Post Modernism and 'City of Glass'

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There is no clear definition of what postmodernism is. However, City of Glass is considered to be the by far the text which is most visibly postmodernism. This is precisely because it “offers the kind of narrative that zigzags visibly, deliberately missing at all angle the sense of a foundation.” The postmodernist discourse remains central to the understanding of City of Glass. Perhaps the only thing that makes the story alluring is the fact that it is steeped in postmodernist features. Otherwise, it would have been just a cold and ambiguous story about too many coincidences.

To understand the novel’s play with predictability, we must have recourse to the post modernist discourse about it. Aristotle primarily argued in “Poetics” that: “art is ordered by a strict structure comprising of beginning, middle and end. The arrangement of the particular elements in its structure is governed by the universal principle to which everything must correspond.” This is in deep contrast with postmodernism. In relation with this, D. Nikolic argues that the postmodernist fiction seems to reflect the fact that the writer “has become tired of trying to explain a disjointed and godless universe.” She cites Peter Brooke who advocates that the narrative has gradually turned into a vital means “of organising and interpreting the world as a consequence of the ideological failure of the ‘sacred masterplot”. Paul Auster borrows this postmodern version of narratology to characterize his novel. However, according to D. Nikolic, Paul Auster uses “conventions of popular fiction in order to foil them” . Laws of random events and unpredictable chance characterize the novel.

All throughout the novel, we find that the author plays with the concept of predictability. There is a sense of ‘déjà vu’ to the story. However, there is a kind of newness to this very ‘déjà vu’. The readers find themselves lured by this sense of a new story which has already been told. There is both the comfort zone of the familiar and the compelling notion of something distinctively different. The story spins itself like “a modern Scherhezade.”

In addition, we should note how there is no actual centre to the story. There is no clear narratorial voice, such that at the end of City of Glass, we are left perplexed as to who is telling the story. At some point, while reading the story we get the feeling that it is an ‘abandoned’ story because there is a foreboding sense that there is no actual author to claim the story. Readers are left to make their own interpretations of things without any authorial voice to guide and give meaning to events. However, at the end of City of Glass, the author intrudes and takes over. He reminds the readers that it is he, who holds the key to the enigma by claiming: “At this point the story grows obscure. The information has run out, and the events that follow this last sentence will never be known. It would be foolish even to hazard a guess.” There are three sets of persons who are trying to find the truth here. Firstly, there is Quinn who was trying to solve the mystery. Secondly, there is the author himself, who failed to decipher the words. Thirdly, there are the readers. We should note that Quinn’s failure impacts upon the reader. By the end of City of Glass, the reader is lead “not towards the solution of the case but towards more confusion.” This brings about a sense of chaos in City of Glass. This represents the postmodern notion that the world has a chaotic quality to it which is beyond any explanation. Instead of presenting a tamed version of things in his novel, Paul Auster “incorporates” this chaos into his fiction. Beckett talks about this, opining that it: “…does not mean that there will henceforth be no form in art. It only means that there will be a new form and that this form will be of such a type that it admits the chaos and does not try to say that the chaos is really something else… To find a new form that accommodates...
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