Christian Seidl (Würzburg)
"Regeneration through Creativity" – The Frontier in Paul Auster's Moon Palace
"Regeneration through Creativity" – The Frontier in Paul Auster's Moon Palace
In his novel Moon Palace (1989) Paul Auster uses a variety of different frontier-like settings. He especially contrasts the original frontier of the American Midwest and West, with urban settings that show characteristics of the frontier. While the protagonists in the novel can experience a creative act that can trigger a regeneration or rebirth at the original frontier, the urban settings do not offer the opportunity for such a regeneration. Therefore, the aim of this article will be to show the differences between the urban settings and the frontier of the Amercian West as they are portrayed in the novel. Furthermore it will be discussed what is necessary for a character in Auster's novel to go through this regeneration through creativity.
Paul Auster's novel Moon Palace (1989) is divided into three major parts, each telling the life story of one of three men, Marco Stanley Fogg, Thomas Effing, and Solomon Barber. As the plot proceeds it is revealed that Effing is the father of Barber and also Marco's grandfather. Thus a genealogy between the three is established. Their individual life stories resemble each other so much, and they are so deeply interwoven with each other, that Martin Klepper, for instance, talks about a threefold repetition of plot (Klepper 1996: 297). Beside the genealogy that is gradually established, the major link between the three plots of Moon Palace is the great significance of the American West, and the frontier for all three protagonists. They all find themselves at the geographic location of the historic frontier at some point in the novel: Thomas Effing's life story is based on his experiences in Utah; at the end of the novel Marco Stanley Fogg travels to the frontier himself, walking several hundred miles from Lake Powell to the Pacific Coast; Solomon Barber teaches at various colleges in the Midwest.
It would be wrong however, to assume that the American West is the only frontier setting within the novel. Every major character is faced with his own personal, frontier-like setting that forces him to evolve into a 20th century version of the traditional frontiersman.
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Like the original frontier of the American West, such frontier-like settings challenge traditional forms of authority and require the characters to adapt to hostile circumstances with determination and resourcefulness. In doing so, a unique mixture of individualism is prompted, causing on occasion isolation or and sometimes requiring cooperation with strangers.
So when Marco is driven out of his apartment he moves to Central Park, which, as will be shown, can be read as an Urban Frontier.1 Solomon Barber roams the American Midwest in pursuit of professional success and having failed at this, he retreats into his own obese body. Significantly the plot of the novel is set in the 1960s, in which John F. Kennedy had announced a 'New Frontier.'
All these different frontier settings are united in the novel by the moon as common symbolism. The moon keeps reappearing in the novel, both as physical appearance in the sky and within the language and names used throughout the whole text:
Several critics have commented on the use of moon symbolism in Moon Palace and there are many different interpretations offered. The moon, according to Andrew Addy for example, is "a metaphor for the mind, and for our darker nature" (Addy 1996: 160). Sven Birkerts suggests that the moon appears frequently in order to "place everything under the aspect of fancy and madness (lunacy)" (Birkerts 1992: 197), Christian Berkemeier sees it as a symbol of nondeterminability (Berkemeier 2002: 149) and William Dow even claims that the symbol of the moon only appears randomly (Dow 1996: 197). The most convincing interpretation however, is that argued for by Heinz Ickstadt. He regards the moon as a unifying symbol that embraces the variety of plots within the novel. Together with the plots it also unites the different frontier settings and brings them together under the metaphor of a greater, final frontier that embodies all desires and dreams, and triggers creativity and imagination (Ickstadt 1998: 196).
So the moon, and the restaurant Moon Palace, which can be read as the earthly representation of the moon, bring together the various frontiers in only one symbol:
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In this article some of the frontier settings that the characters in Moon Palace experience will be discussed and set into relation to each other. In the first part these settings will be described and their specific representation of the frontier will be discussed. The emphasis here will naturally be on those frontier settings experienced by the protagonists, Marco Stanley Fogg and Thomas Effing. In a second part the results of the analysis of the frontier settings will be used to work out the regenerating force of each of these different frontiers. In doing this they will also be compared to each other in order to explain why some of the settings have a regenerating effect on the characters and why others do not.
2 The Mythic Frontier: Thomas Effing in UtahOf all the descriptions of frontier settings given in the novel, Thomas Effing's account of his experiences in the desert of Utah seems to be the most traditional and conventional one. Not only does his tale actually take place in the American West, but his description of the frontier also draws heavily from American myths and legends concerning the frontier. At times his narration sounds more like a dime novel or a Wild West movie than a biographical account. Here it is important to note that Auster does not make use of the whole register of frontier myths. He rather selectively chooses those that help him make his point.
Effing claims that he used to socialize with the artists of the Hudson River School, a group of American painters that specialized in portraying the wilderness landscapes of the Amercian West. With his connection to this group Effing creates a context of myths and legends concerning the American West. In particular Effing refers to three painters of this school: Thomas Cole, Ralph Blakelock and Thomas Moran.
