Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

From Punishment to Possibility: Re-Imagining Hitchcockian Paradigms in the New York Trilogy

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

From Punishment to Possibility: Re-Imagining Hitchcockian Paradigms in the New York Trilogy

Article excerpt

This essay examines intertextual links between Paul Auster, a fiction writer with a filmmaker's sensibility, and Alfred Hitchcock, suggesting that Auster has re-narrated Hitchcock's work to allow his detectives the postmodern (and American) possibility of reinvention.

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The year 1999 marked the one hundredth anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock's birth, and the copious publications, retrospectives, and international symposiums accompanying this centenary provided ample evidence of the enduring fascination for the man and his films, which continue to be a rich source of study for critics from a broad range of disciplines. While the Hitchcockian style invades the psyche of every filmmaker who follows him, Hitchcock's influence reaches artists in other fields as well, notably the fiction writer Paul Auster. In his books and screenplays, Auster incorporates many of Hitchcock's conventions (the repetition of character types, anecdotes and themes, the cameo appearance, and the MacGuffin, or red herring, concept), creating a direct intertextual link between these two authors. Beyond these superficial similarities lie deeper connections. Despite ostensibly upholding the rigid binary constructions that are the hallmark of high modernism, Hitchcock's films actually point to a postmodern sensibility that embraces uncertainty and indeterminacy. The fluidity of identity and narrative ambiguity also connect Hitchcock to Auster, an author who allows his reluctant detectives in The New York Trilogy the freedom to transcend rigid constructions, assert control, and reconstruct themselves. In these three novels, Auster, in effect, re-narrates Hitchcock and, by denying closure, creates a world of infinite narrative possibilities.

The established critical response to The New York Trilogy has been to place the three novels within the detective genre, although Madeleine Sorapure goes even farther by positioning City of Glass as a "meta-anti-detective story" (72). The pseudo detective novels that make up The New York Trilogy (City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room) all begin as exercises in detection, but each slowly unravels, leaving only the barest traces of crime, criminal, and detective. These three novels weave into one another, commenting not only on Auster's own acts of authorship but also on each other and the conventions of the detective story. The anti-detective genre that Sorapure specifies not only indicts the detective's lack of skill in solving the crime but also casts doubt on the very existence of criminal activity and the categories of right and wrong. As Sorapure has noted, "most anti-detective fiction call[s] into question not the abilities or efforts of the individual detective, but rather the methodology of detection itself, a methodology that valorizes the powers of reason in the face of mystery, that validates the hermeneutic enterprise" (72). Surprisingly enough, many of Alfred Hitchcock's films also fit into this anti-detective genre. The master of suspense may be remembered for thrillers and mysteries, but, upon closer inspection, his films subvert convention, featuring reluctant detectives who are continually thwarted in their pursuit of knowledge. Stefano Tani claims that anti-detective fiction "deconstructs conventional detective fiction by denying its main characteristics: the denouement, the consequent triumph of justice, the detective's detachment" (96). Hitchcock's films are known for altering the dynamics of the denouement, featuring moments of revelation at unexpected points: Marion's murder comes in the first half of Psycho and Judy's confession occurs in the middle of Vertigo. And one of Hitchcock's most powerful indictments of the traditional binary of crime and punishment is also found in Vertigo--Gavin Elster is never brought to justice for killing his wife, and only the innocent victims of his crimes suffer the consequences.

Several other structural and thematic links extend beyond the conventions of the anti-detective genre to intertextually connect Hitchcock and Auster. …

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