Paul Auster — The Vale of Soul-Making

Impossible, I realize, to enter another’s solitude. If it is true that we can ever come to know another human being, even to a small degree, it is only to the extent that he is willing to make himself known. A man will say: I am cold. Or else he will say nothing, and we will see him shivering. Either way, we will know that he is cold. But what of the man who says nothing and does not shiver? Where all is tractable, where all is hermetic and evasive, one can do no more than observe. But whether one can make sense of what he observes is another matter entirely. 

— Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude. (Sun Publishing 1982)

Paul Auster — The Vale of Soul-Making

Paul Auster’s New York

New York was an inexhaustible space, a labyrinth of endless steps, and no mater how far he walked, no matter how well he came to know its neighborhood and streets, it always left him with the feeling of being lost. Lost, not only in the city, but within himself as well. Each time he took a walk, he felt as though he were leaving himself behind, and giving himself up to the movement of the streets, by reducing himself to a seeing eye, he was able to escape the obligation to think, and this, more than anything else, brought him to a measure of peace, a salutary emptiness within… Motion was of the essence, the act of putting one foot in front of the other and allowing himself to follow the drift of his own body. By wandering aimlessly, all places became equal, and it no longer mattered where he was. On his best walks, he was able to feel that he was nowhere. And this, finally, was all he ever asked of things: to be nowhere. New York was the nowhere he had built around himself, and he realized that he had no intention of ever leaving it again.

Paul Auster in City of Glass as quoted in Paul Auster’s New York, Henry Hold and Company, New York)

Paul Auster’s New York

The feeling that emerges from these glimpses of city life is roughly equivalent to what one feels when looking at a photograph. Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” is perhaps the crucial idea to remember in this context. The important thing is readiness:  you cannot walk out into the street with the expectation of writing a poem or taking a picture, and yet you must be prepared to do so whenever the opportunity presents itself. Because the “work” can come into being only when it has been given to you by the world, you must be constantly looking at the world.

From: The Art of Hunger, as quoted in Paul Auster’s New York, Henry Hold and Company, New York)