Current Issue 2004

Donald Backman

Katy Chilies

Amber Dean

Gregory Esplin

Rebecca Gould

Yolanda Morata

Irina Negrea

Christopher Romans

Cristina Stanciu


Author Dead. Full Report at Eleven:
The Questioning of the Author Function in City of Glass and The Lizard's Tail

Email this article

Donald E. Backman
San Francisco State University

"Writing unfolds like a game [...] that invariably goes beyond its own rules and transgresses its limits" (Foucault 102). It is interesting that Michel Foucault, in his essay "What is an Author?" should refer to writing as a game. A game implies a set of rules that keep participation fair on both sides. These rules mark the distinction between a game and play. A game has structure. Play is freeform. If writing is a game, what are the sides in this game? I would posit that the participants in this game are the reader and the author. In the postmodern novel, as in the cases of Paul Auster's City of Glass and Luisa Valenzuela's The Lizard's Tail, the participant is the author against him/herself. The author plays a kind of literary solitaire, if you will. These two authors not only go "beyond [writing's] own rules and [transgress] its limits," they go as far as to kill the author in the process of their game playing.

City of Glass and The Lizard's Tail present intricate worlds in which the question of authorship and the powers of this role are called into question, by not only the author but also the characters in the novel. In these worlds, the characters write stories in which no one is who they appear to be, even the authors, who appear as characters in their own narratives. They surprise the reader by entering into their narrative, only to slowly fade away and disappear/die out of the text. To this matter, Roland Barthes states that "the removal of the Author [¥] utterly transforms the modern text ([...] the text is henceforth made and read in such a way that at all its levels the author is absent)" (255). When Barthes refers to the "removal of the Author," he is referring to the figurative removal of the concept of the author from the reader's interpretation of the text.

Auster and Valenzuela go beyond Barthes to remove themselves as the "author" in their texts. This leaves us with the question regarding our texts, why is the death of the author important? I will answer this question through the techniques used by each author in questioning the author's function. The "author" in each text literally disappears. This is done through a questioning of the trustworthiness of the narrator, a questioning of authorship through the insertion of the author as a character, and finally, the disappearance of the author.

Paul Auster questions the trustworthiness of his narrator from the beginning of the text in a way that makes this question obvious to the reader. In his novel, the main character, Daniel Quinn, is reading in his apartment and comes across the following passage (also at the beginning of its respective text) in Marco Polo's Travels:

We will set down things seen as seen, things heard as heard, so that our book may be an accurate record, free from any sort of fabrication. And all who read this book or hear it may do so with full confidence, because it contains nothing but the truth." (Auster 7)

Just as the phrase, "it goes without saying..." really means that it does not go without saying (because if it did go without saying, it would be unnecessary to say what follows), Auster's inclusion of this seemingly random citation is a method of encouraging the reader to consider the truth of the material being presented. The reader is encouraged to doubt everything (s)he reads, simply because it is stated to be true; although, as I will discuss later, Auster will contradict any semblance to truth that the text has.

The "author" later mirrors these same claims to fact when he states, "[s]ince this story is based entirely on facts, the author feels it is his duty not to overstep the bounds of the verifiable, to resist at all costs the perils of invention" (Auster 135). This is a very firm statement, in which, the "author" takes the claims of Marco Polo and makes them his own. Auster(a) does, however, provide further clues to the deception being practiced by the "author" of his text. Throughout the novel the "author" makes the repeated statement: "In his dream, which he later forgot, he found himself..." (10, 87, 126). With his brief descriptions of these dreams, the "author" provides vivid images that are symbolic of the events of the story and therefore function well in the story world. However, the reader should not trust a narrator who, in the same breath, vividly describes dreams that the protagonist "later forgot." When did he forget them? The "author" has already informed us that "for many months now [Quinn] had not remembered any of his dreams" (6). The "author" now claims a level of omniscience that points to his inability "to resist [...] the perils of invention," contradicting himself and further calling into question his reliability.