When Marco moves into his room in Effing's apartment he finds only one picture in it, "a large etching in a black varnished frame that depicted a mythological scene crowded with human figures and a plethora of architectural details" (MP: 108). Together with his comment that it is a panel of Thomas Coles The Course of Empire series, this picture can easily be identified as the third painting of the series, called The Consummation of Empire. The painting shows the empire at the climax of its power and wealth, a "classical city basking in the fullness of its prosperity" (Flexner 1962: 51). The whole series however, depicts the rise and fall of an empire from the savage state through its greatest wealth and power to destruction and desolation. Taken out of the context of the whole series, the picture shows the promises of wealth the frontier seemed to offer without the dooming fall and destruction. Thus, the picture can foreshadow Effing's enlightening experiences at the frontier and give a possible interpretation of Marco's desolating experiences in Central Park at the same time. Taken alone, it predicts the mythological dimension of Effing's narration, but within the context of the whole series it already alludes to what has to be the consequence of the conquest of civilization and of the wealth and prosperity that come along with it: the decadence and the decline of the
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empire and of civilization as such. This foreshadowed decline of the empire will be important for the interpretation of Marco's experiences in Urban Frontier of Central Park before he came to work for Effing.
Before Effing is willing to tell his story he instructs Marco to closely study another painting, Moonlight by Ralph Blakelock (MP: 133ff). Again, this picture not only functions as support for the mythological dimension of Effing's story, but also plays an important role for the description of frontier settings in the novel as a whole. The elaborate scene in which Marco travels to the Brooklyn Museum to see the picture, and his detailed description of it are at "the ideological center of Moon Palace" (Weissenburger 1994: 75).
Moonlight shows a peaceful and pastoral scene, in which Native Americans seem to be in perfect harmony with the landscape: "I was only guessing, of course, but it struck me that Blakelock was painting an American idyll, the world the Indians had inhabited before the white man came to destroy it" (MP: 139). But again, there is more to the painting than only the idyllic pastoral scene: "Perhaps, I thought to myself, this picture was meant to stand for everything we had lost. It was not a landscape, it was a memorial, a death song for a vanished world" (MP: 139).
So Moonlight, like Consummation of Empire depicts an idyllic scene at first sight. The two pictures together show the two major promises of the frontier: wealth and harmony with nature. But both pictures also predict the transitoriness of these promises. While with Moonlight it is Marco who comes to this conclusion, it seems as if Effing is aware of it as well, if only in hindsight. On the one hand he wants Marco to study the Blakelock painting to understand the transitoriness of the frontier myths, on the other, he confesses that another painter had a greater influence on him when he was young. He refers to Thomas Moran as the person who convinced him of taking the trip to the frontier (cf. MP: 141). At the same time however, he now regards Moran and his followers as the major representatives of the philosophy of Manifest Destiny, which is the main reason for the destruction of the pastoral idyll:
Unlike Cole's and Blakelock's pictures, Moran's paintings do not suggest the threat of civilization for the wilderness of the frontier. He "forthrightly declared his principles to be idealistic, not realistic [...]" (Yaeger 1996: 71). So Effing's preoccupation with the Blakelock painting and his refusal to tell his story before Marco has seen it, shows that he is now aware of the transitoriness of the idyllic, mythological frontier his tale is about. He also wants Marco to understand that
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as well. But at the same time the confession that it was Moran who made him visit the frontier in the first place shows the idealistic, or rather ideological and mythological dimension of his experiences in Utah.2
These legendary landscapes, which he knew in theory from Morans paintings, are encountered by Effing as soon as he arrives in the desert of Utah. The vast open spaces overwhelm Effing and leave him with an existential fear of losing himself:
At the American frontier Effing is confronted with the 'sublime,' a force of feeling brought about by a natural phenomenon that is so powerful in its infinity that it is both terrifying and fascinating at the same time. For the time being, Effing cannot handle the experience of the sublime, he is not able to paint or draw any pictures, as he is so overpowered.
While the landscape such is described in the novel as a mythic place, the action that unfolds in this landscape is obviously based on the legends and stereotypes concerning the American frontier, just as they might be found in a dime novel or a Wild West movie. All the characters Effing meets and their behavior are clichÈ-like figures of greenhorns, frontiersmen and outlaws: Upon his arrival in Salt Lake City Effing calls himself a "rich greenhorn from back East." Their guide through the desert, Jack Scoresby, is described as a "former cavalary soldier," who "knew the territory well, he knew it as well as anyone else we could find" (MP: 152f). Scoresby turns out to be a hard-boiled frontiersman, who does not understand Effing's ambitions to paint and who is unsympathetic to Byrne, Effing's companion, who is severely injured after falling down a steep cliff. Not hesitating to shoot Byrne (just like he shot a horse with a broken bone only moments before), Scoresby simply leaves Effing and Byrne behind as Effing has refused to let him kill Byrne and also did not agree to leave him by himself (cf. MP: 158f).
