«The Brooklyn Follies»: extracts
This extract from the middle of the novel shows the close relationship between the narrator and his nephew Tom, the Hero of the story. As they are travelling to Vermont with Lucy, they talk about literature. Their conversation contains many references to important writers and their ages at the time of their death. Two important Austerian themes are thus grouped together: that of death and references to artistic influences (as well as an intertextual reference to Kafka's work and the important image of the Statue of Liberty). The transcript of the dialogue is preceded by a description of Tom's way of talking about these subjects, through metaphors of movement and travelling. The end of the extract points towards the impact of biography on the way one sees an author's work.
[...] Tom was in excellent form that day. Somewhat manic, I suppose, but there was no question that his rambling, erudite chatter helped cut the tedium of the drive. He would jog along in one direction for a while, come to a fork in the road, and then veer off sharply in another direction, never pausing to decide if left was better than right or vice versa. All roads led to Rome, so to speak, and since Rome was nothing less than all of literature (about which he seemed to know everything), it didn't matter which decision he made. From Poe, he suddenly bounced forward to Kafka. The link was the age of the two men at the time of their deaths: Poe at forty years and nine months, Kafka forty years and eleven months. It was the kind of obscure fact that only Tom would have remembered or cared about, but having spent half my life studying actuarial tables and thinking about the death rates of men in various professions, I found it rather interesting myself.
"Too young," I said. "If they'd been around today, there's a good chance that drugs and antibiotics would have saved them. Look at me. If I'd had my cancer thirty or forty years ago, I probably wouldn't be sitting in this car now."
"Yes," Tom said. "Forty is too young. But think of how many writers didn't even make it that far."
"Dead at twenty-nine. Keats at twenty-five. Georg Büchner at twenty-three. Imagine. The greatest German playwright of the nineteenth century, dead at twenty-three. Lord Byron at thirty-six. Emily Brontë at thirty. Charlotte Brontë at thirty-nine. Shelley, just one month before he would have turned thirty. Sir Philip Sidney at thirty-one. Nathanael West at thirty-seven. Wilfred Owen at twenty-five. Georg Trakl at twenty-seven. Leopardi, Garcia Lorca, and Apollinaire all at thirty-eight. Pascal at thirty-nine. Flannery O'Connor at thirty-nine. Rimbaud at thirty-seven. The two Cranes, Stephen and Hart, at twenty-eight and thirty-two. And Heinrich von Kleist - Kafka's favorite writer - dead at thirty-four in a double suicide with his lover." "And Kafka is your favorite writer."
"I think so. From the twentieth century, anyway".
"Why didn't you do your dissertation on him?"
"Because I was stupid. And because I was supposed to be an Americanist."
"He wrote Amerika, didn't he?"
"Ha ha. Good point. Why didn't I think of that?"
"I remember his description of the Statue of Liberty. Instead of a torch, the old girl is holding an upraised sword in her hand. An incredible image. It makes you laugh, but at the same time it scares the shit out of you. Like something from a bad dream."
"So you've read Kafka."
"Some. The novels and maybe a dozen stories. A long time ago now, back when I was your age. But the thing about Kafka is that he stays with you. Once you've dipped into his work, you don't forget it."
"Have you looked at the diaries and letters? Have you read any biographies?"
"You know me, Tom. I'm not a very serious person."
"A pity. The more you learn about his life, the more interesting his work becomes. [...]"
Pour citer cette ressource :
"«The Brooklyn Follies»: extracts", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), octobre 2009. Consulté le 29/11/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/litterature-americaine/dossier-paul-auster/the-brooklyn-follies-extracts