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Contemporary Experimental Narratives
ENGL 146EN - Fall 2003,  Rita Raley
Thu, 10/16

Critical commentary on City of Glass

"In this postmodernist version of the detective genre, rather than the final working out of the initial puzzle, we are left with what Stefano Tani in The Doomed Detective describes as 'the decentering and chaotic admission of mystery, of non-solution' (40)....Many who write about the detective story have pointed out that the detective is a kind of reader, a decoder of signs, of the clues that the scenario of the crime throws up....In the postmodern world, however, things have become more complicated. Clues no longer point to anything certain; signifiers have drifted away from what they signify; and what Peter Huhn refers to as 'a general lack of confidence in the efficacy of reading' has arisen (462)....
Quinn is roused from this invisible existence when a midnight phone call gives him a chance, like Don Quixote whose initials he shares, to inhabit and make real one of his own fictions. Don Quixote manages to turn himself into a medieval knight; Daniel Quinn is given the opportunity to play the detective. Like Don Quixote, he is able to do so only by first assuming another identity. The fact that by an amusing trick, this identify is apparently that of Paul Auster himself, the writer of the novel, illustrates the extent to which elements of instability and of self-reflexive fictionalizing have invaded all ideas of self and its manifestations in the postmodern world....
Throughout the book we are continually reminded of the unknowable nature of this world. In the Babel of New York, things stream across the eye in a series of disconnected atoms, and subject and object blur each other's image until we feel trapped in a universe of mirrors, a city of glass indeed. As the novel pointed out, in Poe's tale of the journey of Arthur Gordon Pym, the hieroglyphs that the hero discovers and that might be a form of the first tongue of Adam, though undecipherable, are inscribed on solid rock. The hieroglyphs that Stillman's wanderings seem to inscribe upon New York are inscribed in air or may simply be a figment of Quinn's imagination. Over the intervening century, the decipherment of the world has become so much more difficult. To seek for absolute knowledge and final solutions is, therefore, a form of madness."
- Norma Rowen, "The Detective in Search of the Lost Tongue of Adam: Paul Auster's City of Glass," Critique 32 (Summer 1991)


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