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  • Writer's pictureManos Tsakiris

Remembering Paul Auster

Updated: May 6

Why do we fall for particular authors ? It is often for reasons that one understands much later, if ever. In my case, it was first Albert Camus and then a bit later Paul Auster. I have kept returning to them both ever since.

It was Paul’s self-sustained worlds made up by his words that kept me going back, wanting to stay there, lying on my bed reading, and yet living elsewhere. Paul passed away yesterday (30th April 2024) and readers around the world, of past, current and future generations will keep returning to his Austerian worlds of chance and change. 

I feel very fortunate that I got to meet him a few times. My good friend and colleague, Katerina Fotopoulou, introduced me to Siri Hustvedt at the Neuropsychoanalysis conference in Berlin in 2011. By then, I was already an avid reader and admirer of Siri’s work, which starts from her novels and also spans the history of ideas, philosophy, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, psychology and neuroscience. What I loved will always be one of my favourite novels and perhaps the one that I have gifted most times to friends. Just like Paul, Siri has always been a unique voice in literature, at least among the writers I have read.  Theirs are among my most loved literary voices. 

Last time I met Siri and Paul was together with Katerina in June 2023 at their house in Brooklyn. Despite his ongoing treatment and complications, Paul looked well on the day. We were glad to see him enjoy a scotch and he was eager to share stories: about Paris - “I know it too well to just love it”- , about Bloodbath Nation and the photographs of his son-in-law, Spencer Ostrander, about movies and more, and about their grandchild that Sophie and Spencer were expecting back then. 

My son, now ten, likes a good story. He also likes sports. A couple of years ago I told him the story of how Paul became an author. 

Paul explains how his writing life began at the age of eight when he missed out on getting an autograph from his baseball hero, Willie Mays. After a baseball game he attended with his family and friends, Paul saw Willie Mays outside the stadium: 

“Timidly I went up to him and said Mr Mays 'May I please have your autograph' and he said 'Sure kid, sure, got a pencil?'. And I didn’t have a pencil, my father didn’t have a pencil, my mother didn’t have a pencil , their friends didn’t have pencils, and no one had a pen and then Wille May said 'Sorry kid, ain’t got no pencil, can’t give no autograph'. And then he left. And I was really very upset, I have to say, shaken, so disappointed. [...] But that was a big moment for me. After that day, I always made sure to walk around with a pencil in my pocket or a pen, cause I didn’t want to be caught unprepared again. And then, I conclude, as I like to tell my children that’s how I became a writer.

And I said to my son “Perhaps, just like Paul, you should always carry a pen with you. Cause you never know, you may see Kane or Mbappe in the street. What if they don’t have a pen? You better have one with you. And who knows ... you may end up being an author. “

I hope that my son will read Paul’s novels one day. In anticipation of that day, last summer I bought a nice edition of the New York Trilogy - the first of Paul’s books that I read when I was about fifteen or sixteen. When I saw Paul, I asked him if he could sign it for my son. 

True to himself, Paul retrieved a pen from his shirt pocket and wrote a touching dedication  to Ionas “in anticipation of the right moment for taking a look”.

I hope this moment will come, and that Ionas, as many more, will come to understand something new about the human condition through Paul’s writings. 

Death is often seen as the greatest common denominator of humanity. In 4 3 2 1 Paul Auster offers a different way of thinking about and feeling for our shared humanity when he describes the birth of Archibald Isaac Ferguson, a 'man of many parts': "several seconds after he emerged from his mother’s body, he was the youngest human being on the face of the earth". Since first reading it, I often think about this idea that for a very, very brief moment, each one of us has been the youngest human on planet earth with the opportunity and responsibility that comes with it. 

I find this focus on birth rather than death to be a more powerful way of emphasising our shared humanity and a more optimistic way of thinking about the past and future of humankind. 

Thank you Paul. 

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