Through the course of the novel we learn that Auster(c) is a writer, but we know nothing about the implied author except his consistent referral to himself as "the author" (135), which happens more and more frequently as the novel progresses. In fact, we only learn a few facts about him in the last few pages of the book. We learn that he has just returned from Africa and is a friend of Auster(c)'s; therefore, he is not an omniscient narrator but one who is also engaged in a "detective's activity of piecing together the facts of a case" (Sorapure 75). At best this "author" has a relationship with Daniel Quinn within two degrees of separation, yet he claims to know the intimate workings of his mind, including the contents of dreams that Quinn was unable to remember. This means that the facts of the narrator preclude any claims he may make to understand the inner workings of Quinn's mind.

The author does, at the end of the text, admit to a degree of competency that is perhaps not perfect: "I have followed the red notebook as closely as I could, and any inaccuracies in the story should be blamed on me" (Auster 158). Cleverly placed on the last page of the novel, when it is too late for the reader to go forward with the firm knowledge (as opposed to the hints received earlier) that the "facts" (s)he may encounter are potentially inaccurate, Auster does not fully point toward the untrustworthiness of his narrator until it is already too late to warn the reader. This admission has a devastating effect on the reader's perception of the "author"/narrator. Instead of taking the story with a grain of salt, as the reader could if fully armed with the knowledge of an unreliable narrator, the reader is now encouraged to discredit the entire story. Not knowing in retrospect what was true and what was "inaccurate," the reader is left with no other choice but to discredit everything (s)he has read in the novel.

Like Auster, Valenzuela challenges the trustworthiness of the narrator. Her narrator is called into question not due to reliability of facts, but through a constant questioning of the identity of the narrator. The voice of the narrator can change voices at any time, and presumably, its identity. (The voice or the identity of the narrator can change at any time.) Assuming the narrator in all of the "Capital" scenes is the same person, the reader has encountered four narrators by page 53 when the Egret is introduced as a character/narrator. More importantly, the voice of the narrator has switched about thirty times before this point. Valenzuela questions the trustworthiness of the narrator by causing the reader to question the identity of the narrator. By keeping the reader in a state of confusion as to who is speaking, Valenzuela creates a muddling of voices that precludes the assumption of one "author"ity. Through the use of three different autodiegetic (character as narrator) narrators and intrusion upon these of narration in which the narrator is not identified, the reader does not know where to look for the "truth." If the reader does not know who is speaking, (s)he does not have any justification for believing or disbelieving anything that has been presented as fact.

Just as we saw in Auster, Valenzuela calls into question the trustworthiness of the narrator through more subtle means long before she informs the reader that the narrator is not a person that can be trusted. The first section of the novel is devoted predominately to the autodiegetic narration of the Sorcerer. The ability of the Sorcerer to interject his thoughts and words into the discourse of the text is realized on the first page during "The Prophecy" in which his words occupy more space than the prophecy itself. This confounds the understanding of the text for the reader. For example, the first two lines of "The Prophecy" read, "A river will flow / (I want to flow with it)" (Valenzuela prologue), wherein the parenthetical reference may be the interjected speech of the Sorcerer into "The Prophecy." Because every reader brings to a text the passive knowledge of all previous texts that (s)he has read, it can be presumed that most readers would have encountered a recitation of poetry, a proverb, or some other form of verse in his/her past reading. This prophecy, presented in verse form, contradicts the reader's expectation by containing the interjected thoughts of the Sorcerer. The reader is faced with the inability of the "author" to control her own story. If a text, expected to be narrated by an unknown narrator, is interjected with the thoughts of others, the reader then questions the source and motivation of all narration.

