Friday, July 17, 2009

"White Nights"--A poem by Paul Auster

An ironic choice, I suppose, considering my post earlier against writing that reflects upon its own processes, but the Paul Auster style is so clear of superfluous adjectives, verbs and dead weight qualifiers that he gets across some of the mystery involved in composing a verse, a quality that eludes other writers. A novelist by trade, Auster's fiction often fashion themselves after mystery novels where every assumption and cover story is questioned, and in which action is moved forward by chance; whole chains of events and consequences in his best fiction-- The New York Trilogy, Book of Illusion, Leviathan-- that depend on the fickle choices of where one desires to place themselves, on impulse, on the spur of the moment. White Nights likewise comes across as a detective novel , combined with a ghost story; within in it are the themes of someone writing something in isolation wondering if anyone will read, how anything will change if a readership is found, how the writing lives on in the writer's words haunting a stranger years later, in another part of the world. I t comes , finally, to that flashing recognition a reader experiences when another's words confirms some nuance of feeling one has felt in their own travels through an amorphous existence. I think the poem is lovely, compelling, and finally undecidable to final meaning. But that is the whole point, I would think.




WHITE NIGHTS
Paul Auster


No one here,
and the body
says: whatever is said
is not to be said. But no one
is a body as well,
and what the body says
is heard by no one
but you.

Snowfall
and night. The repetition
of a murder
among the trees. The pen
moves
across the earth: it no longer knows
what will happen, and the hand that
holds it
has disappeared.

Nevertheless, it writes.
It writes:
in the beginning,
among the trees, a body came walking
from the night. It
writes:
the body's whiteness
is the color of earth. It is earth,
and
the earth writes: everything
is the color of silence.

I am no
longer here. I have never said
what you say
I have said. And yet, the body
is a place
where nothing dies. And each night,
from the silence of the
trees, you know
that my voice
comes walking toward you.


You can never have too much existentialism, French, German or Maynard G.Krebs; the idea that a writer is in his existential moment, stripped of his excuses and wholly dependent on his next action to give his life meaning , purpose. authenticity, is exactly the dilemma we discuss here all the time. It is the issue that all these poems-about-poetry attempt to take on but never grasp because of the intangible nature of the issue and because so many of the poets who attempt the task fumble with their poetics. Auster gets to an emotional core--the loss of self one can experience in writing, the dread that the words might be unheard, ;unread, when the writing is done and one is passed on--by the choice sparseness of his metaphors.

I wouldn't disagree with you about the poem attempting to bridge different parts of the body, but I think the particulars aren't that important in so far as the real issue is the author's attempt to make contact to an Other , some essential part of one's sense of them self in this life that is dually absent and yet persistent in one's instinct. The question arises, is the writer talking to himself in an effort to join his separate selves, or is he seeking a common bond with a community he has no evidence actually exists? This is the ambiguity and the beautiful ache in the poem.
You can never have too much existentialism, French, German or Maynard G.Krebs; the idea that a writer is in his existential moment, stripped of his excuses and wholly dependent on his next action to give his life meaning , purpose. authenticity, is exactly the dilemma we discuss here all the time. It is the issue that all these poems-about-poetry attempt to take on but never grasp because of the intangible nature of the issue and because so many of the poets who attempt the task fumble with their poetics. Auster gets to an emotional core--the loss of self one can experience in writing, the dread that the words might be unheard, ;unread, when the writing is done and one is passed on--by the choice sparseness of his metaphors.

The poem attempts to bridge different parts of the body, but I think the particulars aren't that important in so far as the real issue is the author's attempt to make contact to an Other , some essential part of one's sense of them self in this life that is dually absent and yet persistent in one's instinct. The question arises, is the writer talking to himself in an effort to join his separate selves, or is he seeking a common bond with a community he has no evidence actually exists? This is the ambiguity and the beautiful ache in the poem. He writes this poem as if hoping that in the written admission that he cannot define what is only a sideways glimpse in his mind's eye , the Other will reveal itself, in full and true form. The consequence is only more distance, more estrangement from what is desired.

Writing is one of the recurring tropes in all of Auster's writing, and one of his themes is the problem of the writer who is trying to write the world into being--to establish a psychology that provides narrative continuity to existence that can provide a vague sense of purpose--who confronts what cannot be predicted, only accommodated. I thought of a piece of typing paper that is blank, waiting for a story to be written on it, the problem being that while the story might be good and entertaining in it's reworking of old tales and morals, it doesn't change the paper it's on, though sullied with words, it remains paper. It is the writing that gives the writer meaning, the constant advancing of his narrative line; existence itself is unchanged in its unknown virtues, if there were any in the first place.