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Walking and writing: Paul Auster’s map of the Tower of Babel

Walking and writing: Paul Auster’s map of the Tower of Babel

Rabourdin, Caroline ORCID: 0000-0002-9694-0384 (2016) Walking and writing: Paul Auster’s map of the Tower of Babel. In: Peraldo, Emmanuelle, (ed.) Literature and Geography: The Writing of Space throughout History. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 222-233. ISBN 978-1443885485

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Paul Auster is an American contemporary novelist, essayist, translator an poet, who lived in France for four years after his graduation in 1970 and translated writers such as Mallarmé, Sartre ou Blanchot into English. In his short story City of Glass, possibly one of the most potent and memorable passage of the novel New York Trilogy (Auster, 1990), the letter O is traced by the movement of Stillman’s body through the streets of New York. We learn later that he would spell THE TOWER OF BABEL over the course of fifteen days at the rate of one letter a day. But Auster almost dismisses the undertaking by writing that "It was like drawing a picture in the air with your finger. The image vanishes as you are making it. There is no result, no trace to mark what you have done."(Auster, 1990, p.85) And to add that the letters did in fact exist, not in the streets where they were drawn, but in the main protagonist’s notebook, who recorded the meanderings. By so doing, Auster gives prominence to the written text, the trace on paper. In this paper I want to show that both activities are in fact one and the same, like two sides of the same coin. I will show that writing is walking in the streets of New York, and that the foot, a unit of empirical but also embodied measurement, is also a literary measure. Both the activity of mapping on the ground and the result of it on paper are acts of language and contribute to what Maurice Merleau-Ponty calls the ‘sedimentation of language’. (Merleau-Ponty, 1945). And, like Quinn in Auster’s novel, we will consider our walking – the act of mapping or surveying in Deleuze terms - diachronically, and ask "what the map would look like of all the steps he had taken in his life and what word it would spell." (Auster, 1990, p. 155)

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: Chapter Five: Geographical Novels
Uncontrolled Keywords: Urban geography, Paul Auster, spatial literature, maps, phenomenology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
P Language and Literature > PQ Romance literatures
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Design (DES)
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 23:06

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