Valenzuela(c) finally explains her inability to control the Sorcerer and his control over her story in section two when she says, "There's an affinity in the voice as I narrate him, sometimes our pages are indistinguishable" (126). Even if the reader feels that (s)he can trust a certain narrative voice, i.e. Valenzuela(c)'s, that trust is negated by the fact that each voice is "indistinguishable" from another. This makes any scene involving the Sorcerer untrustworthy because Valenzuela(c) discerns that the affinity occurs as she "narrate[s] him," which allows and even encourages the reader to believe that narration not involving the Sorcerer is trustworthy as, for example, in the "Capital" scenes.

Valenzuela(c) demonstrates the unreliability of the narrator when, at the end of section "Too," she gives up writing the biography in order to silence the Sorcerer: "In this simple ceremony I abandon the pen. [¥] By being silent now, I think I can make you silent" (227). One would think that when the "author" gives up writing the text then the protagonist would cease to exist and, in fact, that the entire novel would cease to exist. However, on the following page we run into the Sorcerer yet again with the defiant, "How well I feel today... How free" (231). He will not die even if she has given up the task of keeping him alive. The Sorcerer has again demonstrated that Valenzuela(c) does not have control over the text.

The narration continues, even after the "author" has given up, which is central the question of the author function. As Barthes states: "[...] writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin" (253). Valenzuela demonstrates this by silencing the "author" in the text and allows the text's continuation without an author long past the point when she is silenced. The continuation of the story not only questions the reliability of the narrator, it points to Valenzuela(a)'s belief in the life of the text beyond the influence of the author.

Just as Auster and Valenzuela have questioned the trustworthiness of the narrator, they also call into question the identity of narrators and other characters: The author's name is a proper name, and therefore it raises the problems common to all proper names. [...] Obviously, one cannot turn a proper name into a pure and simple reference. It has other than indicative functions: more than an indication, a gesture, a finger pointed at someone, it is the equivalent of a description (Foucault 105).

Auster and Valenzuela show, through these works, how clearly they understand and agree with Foucault. Both make a cat and mouse game of authorship and the identity of the author by delaying the death of the "author," characters and the author.

City of Glass is a labyrinth of identities in which the challenge to the reader is to keep track of who is speaking and through what voice that person is speaking. The true identity of every author is questionable (Little 140). This labyrinth of identities is depicted through a constant switching of pseudonyms and questionable authorship. Peter Stillman, Sr. quotes heavily, in his published dissertation, from a text written by a man named Henry Dark, a.k.a. Humpty Dumpty. The reader learns that this text was actually written by Peter Stillman, Sr. under a pseudonym (96). The protagonist of the story, Daniel Quinn, has published poetry under his own name, but his most recent occupation has been writing detective novels under the pseudonym of William Wilson. However, Quinn believes less in William Wilson than he does in his detective protagonist, Max Work: "If he [Quinn] lived now in the world at all, it was only at one remove, through the imaginary person of Max Work" (10). Quinn questions his identity not only through his use of a pseudonym, but also through the claim that he lives only through his protagonist Max Work. It is as if Quinn no longer encounters the world himself. He must go through other personalities. He continues this when he takes on the persona of Paul Auster(d).

Quinn and Peter Stillman Sr. do not just use pseudonyms to publish their writings; they have taken on the personas of their respective "proper names." Stillman becomes the madman, Henry Dark, who writes revolutionary ideas about the Tower of Babel that he uses to justify the abuse of his son. It could be argued that Stillman was mad before he wrote his dissertation. In any event he had become a man that was not the Peter Stillman the public expected or whom his family knew and loved. Likewise, Quinn is looking for an escape from the world, and his first course of action is to take on different personas, to see if he feels differently inside them. After trying on Auster(d) for size, the narrator tells the reader: "Something told [Quinn] that he had captured the right tone, and a sudden sense of pleasure surged through him, as though he had just managed to cross some internal border within himself" (40). In this, Quinn has taken the first step toward fully escaping his own identity. He has crossed the border between his own identity and that of someone else and, perhaps, found the right one.

