Paul Auster’s Winter Journal (Book Acquired Some Time Over the July 4th Holiday)

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I was pleasantly surprised to find Paul Auster’s forthcoming memoir Winter Journal in the mail after being away for a week. I had mixed feelings about Auster’s last novel Sunset Park, but I dig his nonfiction, and I opened Winter Journal randomly to an episode where the adolescent Auster loses his virginity to a hooker in a passage that’s both tender and funny, so this one seems promising. (It’s also written entirely in the second person pronoun).

Publisher Henry Holt’s blurb:

Facing his sixty-third winter, internationally acclaimed novelist Paul Auster sits down to write a history of his body and its sensations—both pleasurable and painful.

Thirty years after the publication of The Invention of Solitude, in which he wrote so movingly about fatherhood, Auster gives us a second unconventional memoir in which he writes about his mother’s life and death. Winter Journal is a highly personal meditation on the body, time, and memory, by one of our most intellectually elegant writers.

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20 thoughts on “Paul Auster’s Winter Journal (Book Acquired Some Time Over the July 4th Holiday)”

  1. I was greatly distressed when Auster so publically came to the defense of Roman Polanski and his charge of rape of a minor girl back when extradition efforts were under way. Does meaningful, profound art trump the commission of crimes? That is a relevant question regarding Polanski, and by defending him, regarding Auster as well. I have all of Auster’s fiction up until recently, and greatly enjoyed it. Now all of this leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Auster, as a member of PEN, has been part of championing human rights; I would think those rights would extend to a drugged 12 year old girl.

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    1. I haven’t read/seen Auster’s defense/support of Polanski, but I know that many, many directors were outspoken in his defense as well (I’m not 100%, but I think Tarantino, Scorsese, and Woody Allen (*ahem*) were among them).

      I think the relationship between great art and crime is complicated, or at least complicated after the 19th or 20th century—simply put, after the late 19th century, great art tends to be transgressive or break taboo or just generally upset people.
      But:
      Marcel Duchamp calling a urinal art, or Jean Cocteau’s dark Beauty and the Beast riff, or William Burroughs’s very existence (etc.): not the same as child rape, obviously.
      Still:
      History is full of awful people who happened to be great artists (or vice versa, if you like), and history will bear out the importance of Polanski’s films.

      Heidegger was a Nazi; Gertrude Stein, Knut Hamsun, and many others were Nazi sympathizers.
      I’m riffing here, but my point, I guess, is that the author or artist or auteur is *not* the same as the art.

      William Gaddis writes about this all the time in his novels, pointing out that the conflation of the artist with the art is this great mistake of modernity (he pins the blame on Byron).

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      1. What complicates things is when artists use their status as artists to speak about moral matters. If Auster limited himself to comments on the craft and artistry of creative writing then he could be engaged on that plane. I don’t believe art serves political purposes, a la Marxist theory, but nor is it wholly disconnected from matters of our common humanity.

        Does the same blurring of roles exist for other professions? How about clergy? Great sermons, but too bad about that pederasty…? I’m not an ‘all or nothing’ sort of thinker, and believe gray areas exist….but I have a hard time when it comes to that sort of sexual misconduct, or its defense. Or how about someone like Wendall Berry, whose bona fides as thinker is his agrarian/communitarian background….and yet his cash crop was tobacco, which has caused untold damage to people’s lives, increased health care costs, and so forth.

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        1. Is art extricable from morality? I mean the art, not the artist? (These are not rhetorical questions, but rather in earnest). And morality seems to have this temporal existence that we perceive as politics, or at least political rhetoric…
          I see what you mean about Auster’s position on PEN, of course.

          These are separate issues, largely I think, from anything that involves a child of course.

          And to be 100% unequivocally clear, I’m not defending Polanski’s crime. My last response was a two-beers-in riff, not any kind of endorsement.

          Polanski can’t come to the U.S. without being arrested. I mean, the U.S. tried to extradite him from Switzerland and failed I guess (or didn’t press hard enough), so our gov’t, the supposed will of the people, has shown condemnation; I also seem to recall that the French and Poles also favored his extradition. I’m not saying that this is punishment enough, just pointing out that Auster, Allen, Lynch et al are not the official line on this one.

          Had no idea about Wendell Berry re: tobacco, which is another one of those, oh geez moments, specifically b/c he writes so often about hidden costs of our relationships to plant and soil.

