Monday, September 29, 2008
Much of Paul Auster's work contains metafiction. As his novels collect upon library shelves, it seems that this prevalence of metafiction has become what many critics have locked unto as a negative. So much so that one must almost consider the negative mention of Auster's meta tendencies a critic cliche. Whereas one might point to mountain of critic discontent as verification that Auster has run dry as a valuable contributor to the American Literary Experience, I think it is more endemic of a failing upon the nature of current literary criticism in the main being too quick to roll its eyes at a literary device rather than the story being told through the device. There is much more ink to be split attempting to devalue potential literary heroes than not. And, to dismiss Man In The Dark as merely a recapitulation of Auster's lifelong obsession with meta devises is to my mind an unfair appraisal of a rather good book.
Man in the Dark is a meditation on how the results of the 2000 presidential election and Sept 11th attacks have impacted the imagination and psyche of Americans. In it we have an insomnia stricken writer who fights off dark memories from his past by composing a dystopian science fiction story in which he is a seemingly omnipotent presence responsible for having manifested a second American Civil War in a parallel universe by merely thinking the war into being. If one sets aside the mobieus strip of reasoning that is Auster's framing premise (stop asking which came first the chicken or the egg) and focus on the story he is actually telling there is an actual compelling yarn for the first 140 pages followed by what could be called a fictive contextual postscript concluding the book while illuminating its reason.
Does the American Intellectual feel a certain culpability to the death toll and chaos that has plagued the 21st century? Have we acquiesced? Are we sitting on a fence? What happens to one when they hurl themselves into the fray? Can your average American Intellectual even bring himself to some kind of action, if that action is violent? Is it absurb to believe that any one man could dream up such devastation and that the eliminating of that one man would/might change the world? These are some if the questions Man In The Dark's metafictive narrative poses.
I enjoyed this book very much, but then again I am a Auster fan, and have been seen reading his New York Trilogy years back.