26 September 2007

Scattered notes on ephemeral illusions, Part III

(Last page of notes on The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster...with spoilers. Parts I and II here and here.)
  • Travels in the Scriptorium: a novel by Martin Frost in a film by Hector Mann (supposedly destroyed) in a novel by Paul Auster. It is also another novel by Paul Auster. (And I'll bet that the reference made Auster's film too. Whew!)
  • After thinking about Berkeley, I began to wonder if the entire Book of Illusions isn't some sort of illusion itself (with "Tierra del Sueño" being the clue from the very beginning). Some of the joke is at Martin's expense: "The chair appears to be solid, but no sooner does he lower his weight onto it than it splinters into a dozen pieces. Martin goes tumbling to the floor."
  • Martin Frost (giving in to Kierkegaard):
    Claire was asking me to make a leap of faith, and rather than go on pressing her, I decided to close my eyes and jump. I had no idea what was waiting for me at the bottom, but that didn't mean it wasn't worth the risk.
  • Claire quotes Kant to Martin:
    ...things which we see are not by themselves what we see...so that, if we drop our subject or the subjective form of our senses, all qualities, all relations of objects in space and time, nay space and time themselves, would vanish.
  • Martin burns his work...destroying it to save her instead. The work dies to keep Inspiration/the Muse alive. If the work is finished, she is gone. Obviously, the film works as a philosophical object lesson. But what does it say about the other burned work in this novel? Of Hector's 14 films, supposedly destroyed? Were they destroyed? This particular film of Hector's demonstrates how Hector himself was able to survive. (And it's filmed in his own house, mentioning he and his wife by name.) So The Inner Life of Martin Frost is then itself destroyed. These films have kept Zimmer alive...they're destroyed...yet the parallels break down when he loses Alma as well. But does the fact that Auster has given filmic existence to Martin Frost prove that something survived the burning? Later, Zimmer muses, "For better or worse, it seems that the philosophers were right. Nothing that happens to us is ever lost." In the next paragraph, he and Alma eat cheese sandwiches after watching the film...
  • And then comes Doubt #2:
    They had worked together for only four days, but in that time they had established a tradition of sharing cheese sandwiches in the stockroom during their half-hour lunch break. Now she continued to show up with the cheese sandwiches, and they continued to spend those half hours talking about books.
    This passage is from page 135 and describes Hector and Nora O'Fallon. More echoes, allusions, illusions. What's really going on here?
  • In that same paragraph where Alma and Zimmer eat cheese sandwiches, he muses,
    Martin burned his story in order to rescue Claire from the dead, but it was also Hector rescuing Brigid O'Fallon, also Hector burning his own movies, and the more things had doubled back on themselves like that, the more deeply I had entered the film.
    But how deeply does Zimmer actually enter into it and how much is actually doubling back on Zimmer?
  • His realizations of what's been going on all along (pp. 240-243) chillingly reflect back onto himself and the book that no one is supposed to see until after his death.
  • Standing in Alma's bathroom, he casually mentions the Chanel No. 5. But... (Doubt #3)
    As luck would have it, I had given [Helen] a fresh supply of Chanel No. 5 for her birthday in March. By limiting myself to small doses twice a day, I was able to make the bottle last until the end of the summer.
  • It's possible that I'm reading way too deeply into this. But could it be a coincidence that we get repeated mention of certain objects in different contexts (either parallel or inverse)?
  • Alma titles her biography-in-progess, The Afterlife of Hector Mann.
  • The explanation of "Blue Stone Ranch" is equally chilling...a life "founded on an illusion."
  • Frieda's act of destruction against Alma parallels what Martin does to save Claire, but it's a grotesque inversion.
  • Yet the last word of the novel is "hope." He believes the films survived--that part of what he witnessed at Tierra del Sueño was an illusion, a deception. But the fact that the book itself is in my hands means that Zimmer is long gone. Did he ever learn the truth? Does Auster's act of providing us with The Inner Life of Martin Frost substantiate Zimmer's hope?


rjnagle said...

Nice to see your comments about this book, which I read/heard recently (although not with as much attention as you).

Auster's book is fascinating as a novel of ideas, and by the way, I'd love to see film version of the Hector Mann silents described in the book.

But as a novel I found it unduly melodramatic, especially near the end. I actually heard this novel on CD, so that may have influenced my opinion. Auster read the book himself; he read quickly and with lots of animation.

I think the book worked best in the flashbacks and tale-within-the-tale. The action in the present didn't have that mythical quality that the tableux did. The dramatization of the burning of the films seems a bit contrived; it's hard to convey the sense of time well.

If the novel inspired my interest in something, it was Chateaubriand (who has not been translated into English, unfortunately).

Pessoa has been popping up in lots of odd places recently for me. Oddly, this novel reminded me a lot of Canetti's Auto-da-fe (not to mention Millhauser).

amcorrea said...

Thanks for the comments, Robert! The drama *is* pretty constant in this one--although I'm sure Auster's reading probably would tip the scales toward that dreaded "M" word. The last-minute revelations had me going back and re-evaluating the entire book...which is why I read so deeply into the repetitions of the cheese sandwiches and Chanel No. 5, and questioned Brigid's cause of death in light of the way her body fell. It seems that Zimmer could be creating his own illusions as well as witnessing those of others.

I haven't yet read Canetti--thanks for the tip! It looks like a fascinating book.