Online Magazine of the Visual Narrative - ISSN 1780-678X
Authorial Turns: Sophie Calle, Paul Auster and the Quest for Identity
Author: Anna Khimasia
Abstract (E): On the first page of his novel Leviathan (1992), American author Paul Auster thanks French artist Sophie Calle: "The author extends special thanks to Sophie Calle for permission to mingle fact with fiction. "He 'borrows' eight projects from Calle and writes them into his novel as projects created by the artist Maria Turner, a pivotal character in his book. In return, Calle extends thanks to Auster in her book Double Game (1999): "The author extends special thanks to Paul Auster for permission to mingle fact with fiction." This essay examines the intertextuality of Double Game and Leviathan; concentrating on Auster's and Calle's self-conscious play with their roles of and as 'author' and 'subject' - continually reinventing and repositioning their identity in relation to their fictional narratives. I intend to expose how Calle's and Auster's authorial games disrupt the stability and fixity of identity by exploring the possibilities of a shifting plasticity that is always already "under-erasure."
Abstract (F): À la toute première page de son roman Léviathan (1992), l'auteur américain Paul Auster remercie l'artiste française Sophie Calle. " L'auteur remercie particulièrement Sophie Calle pour lui avoir permis de mêler faits et fiction ". Il 'emprunte' huit projets à Calle et insère ceux-ci dans son roman comme étant créés par l'artiste Maria Turner, personnage-clé dans l'ouvrage. À l'inverse, Calle remercie Auster dans son livre Double Game (1999). " L'auteur remercie particulièrement Paul Auster pour lui avoir permis de mêler faits et fiction ". Le présent essai voudrait explorer l'intertextualité qui rapporte Double Game et Léviathan , en regardant de plus près le jeu conscient que joue Calle et Auster avec leur rôles respectifs d' 'auteur' et de 'sujet' - réinventant et questionnant sans cesse leur identité en rapport avec leurs narrations fictives. Je montrerais comment ces jeux qui touchent au cœur même de la notion d' 'auteur' et d'autorité viennent corrompre la stabilité et la fixité de l'identité, en explorant les possibilités d'une plasticité transitoire qui est toujours déjà 'sous rature'.
keywords: Sophie Calle, Paul Auster, authorship, performance, role playing
To cite this article:
Khimasia, A. Authorial Turns: Sophie Calle, Paul Auster and the Quest for Identity. Image [&] Narrative [e-journal], 19 (2007).
On the copyright page of his novel Leviathan (1992), American author Paul Auster thanks French artist Sophie Calle: "The author extends special thanks to Sophie Calle for permission to mingle fact with fiction." Auster "borrows" eight projects from Calle and writes them into his novel as projects created by the artist Maria Turner, a pivotal character in his book. And so we enter the authorial games of Auster and Calle. In return, Calle extends quasi similar thanks to Auster in her book Double Game (1999): "The author extends special thanks to Paul Auster for permission to mingle fact with fiction."
Calle's Double Game includes the eight projects that Auster borrowed, previously published by Actes Sud: The Wardrobe (1998), The Striptease (1979), To Follow… (1978-79), Suite vénitienne (1980), The Detective (1981), The Hotel (1981), The Address Book (1983) and The Birthday Ceremony (1980-1993). Also included in Double Game, are Calle's adoptions or "borrowings" of two additional projects that Auster authored for his character Maria in Leviathan, also previously published by Actes Sud: T he Chromatic Diet (1997) and Days Under the Sign of B,C & W (1998). The final project, Gotham Handbook (1994), is a project in which Auster authors Calle: "Auster has taken me as a subject. I imagined swapping roles and taking him as the author of my actions." (Calle, 1999: 234-265) Double Game is thus divided into three sections: "The Life of Maria and how it influenced the life of Sophie; The life of Sophie and how it influenced the life of Maria"; and finally, "One of the many ways of mingling fact and fiction, or how to become a character out of a novel." (2-3) The intertextuality of Leviathan and Double Game provides a twisting of tales that makes it difficult to determine fact from fiction and author(s) from subject(s).