This behavior marks Scoresby as the stereotypical frontiersman, who knows the ways of the wilderness but in his behavior is crude and uncivilized. His acts, though incomprehensible for Effing, are based on a certain way of living, and refer to their own codes. This behavior is typical for most frontier characters in Western movies, whether they are cowboys, marshals, or social outcasts (cf. Belton 1994: 221). They all left the codes of civilization behind to follow a new way of life that has its own codes of honor and conduct.
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This comes as a necessity in order to be able to survive in an unexplored and possibly dangerous and harmful surrounding like the frontier. It is here that Effing learns that nothing is ever certain and that you must "never take anything for granted" (MP: 111).
No less stereotypical is the description of the Gresham brothers, the band of criminals that Effing has to confront in the cave some time after Byrnes death. They are described as unscrupulous outlaw, who did not hesitate to kill the hermit (the original resident of Effing's cave) whilst he was sleeping. Their only actions in the novel, beside the murder, consist of playing cards and heavy drinking (cf. MP: 178). Stereotypically outlaws in Wild West movies have a hideout somewhere in the wilderness, and for the Gresham brothers this hideout is Effing's cave. In a shoot-out, in some aspects similar to the great showdown at the end of a Western movie, Effing is finally able to kill all three outlaws and takes their loot, obviously gained from a stagecoach robbery, a typical crime for any stereotypical Wild West outlaw (cf. MP: 180f).
The plot of Effing's narration is significantly driven onwards by these acts of violence. Without Byrnes death, Effing would never find the cave, without Effing's murder of the Gresham brothers and the fortune he gains from it he would never be able to return to civilization (cf. Weissenburger 1994: 76). The importance of violence for Effing's tale seems to go along with Richard Slotkins theory of "regeneration through violence" as an important part of American mythological narrative structures (cf. Slotkin 1973: 179). But in fact Effing is not so much regenerated by these acts of violence as he is de-mythicized. Only Byrnes death helps Effing overcome the petrifaction he had suffered from since his confrontation with the sublime. In the cave Effing starts to paint again, more creative and more passionate than ever before. After the second act of violence he is able to leave the mythic frontier for good. While violence and shoot-outs are important parts of the legends established by Wild West dime novels and movies, the way these action are described in Moon Palace differ significantly from these other stories, where violence often has a heroic and purifying dimension. When Effing approaches the cave to face the Gresham brothers he is far from the stereotypical fearless gunfighter, and even one of the outlaws starts to cry when he is faced with his own death (cf. MP: 180). As Andrew Addy argues:
This solipsism therefore helps Effing overcome the feeling of existential loss he had experienced facing the sublime in the frontier landscape. If the violence is not part of the actual myth however, but instead a means of Effing's inner development, it can also explain why both Scoresby and Effing get away with their violent actions without being held responsible for them. Auster makes use of the stereotypical absence of conventional authority structures at the frontier to establish
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a meta-realistic dimension of authority. Effing's deeds are not pursued by legal authorities. Instead, when his spine breaks as he is mugged much later in the streets of San Francisco, he regards this as a punishment brought upon him by destiny and as a redemption from the sins he has committed: "He had been punished, and because the punishment was a terrible one, he was no longer obligated to punish himself" (MP: 198).
In his description of his frontier experience in the desert of Utah, Effing moves from a very mythicized, legendary narration, to an account that is more detached from the traditional myths and legends but that is still no more realistic. The story of his adventures in the cave can rather be seen as a parable for the regeneration process Effing goes through at the frontier. The question thus, is not whether Effing is telling the truth within the fictional construct of the novel, but rather what meanings Effing is trying to convey with his narration, as Marco finds out:
In that way Marco questions the truth of Effing's narration several times in the novel (cf. MP: 183 and 276). Even though it is told as an authentic life story, there is enough doubt left to define it as part of the myths, and legends, of the frontier.
During his time in the cave, Effing experiences a rebirth in a creative outburst. However, the question of if, and how regeneration is possible for Effing through his creativity needs to be discussed in comparison with Marco Foggs story and his individual frontier experiences.