Furthermore, Auster(c) calls into question the identity of Cervantes and the authorship of Don Quixote when he states, "the book inside the book Cervantes, wrote the one he imagined he was writing" (117). Cervantes, he says, went to great pains to make it clear that he had not written the novel but simply edited a translation of the text from the original written by Cid Hamete Benengeli. Cervantes claims all of the events in the book are real, yet Cid Hamete never appears as a character in the novel, so it could not have been written by Hamete (118-119). Auster(c)'s theory is that Cid Hamete Benengeli was a pseudonym for four characters in Don Quixote because one would need to be a character in order to witness these "real" events, and only the four men, Sancho Panza, the barber, the priest and Samson Carrasco, could have witnessed those events.

Even when we think we know someone's real name, the stability of that name is somehow called into question. "I am Peter Stillman... That is not my real name" (18). While, Peter Stillman, Jr. has an odd manner of speech, his repeated use of the phrase, "That is not my real name," makes us wonder what his real name really is. The phrase and its repetition are so infective that Quinn ends up using it himself: "¥listen to me. My name is Paul Auster. That is not my real name" (49), which calls into question his identity once again. The reader is aware that Quinn is not Paul Auster, but the reader is getting used to the idea that he is Paul Auster. With two Peter Stillmans, Henry Dark, Humpty Dumpty, William Wilson, Max Work and now Paul Auster(d), it is plausible to the reader that Quinn can just pick a name and live as the person he chooses. We already know he is prone to this, as he lives "at one remove" through Max Work. Why not then, Paul Auster?

After all, Quinn was certainly beginning to enjoy it: The effect of being Paul Auster, he had begun to learn, was not altogether unpleasant. Although he still had the same body, the same mind, the same thoughts, he felt as though he had somehow been taken out of himself, as if he no longer had to walk around with the burden of his own consciousness. By a simple trick of intelligence, a deft little twist of naming, he felt incomparably lighter and freer. (50)

It seems that being Paul Auster is something just about anyone can do, even the reader. All it takes is "a simple trick of intelligence," and Quinn can be whomever he wants to be, including the author of the text in which he is the protagonist. This is a way of behavior we have come to expect from Daniel Quinn. He seems to enjoy trying on other names. In fact, through the course of the novel he refers to himself with several different pseudonyms, Paul Auster being just one of many.

If all it takes is some intelligence and a different name to be someone else, how do we explain the intrusion of the author himself into the narrative? The answer is, on the surface, quite simple. Because Auster is demonstrating the death of the Author, it is important that the Author of the text appear in the story. This allows him to more clearly kill the author. For all other authors the death is a metaphorical one. By disposing of himself as author, Auster has made the death a more literal one. In this sense I am suggesting interchangeability between Auster(a) and Auster(c); when the reader is introduced to Auster(c) he is a stand-in for Auster in more ways than just a namesake. As Carl D. Malmgren points out, "The Paul Auster that Quinn calls on in the novel is an aspiring writer with a wife of Norwegian extraction named Siri and a son named Daniel, just like the 'real' Paul Auster, the one whose name appears on the cover of the novel" (195). The knowledge of the similarity between the two Austers makes their interchangeability only a metatextual leap. Even though Auster can describe himself and even his family in the text, this is still nothing more than a representation of the author in the text, "a gesture."

The role of the author as a character in City of Glass is similar to the one I have discussed and will further discuss with Valenzuela's text. Like Valenzuela(c), Paul Auster(c) is somehow expected to take responsibility for the story. "As for Auster, I am convinced that he behaved badly throughout. If our friendship has ended, he has only himself to blame" (158). The narrator is criticizing the character/author for not having taken better care of Quinn and for having allowed him to disappear. This is perhaps too heavy of a criticism coming from the narrator. It would be one thing for him to criticize Auster(a) for not having saved Quinn, for it is in his hands alone that Quinn lives or dies. However, what was Auster(c) supposed to do, tie him down? Besides, he is only dragged into this mess because Quinn decides to impersonate him. It is not a character that should be called to task for the disappearance of Quinn, but Paul Auster himself. Auster(a) has provided for the criticizing of his behavior, however, because as I am discussing the author's function is being called into question, there is no one to criticize. If the author is dead, who can take responsibility for Quinn?

