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Exile II

In late 1971 Auster’s fictional persona began to coalesce. He writes that “A. returned to Paris, where he would remain for the next three and a half years.”52 He writes “returned” as if to a previous life there, returned as all Frenchmen do from foreign lands that, while exotic, are less convivial to a life of art. In fact he had spent less than three months in France. But it was an assertive move, aimed at exploring this method of creating cultural capital.

He had spent the previous summer working on an oil tanker to earn some money, a job gained through a friend. With these funds Auster and Davis moved to the 15th arrondissement of Paris, where they set up house with that $3,000-4,000.53 They stayed until the end of 1971, working on translations, teaching English, and doing odd jobs—Auster once served as telephone operator of the New York Times bureau. We can imagine a very close relationship, but they went through their money quickly. Some went to establish Living Hand Press. Publishing their translations of Celan, Bataille, and Jabes alongside their own work, it must have seemed that they would acquire the symbolic capital of these authors. But this bootstrapping depended on having a receptive circle, readers who understood what they were trying to create. Normally these would be other artists, with whom they could share emotional energy and for whom they could perform reciprocal services, such as organizing readings, reviewing books, or starting a press. But Auster and Davis didn’t have much of a circle, even less in Paris, and the press was still in planning.

Around Christmas, 1971, they broke up. Davis moved to a village near Sligo, Ireland. Auster moved into a chambre de bonne in Dupin’s house and worked at odd jobs in Galerie Maeght. He later told the New York Times that “during a sojourn in Paris in the early 1970s ... he sought out the poet, who not only bought him dinner but also soon afterward gave him use of the guest room in his apartment, which Mr. Dupin and his wife, Christine, often lent to struggling writers, political refugees and others.” He stayed for a year, he said, “writing most of the poems later included in his book Unearth.”54 While he omits the circumstances in this Times’ story, Auster confirms his close proximity to Dupin—and having a famous patron did aid his progress.

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