Critical Analysis on Paul Auster's the New York Trilogy

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  • Topic: Paul Auster, Utopia, The New York Trilogy
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Space or Afterlife: An Analysis of Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy
In Steven E. Alford's analytical piece, "Spaced-out: Signification and Space in Paul Auster's 'The New York Trilogy'" principally focuses on ideas of how space is portrayed and the detachment of main characters in Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy. Alford points out:

Spaces are also the apparent scene of signification, but only through a misapprehension of the missing human elements in mapped representations of space. Ultimately we will discover that the space of signification is what we have traditionally called utopia, which is not a "nowhere" but a "neither-here-nor-there" (613). Alford's arguments are correct. The main characters in the novel are often trapped in an unknown and lost space that keeps them off a set path. The space that they find themselves in exhibits significance because the heroes embark on their journey within it. It is a space that is not connected to the world that they have been inhabiting. Alford describes a utopia as a "neither-here-nor-there". This is true, however, he fails to understand one key point that Auster attempts to illustrate. The space that Alford explains is more than just a "neither-here-nor-there" rather it should be associated as more of a purgatory state. It makes sense to refer to it as Alford does because a "purgatory" fits the description of "neither-here-nor-there", however there is more of a spiritual connotation to the word. The benefits of occupying such a space is that one can alternate between reality and the afterlife. The empty space that Alford claims the protagonists occupy can actually be connected to transcendental or sanctified states. Alford's description of the utopian "space" is flawed in that he believes the protagonists enter singularly when they are actually called upon by other forces to enter a utopian purgatory and must overcome an obstacle to enter the afterlife.

This is first seen in City of Glass, when the hero, Quinn, first travels to meet Peter Stillman. Upon entering Stillman's apartment Auster narrates:
he crossed the threshold and entered the apartment, he could feel himself going blank, as if his brain suddenly shut off. He had wanted to take in the details of what he was seeing, but the task was somehow beyond him at the moment. The apartment loomed up around him as a kind of blur (14). This sudden lapse of thinking is caused by the crossing of the "threshold". This threshold is the border between the space that Alford describes. It is the beginning of the utopian purgatory that Quinn has been searching for. Quinn cannot think during this moment because it is a sanctified space. He is unable to properly process the space he is in because it is new to him. Time works similarly in Stillman's apartment. After Quinn settles himself in the apartment Auster narrates, "He couldn't say how long it had been. Surely no more than a minute or two. But from the way the light was coming through the windows, it seemed to be almost noon" (14). Quinn's perception of time is detracted once entering the apartment because when he first entered "It was exactly ten" (13). The cause of this is that Quinn is no longer on the same plane of consciousness as he once was. In a space where there is no definite location, a "neither-here-nor-there", simple concepts such as physical properties or time are irrelevant and impossible to properly focus on. It is further exemplified after Peter Stillman explains his situation to Quinn.

The speech was over. How long it had lasted Quinn could not say. For it was only now, after the words had stopped, that he realized they were sitting in the dark. Apparently, a whole day had gone by. At some point during Stillman's monologue the sun had set in the room, but Quinn had not been aware of it (23). It is in the presence of Peter Stillman that time is mainly inscrutable. This suggest that Peter Stillman is more than just a mere man but rather...
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