‘Everything … as a Gloss on Everything Else' : Life and Work in Paul Auster

Zhang, Meiping. 2018. ‘Everything … as a Gloss on Everything Else' : Life and Work in Paul Auster. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The thesis examines a variety of philosophical implications in Paul Auster’s works, crossing American culture with Continental thought. Focusing on such subjects as solitude, community, the idea of America, the idea of the work (of art), the ontology of film, the disastrous and the ordinary, it aims to develop intersections of Auster’s works with the thoughts of Stanley Cavell and Maurice Blanchot.

Blanchot has already been introduced into recent Auster criticism. But this is not the main reason why I use Cavell, instead of Blanchot, to set the tone for my study. Contrary to past research, which tends to divide into discrete areas, emphasising either Auster’s postmodern textuality or critical engagement, his American roots or European affiliations, my study is concerned with how these divisions can be reassessed and negotiated. A Cavellian reading of Auster is valuable not only because the themes Cavell discovers in Thoreau and Emerson (such as Moral Perfectionism) provide insight into Auster’s engagement with American Transcendentalism, but also because his way of reading is indissociable from his interests in Continental tradition, as well as in film and literature. I share these interests in my own reading of Auster; they help reconstruct the pictures of life and work, of self and other, of singularity and commonality, of ordinariness and extraordinariness.

Additionally, I look at certain Blanchotian aspects of Auster’s writing, highlighting what has not been previously noted, such as the withdrawal and exigency of community in Moon Palace. Blanchot’s ideas of unworking (désoeuvrement) and disaster further define the ethico-ontological dimension of being. This does not essentially counter Cavell’s emphasis on the ordinary but rather reveals its difficulty. On the whole my reading suggests a logic of eternal return that underlies the entwinement of Cavellian and Blanchotian strands in Auster, which reflects both human vulnerability and responsibility.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Finitude, Acknowledgement, Language, Philosophy, American Literature

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


28 February 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

27 Apr 2018 11:01

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:11



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