: Seçil Saraçh
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,805 words

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[(essay date 2009) In the following essay, Saraçh considers the postmodernist structure of Auster's In the Country of Last Things.]

What happens to something that once used to be precious, valuable, or important and is now no longer of use or of value? Is it possible to call it simply garbage or waste? Or is it something of value--of a potential treasure, if you know how to recycle? Novelist Paul Auster in In the Country of Last Things displays not only many characteristics of postmodernist dicta, but also by dealing with such questions, he draws his readers' attention to the essential points of postmodern fiction--namely, that of replication, reproduction, and duplication of the products of culture--all emerging from an endless recycling of meta-histories, popular images, and themes.

Technically, whilst the novel revolves around the idea of simulacra--that is, an illusionary belief emerging as an image or representation of an unreal or vague semblance of something in our experience--by means of adopted and ever changing replicas of old narrative forms such as dystopia, parody, and even allegory, Auster constantly reminds the reader of the discreet line between what is seemingly real and imitative, and thematically using the idea of recycling, he adopts garbage as his central metaphor.

In the Country of Last Things is the story of nineteen-year-old Anne Blume, who finds herself in an unknown geography--a dystopic land, a city where everything is vanishing, disappearing and physically either decaying or transforming into some other thing. Anne's first impression about this city is its disappearing: "[s]lowly and steadily the city seems to be consuming itself" (21). Since nothing is produced and there is no place to work, "garbage collection and recycling" are the only professions--in fact, the only ways of surviving for Anne and the other members of the enclosed community.

This main occupation of the inhabitants--of collecting and recycling garbage--offers us technically and metaphorically three axes of analysis. Firstly, this occupation is the plain self-evident tenet of the plot decked out with conflicts and unresolved resolutions. Secondly, by employing the concept of recycling as the most prevalent metaphor of the story, Auster achieves allusions to postmodernist art in general. By bringing forth old usages of genres and modes of narrative in the form of pastiche and parody, rather than claiming loyalty to mimetic realism, Auster reminds us that 'recycling' is the last resort of the writer of the postmodernist era. As for the third axis--the attitude of the author--Auster's book rests on a multidimensional reading of the text caused by his conscious use of intertextuality--by what Julia Kristeva observes to be "a mosaic of texts absorbing and transforming one another, and thus evading authorship". For Kristeva, the "vertical axis" of a multidimensional work, is the axis that connects the text to other texts, indicating a fluctuating authorship that seldom assumes authority, and mostly hides behind masks, as Anne the narrator-protagonist does, in her first person narration (Kristeva 69).

Constituting the most known postmodernist feature, the open-endedness of the text--the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100114727