The questioning of identity in The Lizard's Tail is not wrapped as much in names as it is in City of Glass. There are, however, a few analogous questions of identity that do persist. We never learn the true full name of the Sorcerer, the Egret, or the Dead Woman. We are expected to learn these either from research, or through previous knowledge of the history of Argentina. The Sorcerer is the fictional equivalent of the Minister of Well-Being to Isabel Perón, José López Rega. Likewise, the Dead Woman is the spirit of Eva Perón (Gartner 203, 212). With the exception of Luisa Valenzuela, no one is referred to by his/her "real" name. These pseudonyms are not meant to confuse the reader, but they do come short of creating any metatextual clarity for the reader.

A further question of identity lies in that of the narrator. Who, indeed, is narrating the text? The reader is given different clues at different times. We know that at some points the narrator is the Sorcerer: "It's certainly not worth mentioning that I am the protagonist, that point has been made only too clear, but now I'm also my antagonist and I'm growing bigger every day" (Valenzuela 48). Written in the "voice" of the Sorcerer before the introduction of Luisa Valenzuela(c), this statement makes it clear to the reader that the "I" is the narrator and the protagonist. In other words, the Sorcerer is in control of this story. He will be the narrator we rely on for information. He further claims control of the text by telling the reader: "My novel is working out marvelously" (Valenzuela 48). He is not only claiming control over the story, he is claiming ownership of the entire novel.

This claiming of the novel is a further complication in the battle between the Sorcerer and Valenzuela(c) to maintain control of the text. As they battle for control, they perform a dance in which "¥both the male and the female narrators are at once the active and the passive subjects of [the] discourse. Like the writers they will simultaneously weave their tales and be woven into them" (Magnarelli 50). This simultaneous weaving creates ambiguity as to the identity of the narrator at times. In fact, there are many passages in which the narration cannot be attributed to anyone with any assurance. For example: "The colonel withdraws when General Durañona enters, and the president comes straight to the point" (43). This sentence, marking the first intrusion by a narrator into a "Capital" scene, is attributable to no one. This inability to attribute the identity of the narrator to any given person creates a sense of the disappearance of a narrator. The reader expects the narrator to be some sort of guiding force that is keeping the story moving along the right path, and when that path cannot be established, the entire identity of the narrator is further challenged.

At the beginning of part "Too," Valenzuela(c) is introduced to the reader through a curious form of address. She opens the section by saying, "I, Luisa Valenzuela, swear by these writings that I will try to do something about all this¥" (Valenzuela 125). Just as the introduction of Auster into his own text was unexpected on the part of the reader, the same applies to the text of Valenzuela(a). It is in this section that the reader first understands the battle between the Sorcerer and Valenzuela. Her wanting "to do something about all this" is an admission that the story is not in her control and that she is going to attempt to take that control back. We then follow her through her many adventures, including an aborted attempt to attend a ball thrown by the Sorcerer. Like Auster(c), Valenzuela(c) is roughly equivalent to the author Luisa Valenzuela. Although we are not given as much information about Valenzuela(c) as Auster(c), a woman does say to her, "I had black hair and curls, too... I had curls just like yours" (Valenzuela 135). The reader, at least of this edition, need only look at the back cover to find that Luisa Valenzuela indeed has black, curly hair. This adds to the fact that both Valenzuelas are Argentine writers, who share a common name, and the reader can make the assumption that the author and Valenzuela(c) are roughly equivalent. Knowing that the two women look alike, and that one is in the process of writing a biography of the Sorcerer, while we are reading a biography of the Sorcerer, is enough information for the reader to equate Luisa Valenzuela with Luisa Valenzuela(c).