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  2. I agree that the art must be kept separate from the artist, and that is precisely what is so disturbing about anyone who supports this man. If it is indeed to be kept separate, people should be saying: “Fuck this pedophile–I hope he rots in prison…but his movies are great”. We should be honoring his films as great films, while at the same time be hoping for his incarceration. I don’t understand why people will defend him as a person (and support his exoneration) because of his art, and then go on to say that he and his art should be kept separate. We’re talking about a guy who drugged and anally raped a kid–this shouldn’t be so controversial.

    Lynch also supports him; I was sad to see that.

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    1. I think the complication though—one that my earlier comment elides, unwittingly, mostly because I hadn’t thought it through, or because I chucked it all out to “history”!—the complication though is that if I go see or rent or buy a Polanski film in a way I am supporting him, at least in a financial sense.

      But, yeah, in a larger sense, it’s sad to see that his career has not only survived but flourished. See also: Chris Brown, Fatty Arbuckle, etc.

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  3. Nothing brings out the moralizing as much as some one else’s sin, sex most decidedly. All high flying words – art must be separate and not include…. the artist should be an exemplar of a higher consciousness… lots of CO2 discharge. Art is what is inside the frame, by definition, and can include politics and morality and be created for money – lest all of the art of most civilizations be redefined as not-art. What is art and what is not art cannot be defined by morality, politics, or beauty. In spite of his good moves on stage, I consider Michael Jackson the performer to be a repugnant disgusting filthy chicken Quean who took advantage of his great wealth and power to prey on young boys – some of whom were never seen again after they threatened to squeal, by the way. But, boy could he act out teeny bopper excellently. Common knowledge in Hollywood. In that same stretch of neighborhood where the boys are, there are lots of young ladies hustling for the thrill and bucks. Polanski was a ‘victim’ of believing that he was doing it with a legal age hustler, probably because he wanted to. It happened at a particularly hedonistic time in the American civilization, not in the neuter correct times of today. As far as I know it only happened on that occasion. It’s not as if he has an uncontrollable obsession. Give the guy a break – he had recently lost his family in a real life horror show. He had survived a childhood of the Nazi horror. Poland doesn’t claim him because after taking it up the kazoo from Stalin they are back to bending over for the Pope. France is well, you know, weird in its moral manifestations. As Jesus said, ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’. People will calmly sit through a movie depicting the chopping off of children’s body parts, but would object to viewing the depiction of an underage girl being sodomized. Get real about yourselves. Hollywood has to totally distort its own psyche in order to provide bread and circus for the depraved masses. All those movies about the last days of Rome are being played out today. Witness the political postulations we are being subjected to right now. Marat/Sade was correct in saying that you are perverts because you kill without passion.

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    1. Clyde,
      I totally agree that our culture, US culture in particular (Western perhaps in general) is hung up on sexuality, repressed in the ugliest way, etc.—but I think that this repression often manifests in hidden violence against children, who may or may not have agency within society. Your example of MJ is perfect here, because he was a child who was used , manipulated; he was the victim of violence as a child. Undoubtedly he recapitulated violence against children who had no agency to resist his (massive, cultural, economic power).
      I understand your sympathy for Polanski in that he believed what he was doing was okay—just like MJ believed what he was doing was normal or okay (or to make a huge jump, the many Nazis who believed what they were doing was normal or okay)—that Polanski’s crime likely occurred in a haze of drugs, psychological trauma, bad parenting, and a general culture of hedonism.
      For me though, ultimately it comes down to a question of agency, of power, and children (young children—I’m not dipping into the particulars of the Polanski case here) tend to lack power, agency, choice, the freedom to say no (if they even have the strength). I’m not trying to be alarmist—“think of the children!” here—but simply recognize that they often become victims of self-perpetuating power structures (Penn State) or rhetorical gambits of political rhetoric (“dear god, will someone think of the children!”)

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  4. I appreciate the opportunity to explore all of these issues. Really does come down to 1. what is art for, or what does it do? 2. what is the role of the artist in society? Any answers are going to be provisional I suspect, but that doesn’t mean they are not worth re-exploring. Maybe it is the last question that is most pertinent; put another way, ‘what is the source of authority of an artist in the larger world?’ Some of the most interesting writing out there, to me, comes from Latin America and Eastern Europe as writers address the intersection of art, changing societies, values.

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  5. Biblioklept, I think you made the right point about the wrongness of sex by a person of power/authority being directed towards a subjugate person. Sweden was the model for the sexually ‘liberated’ before the big gang bang of the 60’s/70’s. There are few sex crimes in Sweden, such as homosexuality, group sex, kinkiness, etc. But they distinctly disapprove of sex between teacher/student, boss/subordinate, adult/child. At least how the superior Scandinavian myth went.

    In Wendell Berry’s time, smoking tobacco was believed to have therapeutic effects. Really. I remember when cocaine became a hip crowd phenomenon. It was considered a tonic and similar to vitamins. The Founding Fathers spiked their snuff with it, etc.
    To hear some butter won’t melt in their mouth people tell it, we should tear up the Constitution and start over again because many of the signers owned slaves. While they are at it, the too moral to melt butter should burn down the Vatican because much of the art was done by perverts. Leonardo not only liked teen age boys, he never bathed. That is reprehensible in today’s sanitized, desert-like world. Nothing to post on Facebook about. We seem to have lost touch with the reality that we are a bag of bones with a tube inside designed to process living matter into feces. No matter how noble the thoughts of the bag.

    It is interesting to note how a broad subject can become so specious and line up the motes compulsive. A Tantra scholar said that western intellectuality thinks that it knows things because it can destroy them and examine the parts. A research scientist told me that ‘analysis’ means, quite literally, playing in shit. Which brings to mind the graffiti on the bathroom wall; oh, never mind that.

    Like art, sex is not separate from context. For example, when the sex scandals were in full flush in reference to the Roman church in the US, a staff member of a Roman church told me that priests preying on boys is customary in Europe. When the priest says ‘let us pray’ the altar boys snicker. Why that makes it right – they do it in Europe. I wonder how the European boys and their parents feel about that. Coercion is rape. If one let some early teens have their way with them, the adult would be bedded down. But that doesn’t make it right. Being the adult in the situation has a definition, including responsibility. Adult/child goes on in a lot of unsuspected places – this I am aware of – and I live an innocent life and do not seek out knowledge about things that do not involve me. But, I hear about it – for example, one of my father’s old Navy friends, who lives in the midwest related to us stories about seeing his neighbor’s 14 year old daughter hustling at the interstate truck stop – not because she wanted the money – it was for thrills. LA is a destination for lots (and lots) of castoff and unwanted kids. Some are sex adventurers and many of them hustle for food and ‘shelter’. Again, sin has a context, and Roman was partying in Lalaland. It is my understanding that he thought the child was older than whatever her age was. Time as well as the news media have a way of exaggerating the myth. Not having followed the news closely. It is also my understanding that this was a party time occurrence and he wasn’t out on the Boulevard looking for young flesh. He did wrong, but did he do it again? Are movies that he made before this unforgivable wrong okay and the ones afterward contaminated? I know a woman who didn’t want her husband to listen to K.D. >>>>. I asked her if she were afraid her husband would become a lesbian. If I find out that a gay person I know has been to Thailand, should I question his sexual activities there before having any more to do with him? How about a straight man? Girl children are available there, also. The entire Penn State disgrace is a prime example of being deceived by appearances, including not believing what you actually see. People seem to think that pederasts have little blinking lights that spell out ‘child molester’. And it couldn’t be true that Preacher Bob ran his hand up little Junie’s legs, because he is a ‘man of God’. I say a pox on them all because I can no longer feel comfortable being around children, not because they make me nervous, but because of the evil that lurks in the minds of those so lacking insight that they would gladly cast the first stone.

    If you want to unravel all wrong stitches from the rest of the garment, I fear that you’ll end up with a ball of twine and naked.

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  6. My continuing interest is in the purpose and role of art….and by extension, the artist…in the world. If it isn’t just icing on the cake of society–if it truly matters, which I believe–then there are some range of moral/ethical matters that are relevant for conversation.

    BTW, to set the record straight, Polanski knew the mother of the girl he raped; he suggested he could help with the girl’s career. He knew she was underage. She was not a prostitute. What he did was as planned out as what Sandusky did to the boys he groomed: a vulnerable child trusting an adult who was an authority figure. Polanski took it one step further: he gave a 13 yr old quualudes and champagne.

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  7. Yesterday or so I put a long long comment here in defense of Polanski. Not an abstract defense but a very concrete one. I am sorry but I do not have the energy to redo it. Any ideas where it might have gone?