3 The Urban Frontier: Marco Stanley Fogg in New York CityMarco Stanley Fogg, the protagonist and narrator of Moon Palace, is already aptly characterized by his name. His name is a mixture of cultural and intertextual implications:
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Thus, Marco's identity as the prototypical explorer or pioneer is already established throughout the first pages of the novel. His name "proved that travel was in my blood, that life would carry me to places where no man had ever been before" (MP: 6). Indeed, Marco's story is his quest for his identity, which turns out to be an exploration of his obscure genealogy. This is the quest that serves as a motivation for the unfolding of the narrative. Any other search in the novel, while most of the time starting as a characters attempt to escape a desperate situation, turns out as a variation of this quest for identity and genealogy: Marco's struggle to come to terms with his financial problems on his own, forces him to live rough as a homeless person in Central Park. Desperate to learn from this first mistake and to find his place in the world he tries to turn into an altruist, which he claims to be his motivation in taking the position as Effing's assistant:
At the end of the novel, Effing will turn out to be his grandfather. Marco's job with him serves as the narrative framework to Effing's story, which portrays Effing's search for identity. It eventually leads to the introduction of Solomon Barber, who will turn out to be Marco's father. Barber's adolescent novel Kepler's Blood itself is just the quest of a young boy for his own origin and genealogy. Later, Barber persuades Marco to join him for an expedition to search Effing's cave which again is Barbers search for his lost father. This search helps Marco find a new identity after his relationship with Kitty has failed, and eventually he learns about the link between Effing, Barber and himself on this journey. So the development of the genealogy from Effing to Marco is closely linked to a similar ongoing search for identity on part of the three protagonists.
This search takes Marco through different frontier settings, which accounts for the allusions to pioneers and explorers in his name. Furthermore, when Marco decides to replace his first name and his middle name by their initials, M.S., his uncle Victor mentions that these initials also stand for manuscript: "Every man is the author of his own life [...]. The book you are writing is not yet finished. Therefore, its a manuscript" (MP: 7). Bernd Herzogenrath argues that this connection suggests a link to the American Dream, describing Marco in terms of the "American myth of the 'self-made man'" who is symbolically writing his own story (Herzogenrath 1999: 126). Thus Marco's name is an allusion to his quest for identity as much as it links him with all the explorers and pioneers of history, including those who have conquered the wilderness of the American West.
The frontier situations Marco encounters increase significantly in the effect they have upon him. They also reflect the traditional American paradigm of the Midwest as location of innocence and childhood, the East as the location of experience, and finally the West as the place of a new beginning (Berkemeier 2002: 149). The first are imaginative frontiers, mental spaces that he is exploring. Growing up
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in a time in which there are no more wildernesses to be conquered and no more unexplored spaces to be pioneered, Marco has to turn to mental spaces he can discover. Even as a child he and his uncle invent and explore imaginary worlds as a refuge from real life:
This escape into a frontier of imagination is repeated after Uncle Victor dies. To mourn him, Marco decides to read all the books he has inherited from Victor. Marc Chénetier argues that Victors "book-buying parallels the course of western expansion," but it is also Marco whose reading process mirrors a journey to a frontier (Chénetier 1996: 118). All in all there are 1492 volumes, a number that "evokes the memory of Columbus discovery of Amercia" (MP: 13). Marco reads the books in the order he takes them out of the boxes Victor has sent to him. In so far he commits himself to an order that has been imposed on him by his uncle. However, the order in which he opens the boxes is an arbitrary one. Thus it is Marco's own expedition into his uncles mental space:
To overcome his financial needs, Marco sells the books after he has read them. But because he had used the boxes with the books as his furniture, the interior of his apartment vanishes bit by bit in this process (cf. MP: 23). Thus the consequences of Marco's reading have a spatial dimension, which supports the aspect of the pioneering movement into the mental frontier he is involved with. The further his way leads him into this frontier, the less traits of civilization his apartment shows until nothing is left. However, those two imaginary frontiers Marco encounters are merely a foreshadowing of his experiences in Central Park and of his quest in the West later in the novel. Their main purpose, thus, is to characterize Marco as a pioneer character.
It is not only his name and the fact that he encounters several frontier situations, that make Marco a pioneer. He also shows several characteristic traits of a frontiersman. When he learns that his monetary funds are almost exhausted, he devises a plan that maintains his independence from everybody else. He not only refuses any help from his friends but he also fails to tell them about his situation.
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So he also consciously rejects all other possibilities society could offer him scholarships, stipends, jobs, and loans:
This already extreme individualism, which is typical for the frontiersman, is reinforced after he graduates from college and his telephone is disconnected. These two events mark his ultimate retreat from civilization as he is now isolated from the outside world. The consistency with which Marco coheres to his self-destructive plan shows further typical traits of the frontiersman: determination and resolution. Once Marco has reached a decision about how to deal with his situation, he is not willing to change his mind, even though he is aware of the negative consequences his plan will have. This persistence, however, does not consist of a determination of doing the right thing, instead he refuses to take any action at all, perhaps the only adequate decision for a postmodern pioneer:
In his determination to carry on with his original plan, Marco shows himself to be very creative in adapting to new situations. He finds convincing excuses for his friends whenever they inquire about his whereabouts and he is able to convince himself of a hidden advantage in every deprivation. Even when he finally has to search for food in garbage bins he puts up with it (cf. MP: 60). His ability to adjust to new situations is a further feature that marks him as a contemporary, urban frontiersman, a trait of personality that helps him live through his experiences in Central Park, which can be read as an Urban Frontier setting.
As an Urban Pioneer, Marco finds his personal frontier setting in Central Park. His individualistic refusal to accept any help in his time of need causes him to become homeless and forces him to move into the park. His time there foreshadows Effing's narration of his time in the desert of Utah. Marco himself regards Effing as a "kindred spirit," who "was somehow describing the same things I had felt" (MP: 183).
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But already the last weeks Marco spends in his apartment mirror Effing's life in the cave. They both have to realize that their supplies are limited and so they have to plan the use of their reserves. For Marco this is a matter financial calculating:
For Effing, however, this is not so much a financial matter than rather a matter of planning the usage of the supplies he already has at hand:
In their individualistic behavior, both Marco and Effing challenge civilization. They completely retreat in their cave or apartment, Marco even retreats further into the imaginary world of his books. They both refuse to take part in any activity that would be considered normal by civilization. Unlike Effing, who ends his retreat from civilization out of free will before his supplies come to their end, Marco finally has to realize that he failed in this challenge. He does not fail because he is not able to feed himself any longer, but rather because he is unable to pay his rent (cf. MP: 45ff). Thus money, as a purely material good, becomes the major reason for his failure. The only possibility left for him is a further retreat into Central Park, where he can live as a homeless and does not depend on money any more. The park thus already shows one of the major features of the frontier: for Marco it serves as a safety valve, a place he can escape to from his failure in civilization. This notion of the park as seemingly redeeming space is supported by a clear distinction between the park as natural, democratic space, and the streets as space of corrupted materialism and capitalism, of "larger social malaise" (Birkerts 1992: 345):
Marco's description of the park stresses the freedom from any social conventions or restraints and the liberty to choose ones own way of life, a freedom that does not seem possible in the streets. With regards to the park Marco claims that the "grass and the trees were democratic," a statement that echoes
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Frederick Jackson Turner's idea of the frontier as the cradle of American democracy (MP: 57). The park, like the frontier, is a place of individualism where everybody is free to live the life they choose, and a place of democracy at the same time. And like the original frontier, the park is a wilderness, even though it is just an artificial wilderness. Marco recognizes "the paradox of living in a man-made natural world" and even goes so far as to call it "nature enhanced" (MP: 62). Here he feels safe and just before he is about to enter the park he even feels "like someone about to be reborn, like someone on the brink of discovering a new continent" MP: 52).
But the Urban Frontier of Central Park is not so much about a distinction between wilderness and civilization, it is rather a state of mind Marco finds himself in. His escape from the conventions of society is symbolized by his retreat into the only wilderness an urban society can still offer him. There he abandons former habits and codes of conduct for a life that is seemingly free of these restraints. Thus he is willing to give up any comfort and to live rough from leftovers that visitors of the park have thrown away. Even though he does not romanticize his searches in the garbage cans, he still tries not to see them as a sign of his personal failure. He rather calls them "spiritual initiations" (MP: 61). Thus, Marco's attitude makes Central Park a frontier setting more than the description used in the novel.
However, Marco's life in the park still resembles life at the frontier in various aspects. Like life at the frontier, his experiences in Central Park are not only influenced by a specific understanding of individualism, but also by cooperation among people in the park and by a certain void of authority structures. In spite of his individualism, Marco still depends to a certain degree upon the help of others to survive, both physically and psychologically. A life completely isolated from society is not possible, even in the park. In Central Park Marco gets help that he does not get on the street. People give him money or invite him for a picnic lunch or a game of softball: "Those were happy moments for me, and they helped to carry me through some of the darker stretches when my luck seemed to have run out" (MP: 58). The other people in the park also define the authority structure there. Even though Marco once encounters a policeman when he is searching for food in a garbage can, he is able to escape further persecution by impersonating a student of Columbia University, doing research on an Urban Studies project (cf. MP: 60). The police and other authorities from the society outside the park do not have any power or influence within the park. Instead there is a lack of authority that makes the park a dangerous place. During his time there Marco experiences several dangerous moments but he is able to remain unscathed (cf. MP: 65).
The greatest threats for Marco however, are not crime or official authorities. His greatest danger comes from the unpredictable weather. The weather, or rather an outpour of rain Marco had not foreseen, reinforces his position as a social outcast and finally ends his frontier experience in Central Park. After being soaked by the rain, Marco's appearance starts to worsen.
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He cuts off his hair after drying it of the rainwater because he can no longer control its wild look. Without the long hair the thinness of his face becomes recognizable: "It accentuated my thinness to an appalling degree. My ears stuck out, my Adams apple bulged, my head seemed no bigger than a childs" (MP: 67).
With his body diminishing, Marco physically disappears out of society. His exclusion is further marked by the smell of his clothing as it starts to dry: "Unfortunately, once my clothes began to dry in earnest, they also began to smell. [...] This had never happened before and it shocked me to realize that such a noxious odor could be coming from my person" (MP: 68). Marco eventually even has to leave a library because of this smell.
In this context the library can be read as a representation of civilization's intellectual achievement, and thus, his expulsion from the library is symbolic of his expulsion from this spiritual side of society. But even the 'safety valve' of his Urban Frontier is not able to save Marco now. Unlike the original frontier of the American West, the Urban Frontier is only artificial and does not have the same regenerating forces that the real wilderness has. Consequently, the rebirth Marco expected upon first entering the park cannot really take place. Marco retreats into a cave that was formed naturally in Central Park. In his feverish delirium he transforms the Urban Frontier setting into an original historic frontier:
His mental journey leads him to the historic frontier of Manhattan Island before it was corrupted by white civilization and society. It is a prelapsarian state, the same state the frontier of Blakelocks Moonlight is in, and one similar to the frontier Effing experiences (cf. Klepper 1996: 293). Marco is rescued right in the middle of this prelapsarian vision, but he is not regenerated by his experiences at the Urban Frontier. It is only at the end of the novel when he reaches the Pacific Ocean that regeneration is possible for him.
4 Regeneration through CreativityIt has been shown that Marco Fogg and Thomas Effing both live through their individual frontier setting. However, they do not experience the same regenerating
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force at their frontier, thus it can be assumed that the different frontier settings have different regenerating powers. At the end of the novel, when Marco stands at the Pacific shore after he walked several hundred miles from Lake Powell to California, he comes to the conclusion: "This is where I start, I said to myself, this is where my life begins" (MP: 306). Yet after his frontier experience in Central Park, he still feels "a need to purify myself, to repent for all my excesses of self-involvement" (MP: 73) and soon begins to "resemble the person I had once been" (MP: 82). An important question one needs to ask in order to understand Moon Palace and its representations of the frontier is why there is a difference in the regenerating forces of the frontier settings.
After being left behind in the desert of Uthah by Scoresby, Effing's only bond to civilization and society is his companion Byrne, who lies dying. He is convinced that he cannot return to civilization without Byrne. And so he clings to nursing him as his only connection to the world: "Once Byrne was gone, there would be nothing to think about anymore, and I was afraid of that emptiness, it scared me half to death" (MP: 161). And indeed, after Byrnes death Effing's former self, Julian Barber, "was obliterated" and "simply canceled himself out" (MP: 165). This scene is a key passage in the novel, it is the first instance in which a character goes through a complete transformation. This is marked in the narrative style by Marco taking over the role of the narrator again. Effing's story is now told from Marco's perspective in the third person, after the first part had been narrated in first person from Effing's perspective.
With Byrnes death and in his struggles after it, Effing loses everything, not only his last bond to civilization and society but also all his belongings. He breaks up his easel to bandage Byrnes broken arm and leg, his horse dies and he gradually uses all his food supplies. Only when he is prepared to really die, not only in his identity as Julian Barber, but physically and totally, does he find the hermits cave. It is stocked with ample supplies and secures his survival. Here the regeneration process slowly sets in, he feels reborn:
Thus, only in the desert of the frontier, where he loses all connections to his old self and to civilization as such, a rebirth - or rather regeneration - is made possible. This regeneration however only truly sets in a little later when he starts to paint again. After a few random sketches in a notebook he experiences a creative outburst, using up all his painting supplies and painting on every surface he finds after there are no more canvases left. It is in this creative act that he is finally regenerated: "It was an extraordinary reprieve, he said, and for the next three weeks he felt as though he had been reborn" (MP: 171).
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In this creative act Effing, who already has abandoned all his ties to civilization, also rids himself of artistic conventions and paints for the mere sake of creativity:
An important aspect for him also is the fact that no one would ever see his paintings. His creative act thus is not an attempt to gain material or social advantages; it is uncorrupted by any conventional social standards.
Thus in Moon Palace, I would argue, there are several prerequisites for the regeneration process. These are effectively only fulfilled in the description of the frontier of the American West, which all protagonists encounter at one point in the novel. Before the regeneration sets in, the characters lose all their ties to society, their families and to civilization as such and they also lose all their belongings and prospects. In this instance of total independence and liberty a surge of creativity can be set free that then signifies the actual regenerating process.
Marco is not able to experience this regeneration through a creative act in Central Park because within the urban setting this independence is not possible. Unlike Effing, who finds refuge and provisions in his cave, Marco always has to take care of "practical concerns (looking for a place to sleep at night, taking care of my stomach)" (MP: 62). For these concerns Marco needs to use all his creative energy so he has no resources left that could support his regeneration: "Occasionally, I jotted down some of these observations in my notebook, but for the most part I felt no inclination to write, not wanting to remove myself from my surroundings in any serious way" (MP: 63). Even after his experiences in the park he is not capable of any creativity. To earn money he translates a report from French into English. Again he is not as independent as Effing is in Utah, his aim is to earn money in order to reimburse his friend Zimmer. Thus he only can regard the report as "dead language" (MP: 91). Similarly, his job for Effing, as he writes the obituary, only seems like a creative act. He only reproduces Effing's words.
