In the Country of Last Things Questions and Answers
by Paul Auster

Start Your Free Trial

I am writing a paper on Paul Auster and how he recycles and repeats himself. What literary critical theory or theories would be best used for this study?

Expert Answers info

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write2,689 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Your question is very interesting because repetition in literature is really more of a literary technique instead of a literary theory. It is also interesting that you combine two fields, literary criticism and literary theory, by mentioning “literary critical theory.” My assumption is that you want to analyze the literary theory from a critical perspective (deciding whether Aster’s literary theory “works” or not). Also, because your question is posted under In the Country of Last Things. I also assume that you want to look at Aster’s literary theory specifically in regards to that work. Let us take a look at what literary theory (and Modernism as an example), see how Aster approaches Modernism In the Country of Last Things, and then explore how his use of repetition and “recycling” (as you call it) appeals to the Modernist approach in In the Country of Last Things.

Literary theory is most often referred to “the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature.” However, usually the study of literary theory involves even more than that, approaching the consideration of prophesy, philosophy, and history in regards to how humanity interprets meaning in their world. Because In the Country of Last Things is quite apocalyptic in nature, this eNotes educator chose Modernism as the appropriate literary theory because this literary theory often has a negative connotation associated with it because of the changes in the world that occurred during the 1900s. In short, cultural trends changed and industries began destroying the natural world and cities began to grow unchecked and world wars began to decimate humanity. Applying Modernism to a work of literature is to overlook the positive, explore uncertainty, and (often) look down upon religion.

In Aster’s In the Country of Last Things Modernism fits his vision in regards to repetition because very precisely Aster continually recycles the concept of “disillusion and decay.” In fact eNotes says it best:

According to Paul Auster’s vision, [the world ends] so slowly, in a nightmare of dissolution and decay.

The only thing that is absolutely certain is death. Everything else is completely uncertain. This lends directly to the literary theory of Modernism. Take a look at the doubt: entire buildings mysteriously disappear, streets suddenly become non-existent, humans are destined to sleep in gutters and trick others for survival, nature has begun to eat away at humanity, people troll through trash (which is now a privilege), and even the weather is unpredictable (with scorching heat giving way to freezing snow). Survival is key (and is certainly key for Anna Blume and her brother). In short, you can take the list above and explore each one separately as examples of both repetition and recycling in the literary theory of Modernism. Why did this happen? In short: industrialization (which is now over due to the destruction it caused).

If you would like to know a good set-up for an essay on this subject, I can help you with that as well. Your introduction should filter down to the literary of Modernism and recycling/repetition. Your body paragraphs, then, should explore each of the above ideas in turn. For example, the paragraph about human trickery would be really interesting. The idea of people painting cardboard to sell as fake food should be mentioned as well as the bogus tolls that people have created to make money. Another paragraph should be about trash trolling: looking for treasures such as an orange peel or twine. Things such as this are refuse in our society now, but in Aster’s apocalyptic society, they are needed and recycled in extraordinary ways. In this way, people become “object hunters.” A paragraph (or even multiple paragraphs) could be used for each idea, recycled again and again by Aster, through the course of his work. Your point should be Anna’s (and others’) coping mechanism for dealing with a common sight such as this:

[How do you cope] when you find yourself looking at a dead child, at a little girl lying in the street without any clothes on, her head crushed and covered with blood?

The answer is concentration on being an “object hunter” and nixing compassion. Finally, your conclusion could contain a new idea of another literary theory that is exposed in Aster’s work (see below in my own conclusion).

In conclusion, as your question suggests, there can be other choices of literary theory which can be explored; therefore, it might be interesting to repost your question to see what other eNotes educators think about the subject. For example, because Aster often thinks about how the world ends (in a sort of apocalyptic vision) it might also be interesting to explore a critical analysis from a Darwinian literary perspective.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial