Eden of Exiles: The Ethnicities of Paul Auster's Aesthetics

Alys Moody*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Paul Auster's writing, particularly his early fiction, is often regarded as disinterested in questions of ethnicity. Early drafts and other archival materials, however, reveal a deep fascination with both Jewish and Native American ethnicity in his unpublished work. This essay draws on archival materials to show that many of Auster's most characteristic formal and aesthetic features derive from this extensive investigation of the role of Jewish and Native American identity in the development of American identity. Writing at the intersection of, on the one hand, a shift in Jewish-American identity towards what Herbert J. Gans calls "symbolic ethnicity," and, on the other, the aftermath of myth-and-symbol scholarship in the American university, Auster's engagement with these issues bears the traces of its historical moment. This essay argues that this early interest in ethnicity makes its way into his published work, not as a realist representation of ethnic experience, but in the impressions that it leaves on his aesthetic practices. His early writing therefore represents an attempt to fashion debates about American national identity, and the place of ethnic minorities within it, into the basis for an aesthetic position.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-93
Number of pages25
JournalAmerican Literary History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


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