Goodbye to Paul Auster, the inventor of solitude


By John

«The happiness of being alive – as he wrote in “Winter Diary”, one of his most touching books, Paul Auster, the great singer of humanity, died on April 30 at his home in Brooklyn at the age of 77 – the happiness of feeling the present that surrounds him and imbues him and spreads within him with the sudden overflowing awareness of being alive”, Auster always demonstrated it even when he felt the “darkness in his bones” due to the difficult trials of life, including , before he became ill, the loss of his son Daniel, who died of an overdose in April 2022, six months after being accused of the death of his 10-month-old daughter, also from an overdose.
Nevertheless, two months after Daniel's passing, in June 2022, Auster together with his beloved wife, the writer Siri Hustvedt, was in Taormina to receive the “Taobuk Award for literary excellence” as part of the Taobuk literary festival, perhaps to “flush out the death that lives in each of us”. He was affable and generous with journalists after having given his lesson «Truth is lie, lie is truth», a journey inside his narrative “room” (an image from which he was strongly attracted, because, he said in «The invention of solitude” recalling Dickinson and Hölderlin, “memory itself is a room where a body resides, the body as memory”), a journey between novel, poetry, non-fiction, cinematographic collaborations and screenplays, with reflections on chance and destiny, but also, regarding the true and the false, with icastic judgments on the unhappiness of the current world.
Because, he said forcefully, «neoliberalism which from the 1970s onwards led to globalization has produced anger and frustration in millions of people with the rich getting richer and the poverty becoming ever greater, and also the rampant hatred and violence with the Trumps (with his wife Siri and other writers Auster had founded the group “Writers against Trump” which later became “Writers for a democratic election”), Le Pen, the Bolsonaros, the Putins”, who move like pawns many lives in whose anguish, neuroses, solitudes, daily falls, in whose unspeakable mystery the writer delved by expanding the word, from the cult book “New York Trilogy” to “The Music of Chance”, from «Leviathan» to «The book of illusions», from «Invisibile», to the ponderous «4 3 2 1», just to name some of his masterpieces.
And speaking of the randomness of “destiny”, it was precisely with «Invisibile» in hand that at the end of that meeting I approached Auster for an autograph, overcoming the human cordon determined to keep me and others away from the writer, but which had loosened thanks to his kind availability. So, while he asked me his name looking at me with the big eyes with which he had encountered and described the world, he wrote it in big letters together with his unmistakable signature. He was probably already ill, yet he must have felt it was an extraordinary thing to be there, «feeling your feet on the ground, your lungs dilating, knowing that by moving one foot after the other you can go wherever you want. Feeling naturally and harmoniously.”
Which he would confirm the following evening at the ancient theater of Taormina, entering into a relationship with the audience and explaining that what we do when traveling around places is to think in such a way that our thoughts form an itinerary.
And his novels and essays were a long, brilliant, unrepeatable itinerary that accompanied us, while we lived, to understand the “grammar of existence which includes – as he claimed – all the figures of language, similes, metaphors, metonymies, synecdochi”. Reconstructing them in their essence was a fundamental principle, a form of resistance for those like Auster who played with words since he was a schoolboy to examine the mechanisms of the mind even then, «to mirror a particle of the world as the mind perceives it, because as for the meanings of words, things acquire meaning only by relating to each other.”
«A life in words» (2019), his, as the title of one of his latest books states, in dialogue with Inge Birgitte Siegumfeldt, also a place of memory, among his most intimate works, a wandering in himself through his literary imagination. But it was with another novel, «Baumgartner» (Einaudi) – «A country bathed in blood» will be released posthumously in October (Einaudi, translated by Cristiana Mennella), an essay, with photos by Spencer Ostrander, on the epidemic of shootings mass in the USA: a book that goes to the roots of the American obsession with firearms – that the writer has left us poorer but also richer, a melancholy Auster who, Proustianly aware of the shocking pain of the memory of what is lost forever, through his character the professor, he seems to say, surrendered, as in the epilogue of «The invention of solitude»: «It was. It will never be again.”