This essay concentrates on Auster's and Calle's self-conscious play with their roles of and as 'author' and 'subject', continually reinventing and repositioning their identity in relation to the fictional narratives. I intend to expose how Calle's and Auster's authorial games disrupt the stability and fixity of identity, particularly textual and authorial identity. The movement between Leviathan and Double Game enables Calle and Auster to play with difference and thus contest the containment and closure of representation by exposing its gaps and fissures. By mingling fact and fiction, Calle and Auster are able to traverse the boundaries of fiction, autobiography and even, I argue, autofiction.
Fact and Fiction: Paul Auster and Leviathan
On the copyright page of Leviathan, in addition to the 'thank you' to Calle, there is a publisher's note: "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental" (it is important to note that this publisher's note does not appear in any other of Paul Auster's books published by Penguin). We, however, also already know that Auster's writing does draw on facts like his use of real people and events such as Sophie Calle and her projects. So the publisher's disclaimer seems to highlight the self-conscious attempt to make the real fictive, and the fictive real.
Peter Aaron, our narrator in Leviathan, is "a writer whose career suspiciously reflects and refracts Paul Auster's own." (Saltzman, 2000: 63) Aaron is a new writer who has returned to the U.S. from France and makes his living by translating books. Auster also lived in France and upon returning to America made his living translating books. However, as we have been told in the publisher's note: "…any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental." Nonetheless, in Leviathan, there are similarities. The woman that 'PA' (Peter Aaron/Paul Auster) marries is called Iris: Paul Auster's real wife's name is Siri (Iris backwards). Auster's first wife's name is Lydia: in the novel Aarons' first wife is Delia (similar letters). Auster's real son from his first marriage is called Daniel: in Leviathan, Aaron's son is called David (both are biblical names beginning with D, but also when written these names look very similar. In Leviathan, language, play and representation collide. These reflections and refractions suggest that for Auster, as author, there is no unitary, fixed or essential self. Similarly, in Auster's novels, detecting a singular identity becomes difficult amidst the "forged papers and empty names." (Merivale and Sweeney, 1999: 10) According to Dennis Barone, Auster's shifting subjectivities which contain not only references to his own life, but also to other literary works and historic figures and events, do not so much disrupt the reading as, indeed, point to the works' fictionality." (Barone, 1995: 5) This is also evident in the conflicting stories that we encounter in the narrative - the gaps (in the telling of the 'facts') that have been filled in (invented) by Aaron. In Leviathan, we read: "I wrote a short, preliminary draft in the first month, sticking only to the bare essentials. When the case was still unsolved at that point, I went back to the beginning and started filling in the gaps…" (Auster, 1992: 273) By presenting Aaron in the act of writing, Auster draws attention to both the fictionality of this narrative and also his role in the creation of this fiction (which overlaps with his extra-textual life).
Leviathan is a quest - for both the identity and the story of an unidentified man who is killed in an explosion (literally fragmented); a man whom the narrator, Peter Aaron, assumes to be his friend: the writer Benjamin Sachs. It begins with detectives knocking on Aaron's door and ends with these same detectives again at Aaron's door, this time with the 'presumed' identity of the body. While the detectives search for the fragmented body's identity, the events of Sachs' life unfold through the narrative we are reading - the narrative (re)constructed by Aaron. Yet, the stories we are told and the events that are portrayed are always under question. The characters have different versions of what has happened and the narrator always doubts himself, his memory and his version of the 'truth'. We are continually made aware of the narrator's inability to tell the whole story, even though his goal is to find out what "really happened". Because we are able to see the construction of Sachs' story through differing tales, the narrative voice is always multiple and unreliable. As we begin, Aaron writes: "I don't claim to have more than a partial understanding of who he was. I want to tell the truth about him, to set down these memories as honestly as I can, but I can't dismiss the possibility that I'm wrong, that the truth is quite different from what I imagine it to be." (25) Already, there is an obvious tension set up between what is 'truth' and what is 'imagined'. Leviathan exposes a difference between the event and the telling, the experience and the narration, the spoken and the written, the facts and the fiction.