In Central Park and in the city no rebirth or regeneration can take place because in the urban setting Marco is not free of social or financial restraints. Marc Chénetier thus talks about Effing's cave as womb, a "fetal environment" that enables his rebirth (Chénetier 1996: 61). On the other hand Dennis Barone calls Marco's apartment, which at first sight seems to resemble Effing's cave so much, a "tomb" (Barone 1995: 17). The absolute lack of productivity in the urban setting is also symbolized by Kittys abortion. The love between Marco and Kitty remains unproductive (cf. MP: 279ff). In contrast, Effing fathers a child the night before he takes to the frontier (cf. MP: 152). Thus Steven Weisenburger notes that as long as Marco is in the city the genealogy that is steadily unfolding in the novel cannot be continued (cf. Weissenburger 1994: 73).
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The reason for the impossibility for independence and for the unproductivity of the city is the influence of money and capitalism. In the urban setting one always depends on money to survive. So the creative act always is corrupted by capitalism because all creativity needs to be used to earn a living. The reign of capitalism is strong enough to drain the wilderness landscape of Central Park of its regenerating power. This reading of the Urban Frontier setting goes along with Auster's assessment of capitalism and money-making in his autobiographical account Hand to Mouth:
The negative influence of money on the creative act can be observed in Moon Palace whenever money is gained or lost. Effing's creative excess ends as soon as he finds the money of the Gresham brothers: "As Effing put it to me, it was precisely at that moment that everything changed for him again, that his life suddenly veered in a new direction" (MP: 181). He returns to civilization and never paints again. Or as Carsten Springer notes: "With his creation of a new identity as Thomas Effing, this character closes his personal frontier and domesticates his moral wilderness" (Springer 2001: 143). However, his imagination and creativity return when he and Marco symbolically give the money back to society by handing out fifty-dollar bills to total strangers. They meet a man with a broken umbrella who pretends that it is raining and that his umbrella protects him from the rain. Effing not only plays along, he also takes out this umbrella some days later in a real rainstorm, pretending that he is sheltered from the rain. This is the last night of their task to return the money he has taken from the Gresham brothers and the incident with the umbrella shows clearly, how Effing's imagination and creativity have returned (cf. MP: 212f).
Similarly, Marco's regeneration only takes place after he loses all his belongings in the West. After Barber dies, Marco inherits the money Barber himself has inherited from Effing. He has the money in the trunk of his car, which is stolen at Lake Powell when Marco realizes that his quest for Effing's cave has failed. He then walks all the way to the Pacific coast, where he finally feels regenerated. Again this regeneration is only possible in the American West, after Marco lost all his ties to society, his father, his grandfather and his lover, and after he lost all his money. The creative act that enables the regeneration, then, is of course the narrative of Moon Palace itself, which is a first-person account of Marco's life. Marco's regeneration at the shore of the Pacific makes Moon Palace one of the very few novels by Paul Auster that have a positive ending: "In Moon Palace, unlike the prior novels where words fall apart, Fogg eventually is able to put them back together again" (Barone 1995: 18f; original emphasis).4
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His father, Solomon Barber, cannot be regenerated, even in the Midwest. He has still his family ties, as personified by Marco, his son. Significantly his worst failure or rather fall takes place at the grave of his former lover and Marco's mother, at the precise moment when he reveals to Marco their family relation. Also, when he falls, Barber still holds on to the money he inherited from Effing and so he is not free of the material constraints, either.
Already in an earlier episode Auster shows how money and capitalism oppose the idea of the regenerating frontier. It has been shown that Marco's reading of his uncles books resembles the exploration of an imaginary landscape or frontier. However, when Marco tries to sell these books, they are just treated like any other commodity, without any consideration for the emotional and symbolic meaning they have for Marco:
5 ConclusionThrough this distinction between the city and civilization as such, which are corrupted by capitalism, and the wilderness of the frontier, which still offers a chance for regeneration, Auster in a way seems to comment on the situation in America. The promise of the American frontier that promotes individualism and democracy has been rendered absurd by the focus on monetary profit and a captalistic society that for him became the controlling element in the USA. Hence the allusion to Thomas Cole's Course of Empire series and Blakelock's painting Moonlight, that support the same sentiments. The protagonist's return to the wilderness of the frontier and their regeneration, then, shows a possible solution.