Having discussed the trustworthiness of the narrators, the identities of characters and the author, it is time to get down to the business of killing the author. As Roland Barthes states in his essay "The Death of the Author": As soon as a fact is narrated no longer with a view to acting directly on reality but intransitively, that is to say, finally outside of any function other than that of the very practice of the symbol itself, this disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins." (Barthes 253) The author remains alive as long as the written text is composed with a "view to acting directly on reality." If the author is trying to accomplish something through his/her writing then (s)he remains alive, both within and outside the text. For example, when Valenzuela(c) states, "I tell his story so his existence won't go unnoticed. [...] Something has to be done" (Valenzuela 126), she acknowledges that there is a purpose to her writing. If it is a factual account, hopefully she can affect a change in her country by making people aware of this tragedy. If she is successful in publishing her biography, according to Barthes, Valenzuela(c) will not die as an author.

As Madeline Sorapure claims in "The Detective and the Author: City of Glass," "Auster's speculations about the authorship of Don Quixote clearly have reverberations for the model of authorship enacted in City of Glass. His theory, in effect, writes Cervantes entirely out of the picture" (Sorapure 84). Just as Auster(c) removes Cervantes from authorship of Don Quixote, Auster works, through the removal of all authors, to remove any trace of himself, the author, inside his text. He does this so thoroughly that at the end of the text every author has disappeared/died. For instance, Peter Stillman Sr. writes his last work "THE TOWER OF BABEL" (Auster 85) rambling through the streets of New York. While following Stillman, Quinn realizes that he has been mapping out letters as he wandered on his daily walks. Each day consists of a new letter. It seems that this is the summation of Peter Stillman Sr.'s career; for he takes leave of the mental institution he has been in for the last 13 years and begins his "writing" on the following day. After 15 days of wandering through the city, writing, he disappears. The reader later learns that he commits suicide.

Thus Auster(a) has removed the first author from the picture. In his path toward the complete obliteration of the author, and for Barthes it must be complete, "[...] writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin" (Barthes 253), Auster will kill or cause the disappearance of each of his authors. Quinn, in fact, works the entire novel in an attempt to disappear. He only works on the case in a futile attempt to do so. He wonders in the red notebook near the end of the novel, "To be inside that music, to be drawn into the circle of its repetitions: perhaps that is a place where one could finally disappear" (Auster 130). The reader has been aware of this desire to disappear from the outset. It is only after the death of his wife and son in a car accident that he takes his first steps into a pseudonym, preferring to live vicariously through Max Work than to live the pain of the loss he feels. Quinn discusses repeatedly the need to be someone else, to live through William Wilson, Max Work, and then Paul Auster(d).

Following Peter Stillman, the second to go is Max Work, and in short succession William Wilson. In the span of a paragraph Quinn reasons through both their deaths: "He remembered the books he had written under the name of William Wilson. In his heart, he realized that Max Work was dead. [¥] The two William Wilsons cancelled each other out, and that was all" (153). Early in the novel Quinn not only imagines that he lives "at one remove" through Max Work, he also likes to pretend that Max Work is the true author of his detective novels. It is logical then that Max will be the first to perish. Then, with the canceling out of William Wilson, we experience the death of the pseudonym under which all of Quinn's detective novels are published.

The next author to disappear is Quinn himself. In contrast to both Barthes and Foucault, it is not through writing that Quinn is able to disappear, but the abandonment of all communication. He survives without human contact for months while he continues to write in the red notebook, which keeps him alive. When the red notebook is finished with the ominous question, "¥What will happen when there are no more pages in the red notebook?'" (157), Quinn disappears. He survives for years following the death of his son and wife, "as if he had managed to outlive himself" (6), while writing as William Wilson. Then, in the interim between novels, he takes on the persona of Paul Auster(d), which keeps him alive for another few months. It is unclear how long after the end of the red notebook that Quinn stays alive in the apartment; we only know he is not there when the narrator and Auster(c) go to the Stillman apartment to look for him. It seems that the act of writing, paradoxically, keeps Quinn from disappearing. However, it is not enough to put off his disappearance in perpetuity. Sooner or later the writing process has to end, and with its end comes the end of Quinn.