Aaron, is in the middle of writing a book about Sachs, who, in turn, was also in the middle of writing a book when he disappeared. The mise-en-abyme (as endless, 'illimitable') becomes a motif in both Calle's and Auster's work. When we, as the reader, discover the intended title for Sachs' book, we are ultimately led back to Auster. Aaron/Auster writes: "To mark what will never exist, I have given my book the same title that Sachs was planning to use for his: Leviathan." (159) In Leviathan it is not only the stories themselves that overlap - Auster's story becomes entwined with Aaron's narrative already a retelling of Sachs' story - but there is slippage between characters (and author(s)) which makes it difficult to determine the boundaries of identity. This blurring of references and tales, 'mingling' of fact and fiction denies not only the singularity and fixity of identity, but also the unitary and fixed meaning: Barthes' "single 'theological' meaning" (Barthes, 1977).
Fact and Fiction: Sophie Calle and Double Game
Just as Auster uses a the figure of a 'writer writing' as the main substitution (and displacement) for telling the story, so Calle's documentary-style photographs (often taken by Calle herself) and first-person narratives of her 'experiences' become entangled in a series of displacements and supplements of "Sophie Calle" making it difficult to determine and define the edges of her roles as author and subject. Calle not only disrupts the binaries of author/subject and fact/fiction, but simultaneously explores the materiality and temporality of identity in such a way that the latter remains ambiguous.
In the photographic and written work of Sophie Calle, it is difficult to determine what is fact and what is fiction, complicated by her diaristic narratives and pseudo-documentary photographs. She is always telling stories, most notably in Des Histoires Vraies (1994), not included in Double Game (when translated into English, Des Histoires Vraies is titled Autobiographical Stories, another way in which Calle challenges the boundaries of truth and fiction). In this project/book she gives us seemingly important stories from her life accompanied by 'illustrative' photographs as evidence or trace. It is impossible to know if these stories are fictional or factual:
These words are accompanied by a black and white photograph of an illegible, hand-written letter. In Leviathan, Maria (the artist for whom Auster borrows Calle's work) remembers Sachs, reflecting on her work: "He understood that all my pieces were stories, and even if they were true stories, they were also invented." (143)
When reading Calle's 'narratives', we begin to construct an identity for Calle but, at the same time, we are always already deconstructing 'Sophie Calle'. For there is no unified identity - it is always uncertain - continually under construction. it always remains uncertain, continually under construction. Like Auster's detective fiction, in which the detectives look for the identity of the unidentified body, Calle's projects present "une enquête" for Calle (see also Johnnie Gratton in Worton, 2002: 158, who refers to Calle's projects as "pseudo-enquête[s]"). Calle's interplay between document and fiction, experience and experiment, public and private allow us as the reader and viewer to be involved in the process, putting the clues together to see who is implicated, yet the suspect is always changing.
By looking at a number of Calle's works, we see that images are recycled, references rewoven, tales retold, exposing both the construction and the deconstruction of her individual narratives. Her work is fragmentary, like the stories that Aaron, in Leviathan, pieces together constructing the identity and story of Sachs. Nevertheless, Calle persists in presenting her work as 'fact'. In her detective-like manner she recites dates, times, places as though there is no doubt about her narrative, but on closer inspection there are gaps, elements that contradict each other. We inevitably detect something that allows the narrative to come unraveled, something that makes us doubt the 'truth' of her tales.
For example, in The Striptease, included in Double Game and also retold with slightly different 'facts' in Des Histoires Vrais (1999), we are led to believe that we are encountering a story connected to Calle's past. She writes:
The blonde wig, also seen in Suite vénetienne, is often a stand-in or sign for Calle's performative self. It is connected to disguise and the hiding of self - it is both self and not self. The 'telling' of this incident also works like a palimpsest where the event is now informed and remembered through her more recent story of the striptease. Fact and fiction are again provocatively blurred, in such a way that we are left with numerous questions. Did Calle indeed perform this ritual as a child? Did she actually perform the striptease? We presume her Pigalle performance to be 'true' since Double Game contains documentary-style photographs of the striptease. The linking of this story to a story, supposedly from her past, helps draw attention to the construction of this particular narrative. The last image in The Striptease, a black and white documentary-style image of Calle crumpled on the floor, is accompanied by text that reads:
The artifice of this story seems apparent. The photographic documentation both authenticates the performance while also denying it: could this have happened while someone was taking photographs? The removal of the wig leads us back to Sophie Calle, the author and narrator of these stories - through Sophie Calle the performer of these tales. Like Aaron in Leviathan, Calle draws attention to the gaps and fragments. Her telling does not allow for a coherent, unified and 'truthful' telling of her experience. Almost Brechtian in its presentation, The Striptease and the other projects in Double Game abruptly disturb the narrative from being completely absorbed, believed and/or convincing. Calle's identity as the subject of her narratives is seen as fluid and the process, construction and production of this identity is cleverly exposed. In Calle's work the boundaries between real/fictive, public/private, presence/absence as well as subject/author are often confused and blurred. Representation is always 'under-erasure' for the ambiguity of the subject and its referent is always already tentative. Text and photograph, as document of the truth, are always questioned.
Fictions of Calle and Auster
This 'folding-over' and collapsing of different subject positions repositions and replaces identity, no longer conceived of as original, unique and reducible, with a new plasticity, where identity may be chosen, constructed, acquired and planted (in keeping with metaphors of the detective novel). By making us aware of the constructions; by exposing the fictionality of these stories; by exploiting the endless possibilities and (re)constitutions of this new materiality; and through an interplay of palimpsest-like textual relationships, Calle and Auster explore the fiction of identity (and text) as fixed, essential and complete.
Indications of fictionality, according to Wolfgang Iser, are a "basic attribute of fiction, but should a fiction fail to self-disclose of its own accord: it has to be unmasked." (Iser, 1985: 216) For Iser, this "self-disclosure" puts the represented world between brackets (217). But for the authorial Auster and Calle and "Auster" and "Calle" represented, already within brackets, we become unsure of where the brackets start and stop. For Calle performing Maria's projects - who is already a rewriting of Calle performing "Calle" - makes it difficult to distinguish where one stops and the other begins; they always carry the trace of the other. And similarly, in Leviathan, the slippage between the characters Auster/Aaron/Sachs and Calle/Maria/Calle makes it particularly hard to establish who is speaking. "Sophie Calle" and "Paul Auster" through a series of substitutions, replacements, supplements and multiple referents makes it difficult to discern the author from the subject and the text from the author. Who is represented? Aaron writes:
We are told on the copyright page of Leviathan that this is a work of fiction, but the overlap with the autobiographical, elements of Auster's life, cross the boundaries between fiction and autobiography that Phillipe Lejeune has tried to define. For Lejeune, autobiography is: "Retrospective prose narrative written by a real person concerning his own existence, where the focus of his individual life, in particular the story of his personality" (Lejeune 1989: 5). Nonetheless, Leviathan does not conform to the rules of autobiography. For example, the name of the protagonist and the author should be the same, according to Lejeune's theory. On the other hand, Peter Aaron and Paul Auster do share similar experiences (and initials). Peter Aaron becomes a substitute for both Auster and Sachs, insisting "these stories came straight from Sachs himself." (Auster, 1992: 34) Overlaps, doublings and substitutions become another way of denying and deferring the singularity and fixity of representation, identity (and authorship).
In contrast, to Auster's self-declared work of "fiction", Calle's work is often described as autofiction: "works through which authors create new personalities and identities for themselves, while at the same time maintaining their identity (their real name)." (Asselin and Lamoureux, 2002: 11) There is a double-writing that is associated with autofiction which never allows the reader to "identify the real from the fictional at the level of enunciation." (Sadoux in Worton, 2002: 176) I agree that Calle (and Auster) present their work in such a way that the binary of real and fictional collapses or folds in on itself. Evident in both Calle's and Auster's work are explorations of the self; and as Olivier Asselin and Johanne Lamoureux argue, in autofiction it is the self that indeed becomes a motif." (Asselin and Lamoureux, 2002: 11) But I argue that Auster and Calle's intertextuality also complicates current conceptions of autofiction. For in performing Maria's projects (Chromatic Diet and Days Under the Sign of B, C &W), or becoming the "subject" by following Auster's authorial "instructions" (Gotham City), the roles between Auster and Calle also become increasingly blurred as authors, texts and narrators collapse into each other; and it is increasingly difficult to distinguish the boundaries between Aaron/Auster/Calle/Maria and their respective roles and experiences.