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  8. Shit. I have to dammit. This happened in the mid 1970’s. At the time I lived in Powelton Village in West Philadelphia between Drexel and Penn. A Quaker settled neighborhood with hippies and college professors and plenty of sexy 13 and 14 year old girls strutting their stuff. Ira Einhorn lived just up the street, the King of the Hippies, the founder of Earth Day and the murderer of his lover Holly Maddux. My niece had to come stay with me for a few months and she was 14, blonde, beautiful and the object of older hippie male eyes. She loved it, loved the attention. For the one and only time the Philadelphia School system was on strike, the private schools were filled to the ceilings, and I had to work. I would not find out until later how far things went with her collusion. she was the same age as the young girl Polanski “raped”.

    Her mother let her go to Polanski’s house, alone. In other words she was pimping her daughter. I saw a lot of that in my neighborhood, including my sister. These beautiful nubile young girls attracted guys the mothers could not and the mothers enjoyed being part of the scene. So she goes to Polanski’s house to have some photos taken. This is California in the mid 70’s, and far more sophisticated sex wise then my university neighborhood. All the young girls at that time knew all about sex and were reasonably experienced at some level or other. Their permissive parents were not going to repress them the way they had been sexually repressed. Armed with birth control they joined the fun.

    And this is how I see her going to Polanski’s house. I have read the transcript and dit doesn’t differe too much from John Fowles account of his character’s first sexual experience in Daniel Martin. the slow seduction, touching, the girl holding back but meaning yes, (yes I did that too) and the coxing, the convincing we read in this transcript. Polanski was not a brute to her. She admitted she had had sex before, a few times. How many is few I wonder? So he knew he was not dealing with a virgin. and a girl whose mother allowed her to see him to get photographed at his home. WTF! The mother had to know the score. The girl had to know the score. My niece knew the score and a few decades later showed me nude photos one of the older guys had taken of her. Lovely they were.

    When I suspected what was going on and called the police on one of them, he came over and basically looked at me with wide eyes and lifted eyebrows “What do you want me to do about it?’ kind of look. Well he was going to do nothing, I could do nothing unless I quit my job and put her under my surveillance. Talking to her did no good. And this was common, not a unique case at all. All the pretty young girls were playing seductress.

    So Polanski finds out she is not a virgin. she kind of says maybe I should go home, he asks her if she wants to. She is vague, inexperienced, does not want to say I want to do it. She is just a kid who has slept around a little and this famous movie guy is coming on to her. He doesn’t want to get her pregnant so he introduces her to anal penetration and she no where says how terrible and frigtening it was. By the time she is testifying, she has obviously had her memories reconstituted by her mother, the prosecuting attorney, and probably has muddled memories of it. At least she sounds muddled.

    He doesn’t exactly drug her but gives her Valium or something like that – Librium? – to relax her muscles and has anal sex with her. It doesn’t sound like she went screaming and running home.

    Most young women have been in a similar situation. You say no and mean it and they know you mean it. Probably he would have driven her home in his car. She lacked the social experience to say and do this. By the way she speaks she obviously didn’t come from an educated middle class family. She was just a beautiful young girl. In listening to her now we hear a working class woman who wants to forget the whole thing. She’s married, has children and doesn’t want a mess now.

    And I think it relates to Michael Jackson and what he went through. Was he guilty? I think he was just playing around non-sexually on his big bed the way children play on beds together, or at least they used to before they knew so much so young. But there is such a temptation with a celebrity to take advantage of a situation like this. To get money. To talk with a lawyer who encourages them to litigate.

    I think Polanski was indiscreet, as I think Jackson was. Too innocent of American law and its viciousness. I don’t think he hurt her. I think she did what every young girl in her social class was doing and what she had even done herself before, just not with a celebrity. Surely she was shy and evasive with his questions. He was quite a handsome prepossessing figure then to any young woman much less a 14 year old girl. I am sure she felt pleased that he found her pleasing.

    Why does this whole situation bring out such judgement and condemnation. Lolita came out in the 50’s and created a furor in the US. And yet we pimp little Shirley Temple (Read Graham Greene’s infamous essay on her) and Jon Benet Ramsey and all the other child beauty queens who are made up to look like little hookers. and that’s OK. No it’s not! But it’s legal! I think the Polanski case just reveals the dirty little secret of just how turned on we are by pretty little boys and girls and this must be camouflaged at all costs by a scapegoat or three every now and then. Poor Darter with his room full of “dirty” drawings and paintings of little girls, naked and otherwise, would probably have gone to jail today. After all, even if you do nothing but have them on your hard drive (no pun intended) it’s jail time baby!