Like the Course of Empire, Auster's Moon Palace seems to suggest a cyclic understanding of history. If the characters manage to return to a prelapsarian state, to Effing's mythic frontier, they can undo the damage civilization has imposed on their person. This is just the attempt made by many of Auster's other characters, by Stillman Sr. and by Daniel Quinn in City of Glass and by Hans Sachs in Leviathan for example. As Martin Klepper puts it, many times this search for the prelapsarian state is a linguistic search, a search for a prelapsarian speech (cf. Klepper 1996: 252). Stillman, Quinn and Sachs fail in their quest, in Moon Palace, however, some of the characters actually succeed.
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Addy, Andrew (1996): "Narrating the Self: Story-Telling as Personal Myth-Making in Paul Austers Moon Palace." in: Q.W.E.R.T.Y.: Arts, Litteratures ans Civilisations du Monde Anglophone. 6, 153–161.
Auster, Paul (1997): Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure. New York: Henry Holt.
Auster, Paul (1989): Moon Palace. New York: Penguin.
Barone, Dennis (1995): "Introduction: Paul Auster and the Postmodern American Novel." In: Dennis Barone (Hg.): Beyond the Red Notebook: Essays on Paul Auster. Philadelphia, Penn: U. of Pennsylvania Press, 1–26.
Bawer, Bruce (1989): "Doubles and More Doubles." In: The New Criterion 7, 67–74.Belton, John (1994): American Cinema / American Culture. New York et al.: McGraw.
Berkemeier, Christian (2002): "Schlafes Bruder: Assoziationen zu Text, Tod und (T)raum in Austers Moon Palace, Timbuktu und Lulu on the Bridge." In: Lienkamp, Wolfgang et al. (Hg.): As Strange as the World : Annäherungen an das Werk des Erzählers und Filmemachers Paul Auster. Münster: LIT.
Birkerts, Sven (1992): American Energies: Essays on Fiction. New York: William Morrow.
Chénetier, Marc (1996): Paul Auster as the Wizard of Odds: Moon Palace. Paris: Didier Érudition.
Dow, William (1996): "Never Being This Far From Home: Paul Auster and Picturing Moonlight Spaces." Q.W.E.R.T.Y. : Arts, Litteratures ans Civilisations du Monde Anglophone. 6, 193–198.
Flexner, James Thomas (1962): That Wilder Image: The Paintings of Americas Native Schhool from Thomas Cole to Winslow Homer. Boston, Toronto: Little, Brown and Co.
Herzogenrath, Bernd (1999): An Art of Desire: Reading Paul Auster. Postmodern Studies 21. Amsterdam, Atlanta: Rodopi.
Ickstadt, Heinz (1998): Der amerikanische Roman im 20. Jahrhundert. Transformation des Mimetischen. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
Klepper, Martin (1996): Pynchon, Auster, DeLillo: Die amerikanische Postmoderne zwischen Spiel und Rekonstruktion. Frankfurt, New York: Campus Verlag.
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Slotkin, Richard (1973): Regeneration through Violence. The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860. Middletown, Conn.: Weslyan UP.
Springer, Carsten (2001): Crises: The Works of Paul Auster. American Culture 1. New York et al.: Peter Lang.
Wade, Richard C. (1967, 1959): The Urban Frontier. The Rise of Western Cities, 1790-1830. Harvard Historical Monographs 41. Cambridge: Harvard UP.
Weisenburger, Steven (1994): "Inside Moon Palace." In: Barone, Dennis (Hg.): The Review of Contemporary Fiction 14.1, 70–79.
Yaeger, Bert D (1996): The Hudson River School: American Landscape Artists. New York: Todtri.
1 Richard Wade (1962) uses the term "urban frontier" in his book of the same title to refer to a frontier line in the American West on which towns and cities already have developed and which thus has been urbanized. In this study, however, the term "Urban Frontier" will be used differently, referring to an urban setting that can be read as a frontier situation within a city.
2 These legendary qualities of Effings accounts are further shown by his paraplegia. When Effing is introduced in one of Austers manuscripts of an earlier draft of the novel, Auster noted on the margin: "legend = leg|end." Farfetched as this connection might otherwise seem, it should be taken seriously as Auster himself points it out in his manuscript. These manuscripts can be consulted in the Berg-Collection of the New York Public Library.
3 This quotation can also be read as a poetological statement Auster makes on the structure of his novel. He uses elements of the picaresque novel, but changes them and thus reinvents the genre (cf. Herzogenrath 120). He is unteaching himself the rules he has learned to find a new form. Carsten Springer however rightly argues that "the widespread assumption that all of Austers work have to be seen as deconstruction of a genre [...] fails to account for the characteristics of the texts written before and after the [New York] Trilogy." (Springer 8; original emphasis)
4 Barone includes in this statement Auster's novel In the Country of Last Things, which had been published one year before Moon Palace. The novel, however, has an open ending and I would argue that there are certain indications that suggest the same dichotomy between an unproductive "urban" frontier and a regenerating "natural" frontier. The novel ends the night before the protagonist, Anna Blume, leaves the city westwards and the book is written in first person, suggesting a similar "regeneration through creativity" for Anna Blume.