Not surprisingly, Auster pulls out of the text himself, and thus dies, giving control to the unnamed narrator: "As for Auster¥ If our friendship has ended, he has only himself to blame" (158). This statement on the part of the narrator effectively writes Auster(c) out of the picture, as the narrator claims control over the entire narrative. Along with the disappearance of Auster(c) it is important to note the most curious "death" of the text. The "real" Paul Auster(d) never does appear in the text. The reader encounters Daniel Quinn as Paul Auster(d), and Paul Auster as Paul Auster(c), but the actual detective Auster(d), the one Quinn impersonates when contacted by the Stillmans, is never found. Having once practiced as a private investigator in New York, he has disappeared, and no one knows how to find him. This Paul Auster(d) is, I believe, Paul Auster, the author, and the search for the detective is the search for the author. According to Foucault:

Using all the contrivances he sets up between himself and what he writes, the writing subject [author] cancels out the signs of his particular individuality. As a result, the mark of the writer is reduced to nothing more than the singularity of his absence; he must assume the role of the dead man in the game of writing (Foucault 102-3).

This points to the fact that Paul Auster, the author, is nowhere to be found in the text. Quinn can look for him, even Auster(c) could have looked for him, but he would never be found.

Valenzuela sets up the disappearance of the narrator when she acknowledges her existence within the text and discusses the power of the Sorcerer to take control of her story: "I know now that he, too, is writing a novel that superimposes itself on this one and is capable of nullifying it" (Valenzuela 125). The Sorcerer is capable of "killing" Valenzuela(c), the author, by taking over her story. She has not had control over the story from the outset. Her insertion into the text is a hope that her more overt presence will give her the power she needs. However, she only succeeds in furthering her own disappearance. She has control over her own narrative only when she is narrating her own story, not his. He is not concerned with her story and thus allows it to continue unimpeded.

Valenzuela(c) enacts her own "death," a form of literary suicide, at the end of section "Too." After having attempted to write the story from an authorial base, by inserting herself in the narrative, she decides that the only way to silence the Sorcerer is to silence herself (227). With her signature she removes herself from the narrative, but it continues without her. She, the narrator has disappeared, yet the text continues. The Sorcerer remains to tell the tale of his continued adventures. Thus, the author is not needed for the text to be written. Writing can survive without an author.

Although the Sorcerer continues the narrative, he himself eventually comes to an end, which again can be considered the death of author. Since the voices of the Sorcerer and Valenzuela(c) intermingle in the production of the text (126), it is not enough for just one of them to disappear. They must both be removed from the text for there to be a complete disappearance of the author. In the last pages the Sorcerer "gives birth" to his son, which is the literal death of him. At this point, even he, who has been left in control of the narrative with the death of Valenzuela, has died out, yet the writing continues on. The Egret takes the torch of narrator and carries on until he collapses at the foot of the pyramid, atop which the Sorcerer lies dead (Valenzuela 278-279). Not wanting to let the idea go too quickly, Valenzuela(a) continues the narrative for one more page after the "death" of Valenzuela(c), the Sorcerer, and the Egret. This continuation further reinforces the existence of writing beyond the realm of the author. Every author's voice in the text has been silenced, yet the text goes on without him/her.

In conclusion, Auster and Valenzuela have very meticulously and very thoroughly brought about the death of the author in their works, City of Glass and The Lizard's Tail. As William Little states in his analysis of City of Glass: "It is a desperate critical effort, made by an other reader at the very moment the book is cracked (open), to establish a primal unity for the work by locating an original literary site, to reach the Author at a permanent address" (Little 148). I have gone in search of the author and not only never found the address, I was assured that they would not be home if I got there. The trustworthiness of the narrator is challenged through questioning the identities of the narrators and their credibility as narrators, as well as their constant claims to be placing the truth before the reader. Both further challenge the position of the author by presenting authors of ambiguous identity and authority. By placing themselves in the text as character, they blur the line between their identities as intertextual and metatextual identities.