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  9. This book moved me, it is simple but ellegant, touching but not cursi, fast to read but not light content, easy prose but profound reflections, body and mind are written armonically without waste. Having read it has been my discovery experience of Paul Auster, great start to know his work. i know it ’cause it is the first book I read by Paul.

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  10. Seymourblogger said:

    “I think the Polanski case just reveals the dirty little secret of just how turned on we are by pretty little boys and girls and this must be camouflaged at all costs by a scapegoat or three every now and then.”

    Speak for yourself. Not everyone visiting this site is a pedophile. Thanks for sharing that you’re into child porn, too. You’re a class act.

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  11. ‘What complicates things is when artists use their status as artists to speak about moral matters.’ What is the difference between artists using their status to speak on morality, and anyone else’s using their status to maintain their position on morality. Every other profession enjoys such privileges. The person cannot be separated from their status. Like doctors or cops, artists never really go on vacation. Unfortunately, alas, sigh, all public acts have become politicized. To the point that we have the dinosaurs of the ‘moral majority’ resurgent from their graves. The days of every act being a sexual expression are long gone. Which was a more personal way of relating to the human world. The sexual act has become politicized for many if not most.

    There really is no ‘blurring’ of roles or lines when it involves sexual involvement with a child. But it is not an unforgivable crime for society. Compulsive pederasts are released from prison and they continue acting out their obsession. I wonder what the success rate is for chemical castration. Physical castration was not always successful in royal courts and led to plotting to bring down the house in revenge. If there is a line to be drawn between unacceptable behavior and unforgivably unacceptable behavior, it should be between some one who made a mistake in lust and some one who has no real control over their behavior. The difference between Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson. Roman is still paying for his mistake. Michael was a predator who habitually picked underage boys from the streets and did much more than lie with them comparing p.p.’s. His infantile ego is so evident in his music and the sound of his voice. I never understood why the public couldn’t perceive what was self-evident to me. Like a Disney squeak toy. There lies the rub – this society’s need to be in continual adolescence. The Lather complex. Knowing this about himself was probably what caused Michael to act so crazily and have an addict’s need of drugs.

    I liked Elizabeth Taylor because she was excellent in ‘Whatever Happened to Virginia Wolf’, and from what I had heard about her kindness and intelligence. Having supported Michael Jackson in his travails does not lessen my respect of her. If she had gone with him when he went out cruising, that would be a different story.

    ‘I think the relationship between great art and crime is complicated, or at least complicated after the 19th or 20th century—simply put, after the late 19th century, great art tends to be transgressive or break taboo or just generally upset people.’ Art that is created to help people break out of their shells is different from art that encourages people to commit outrages against people and nature.

    Some how the discussion of ‘what is real and what is not’ relative to art has been buried under the reactions of the bloggers, including me, to illicit sex. But I am writing this last post to get it out of my mind and because some where people miss the point about sexualizing children. Michael Jackson was like a sexualized child. Poor Jon Benet didn’t understand the real reason she had so much power over adults. I won’t tire you with more anecdotes of my knowledge of, as my small town weekly newspaper put it, ‘open season on children’.

    We are being presented with examples of people who are being mutilated and killed by the ‘moralists’ of their cultures because they produced art, sometimes just words in a blog, that violated some precept. In those same societies 14 year old girls, and boys, are routinely sexually assaulted.

    Charlie Chaplain’s character in ‘City Lights’ said to his young admirer that he didn’t believe in morality because morality was what you expected other people to do.

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  12. errata: It was Charlie Chaplan’s character in ‘Limelight’. Wikipedia gives an interesting quick bio on Chaplin. He kept on marrying teenage starletts, unsuccessfully, until he married O’Neil’s daughter with whom he remained married the rest of his life and produced quite a brood of kids. That blimey limey ran off with a daughter of Eire!

    And one more comment and then I will shut up. The conversation that was started at the beginning of the comments and the replies about the artist and his/her art, morality and art, and art and meaning are interesting and would make for a good dialogue in some other post. I look forward to reading some one’s opinions other than my own.

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