The Speculatus of Self: The Author and His Literary Persona in Paul Auster’s Ghosts

© Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror, oil on canvas, 1932

Following the publication of City of Glass in 1985, Ghosts was published in the following years, which is the second novel of Auster’s bestselling collection The New York Trilogy (1987). City of Glass emphasises on the theme of the crisis of identity of the author, which is illustrated by the representation of the ‘fictional’ Auster and his metafictional encounter with his ‘imitator’ Quinn. As the reader can expect, Ghosts (1986) continues the theme by portraying the internal struggles of an author between his real self and his literary persona. “To speculate, from the Latin speculates, meaning mirror or looking glass” – as this statement suggests, the sequel puts the spotlight on the ‘double-self’ of the author by examining how the speculator and the speculated form mirroring images of each other.


© Penguin Books

The relationship between the two selves of the author is represented by the act of two characters observing one another from two rooms facing each other in Ghosts. In the story, Blue is hired by White to watch Black as a private eye. As time goes by, he finds Black just reading and writing every day and he doubts if there is anyone who just does these things in his life. However, without himself noticing, Blue becomes his mirroring image as he only observes Black, reads the books Black reads and write his weekly reports to White. Therefore, for in spying out at Black across the street, it is as though blue were looking into a mirror, and instead of merely watching another, he finds that he is also watching himself. This illustrates how the author is creating his own literary persona out of his real self. The literary persona consists of the imagination of the author and something ‘real’ about himself. Therefore, the real self of the author and his literary persona are reflecting images of each other. Later when Blue wants to know what Black is really doing, as the only way for Blue to do this is to “be in Black’s mind,” Blue and Black begin to fuse together in a mental aspect. When Blue is separated from Black, he feels that he is losing the association and gets very anxious. His life begins to crumble and he must speak words that signify what he sees like a bed or a lamp to prove the existence of the world. The merging between the author and his literary persona is thus intensified here. As he wants to learn more about his other self, he loses grip of his real self and begins to be unable to distinguish between his two selves. To prove the tangibility of his real self, he must recognise signs in reality to pull himself out of the metafictional dimension.


By the end of the novel, Blue can no more bear his fears towards his hypothesis of Black doing the same thing to him as he does to Black. When he sneaks into Black’s room, he finds his own reports to White and concludes that Black is White. He eventually decides to kill Black to ‘retrieve’ his own identity. The ending represents the desperate feeling an author possesses when he is too absorbed in his literary persona effectively. Whether he has successfully eliminated his other self remains an ambiguous question to the reader but from his decision of leaving this ‘story’ for maybe China, it signifies that the author is only ready to depart for a new story and to create another literary persona as China often represents an exotic oriental dream. In this notion, Auster notes that an author is always trapped in an infinite loop of trying to eliminate his literary persona and falling back to another trap again. Leaving an indefinite answer with no resolutions, Auster gives his readers a sense of helplessness when falling into a mise en abyme abyss of selves.

By Chan Tsz Yan Audrey

Categories: Books, Modernism and Postmodernism

Tags: , , , ,

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