In The Chromatic Diet, one of the projects authored for Maria by Auster, Calle enunciates, performs and re-inscribes the text. Calle emphasizes Auster's authorial and authoritative voice, and winks at him as she then dismantles its authority. The "règle du jeu" (all of Calle's projects start in this way): Maria restricts herself to "foods of a single colour on any given day." (Auster, 1992: 67) Calle adheres to Auster/Maria's rule but in performing Maria's ritualistic Chromatic Diet, Calle also adds her own food for each day; and continues even on those days "that Paul Auster had given his characters the day off." (Calle, 1999: 12-13) "Monday: Orange. Menu Imposed: purée of carrots, boiled prawns, cantaloupe melon. Paul Auster forgot to mention drinks so I allowed myself to complete his menu with orange juice." (14)
Exploring "textual incompleteness" and the author's "partial observations" as noted by Aaron, Calle draws attention to the gaps in the writing. Calle plays out her ritual until the end, continuing on the days Auster did not "mention" in his book. On the Sunday, all the colours are laid out and she invites friends - or so she tells us - to join in her chromatic feast. Calle clearly situates Auster as the author and authority of these gestures, leaving Calle to perform and narrate. But Calle not only lives out the sameness, she also highlights her differences - her interaction and collaboration as author, filling in the gaps in the construction of this particular 'borrowed' narrative. She reclaims and re-inscribes her authority in the performance through an imposition and narration of the event. The tenuous relationship that exists between Calle's roles in her own work and her relationship with Auster and his texts plays with difference and sameness, absence and presence and the instability of her identification in each of these roles: the break in the homogenous system and structure - the supplement.
In Gotham City, the final project in Double Game, Calle asked Auster to invent a character that she would try to resemble.
In his note to Calle, also included in Double Game, Auster writes: "I wanted to leave it open enough so that you could find your own way through the ideas" (237). Again in the breaking open of the text, the gaps are revealed. He writes Calle instructions that fall under four different categories: "Smiling, Talking to Strangers, Beggars and Homeless People" (and how she must interact with them) and "Cultivating a Spot". Calle chooses a telephone booth at the corner of Harrison and Greenwich Street in New York City. Everyday, on her way to the booth (where she has provided postcards, a mirror, an ashtray, flowers and a chair), she hands out sandwiches, cigarettes and smiles to the anonymous people that she passes. The focus of this performance is about identity again - her anonymity, her position as subject to Auster as author and the anonymity of the strangers she passes. Her identity, once again, shifts as she assumes a new role in performing Auster's writing. In Gotham City, Calle oscillates between being bound by Auster's instructions and interjecting her own authority. Calle feels she has "a duty to obey. That was the agreement. I have no other choice but to submit [to Auster's words]." (246) However, in the very next paragraph, Calle exposes Auster's gaps and fills them in: "Paul didn't ask me to count the smiles I give. Unquestionably an oversight. I add this item to the handbook" (246). Calle continues to play with her relationship to the authority of Auster's instructions: "I have a fantasy: I am arrested [for tapping a public phone], I stand before the judge. He proposes an alternative punishment: smile, distribute food, and talk to people. I say: 'No! I prefer jail'." (252)
Representation: The Absent Referent
What becomes evident throughout Calle and Auster's authorial games are the continual transformations in representation. Through Calle's and Auster's shifting subjectivity and their movement between texts as both author (outside the text) and subject (representation in the text) they are able to expose, not only the fictionality of both 'author' and 'subject', but also the structure of representation itself. This inability to determine fact from fiction and author from subject exposes the instability, the gaps and fissures in the text. Thus the text creates a web of infinite possibilities that debunk notions of authorial origin, and truth. The referent is, in fact, dissolved between these intertextual layers of representation. Roland Barthes writes:
The interplay between writing and death, the absence and presence of authorial identity, is explored through Calle's and Auster's flirtatious relationships with the texts.