"The question is the story itself, and whether or not it means something is not for the story to tell" (Auster 3). With this in mind, the task of establishing the "death" of the author in the text would be the responsibility of the reader. However, both Valenzuela and Auster have attempted to wrest this control out of the hands of the reader and place it back in the text, leaving the reader without a doubt as to the status of the author. In the light of postmodern theory, it is clear that both believe in Barthes concept of the death of the author. In standard literature the author exists only as a metatextual device outside the text. By including the author in their works, they have pointed to this idea, and applauded it, while at the same time deconstructing their own roles as authors. In response to Foucault and his question of "What Is an Author?" and Barthes's question of the death of the Author, Auster and Valenzuela proudly proclaim, "We are Author and we are dead."

1 Auster(a) will be used to refer to the author Paul Auster, while Auster(c) and Auster(d) will refer to Auster the character and Auster the detective respectively.
2 I will use Valenzuela when referring to Luisa Valenzuela the author, and Valenzuela(c) when referring to Valenzuela the character.
3 The term "author" (in quotes) will be used in reference to the implied author. In Auster the implied author is the unnamed friend, in Valenzuela the implied author is Valenzuela(c). The term author (without quotes) will refer to the actual author of the text.

Works Cited

Auster, Paul. "City of Glass." The New York Trilogy. New York: Penguin Books 1990. 1-158.

Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author." Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature. Ed. David H. Richter. Boston / New York: Bedford/St. Martin's 2000. 253-257.

Deggerich, Georg. "Watching the Detectives: Identitätssuche und Identitätsverlust in Paul Austers New York Trilogy." "As strange as the world": Annäherungen an das Werk des Erzählers und Filmemachers Paul Auster. Eds. Andreas Lienkamp, Wolfgang Werth, and Christian Berkemeier. Münster/Hamburg/London: Lit Verlag 2002. 119-130. (Quoted from: Holzapfel, New York Trilogy)

Foucault, Michel. "What Is an Author?". Trans. Josué V. Harari. The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books 1984. 101-120.

Gartner, Bruce S. "'Un Regodeo en el Asco': Dismembered Bodies in Luisa Valenzuela's The Lizard's Tail." Indiana Journal of Hispanic Literatures. 2.2 1994. 203-225.

Little, William G. "Nothing To Go On: Paul Auster's City of Glass." Contemporary Literature. 38.1 1997. 133-164.

Magnarelli, Sharon. "Framing Power in Luisa Valenzuela's Cola De Lagartija [The Lizard's Tail] and Isabel Allende's Casa De Los Espiritus [The House of the Spirits]." Salmagundi. 82-83. 1989. 43-62.

Malmgren, Carl D. "Detecting/Writing the Real: Paul Auster's City of Glass." [TITLE?] Ed. Theo D'haen and Hans Bertens. Amsterdam/Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1995. 177-201.

Rubio, Patricia. "Fragmentation in Luisa Valenzuela's Narrative." Splintering Darkness: Latin American Women Writers in Search of Themselves. Ed. Lucia Guerra Cunningham. Pittsburgh, PA: Latin American Literary Review Press Series: Exploitations 1990. 287-296.

Sorapure, Madeleine. "The Detective and the Author: City of Glass." Beyond the Red Notebook. Ed. Dennis Barone. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press 1995. 71-87.

Valenzuela, Luisa. The Lizard's Tail. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. London: Serpent's Tail 1987.

Back to top







Home | Back Issues | blog | Store | Links | Submissions | About | Contact

© 2004 Comparative Literature Student Association at San Francisco State University
design: landisdesigns.com