By destabilizing their own authorial identity as unified and unitary, Calle and Auster transform their writing into an interplay of signs. "Sophie Calle", like "Paul Auster", as both author and subject of Calle's work, continually slips between - and outside - the role of signifier and signified. The movement between Auster and Calle and Calle and Auster enables difference to be articulated. Meaning is no longer produced through the closure of signifier and signified, rather through the free-play of the signifier. Calle and Auster deconstruct and expose the arbitrary linkage of signifier and signified. What do "Sophie Calle" and "Paul Auster" signify? Is "Sophie Calle" within the frame or the text a sign for Sophie Calle outside the frame or the text? Is Peter Aaron merely a textual recreation of Paul Auster? "Sophie Calle" and "Paul Auster" as both sign and signifier are constructed and deconstructed simultaneously. This unstable signification is articulated through the use of fact and fiction and its relation to narration and representation. Calle and Auster are able to move between the author and the author/subject; this oscillation between enables Calle and Auster to highlight not only the similarities between the author and the author/subject but also the differences and inconsistencies. Repetition then, rather than solidify or fix representation, can be read as a play of difference.
But if it is conflicting and fragmentary stories that construct identity, then the fragmentary and conflicting stories that we read in Leviathan lead us to create our version of the identity of the exploded man, like Calle's clues and evidence that enable us to construct an identity for Calle by mapping out the relational significances. These constructions encourage us (as viewer, reader and detective) to attempt the futile task of determining fact from fiction. Calle's self-conscious blurring of fact and fiction suggests that any attempt at defining a unifying and totalizing identity will prove unsuccessful.
But Calle and Auster consciously draw attention to, as well as reiterate and remark their identity as both author and subject. Included in the first few pages of Double Game are pages 60-67 of the Faber and Faber edition of Leviathan. That is to say, those pages that describe Maria/Calle's projects. Calle 'edits' these printed pages, returning them to her, playing with notions of authorship and the palimpsest. She begins by writing "Hello Maria" across the first page with red ink and then proceeds to "correct" Auster's telling, reclaiming her narrative. "The next
In reclaiming her experiences and performing Maria's projects and Auster's words Calle blurs the boundaries of writing and authorship and exposes the false singularity and unity of 'author'. Calle and Auster endlessly displace and draw our attention to the instability of meaning by drawing attention to the multiplicity of voice and the gaps or fissures in the narrative; the process is exposed and the reader gets caught up in the construction and deconstruction - he or she gets caught playing the game.
Both Calle and Auster displace and complicate the singularity of the relationship between author/text, author/subject and fiction/truth. Thus, meaning is not produced through a static closure of the binary but through free-play of the signifier. According to David Lodge,
By mingling fact with fiction and displacing notions of authorial origin, Calle and Auster, also develop dialogic relationships between the authors, narrators, texts and performances. Through textual deconstructions and textual reconstructions, the formation of identity is exposed and presented as process. Their work and their continual playful repositioning of self challenges fixed, unified and totalizing notions of identity. Identity, and particularly that of Auster and Calle (and their stand-ins), is always fluid, repositioning and (re)presenting self both inside and outside their texts through an interplay of fact and fiction. L'enquête de Sophie Calle continuera; and maybe this time, Paul Auster is suspect…
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---, with the participation of Paul Auster. Double Game. London: Violette Editions, 1999.
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Saltzman, Arthur. "Post Hoc Harmonies: Paul Auster's Leviathan." This Mad Instead: Governing Metaphors in Contemporary American Fiction. South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2000: 63-73.
Anna Khimasia is a PhD student at Carleton University, Canada. This essay is part of her MA thesis which looks more closely at Calle and Auster's interaction and the theoretical implications of their authorial intrusions.
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