What Could Have Been
“I’ve always thought of writing or any art as a kind of illness, and you catch it pretty early in life and you’re condemned to do it."
“I don’t think there’s a human being alive who doesn’t reflect on what could have been.” Watch the great American novelist Paul Auster on the impact of the choices we make, the obsessive nature of writing and having reached the age of 70. Read more …
“It’s impossible for me to conceive of what my life would have been, but it certainly would have been hugely different.” Auster feels that our choices have an enormous influence on our life, and that each choice can lead to possible alternative realities. For example, he met his wife Siri Hustved in 1981 at a poetry reading that he initially didn’t want to go to, and the two were introduced by the only person in the world they both knew: “You begin to think about this, and it’s dizzying.”
Though Auster initially only aspired to write one single book, he soon realized that “you don’t just write one book. There are many things inside you, and one thing leads to another.” He feels that there are very few people in the arts who keep going, and that the ones that do are driven by a sort of obsession: “I’ve always thought of writing or any art as a kind of illness, and you catch it pretty early in life and you’re condemned to do it. Your life will be unfulfilled if you don’t do it, even though it’s very difficult and very, very demanding… so I don’t really feel I have a choice.” The extraordinary thing about writing, he continues, is that you can lose yourself: “You leave yourself behind, and you’re in the work that you’re doing.” Much in the same way, reading a book is a uniquely private experience, which is why books are irreplaceable: “A book is the only place in the world where two strangers can meet on terms of absolute intimacy.”
“In the United States nobody listens to writers, nobody cares what a writer has to say. We are very marginalized and literature is a pursuit that most people are not interested in.” Auster considers the U.S. a very practical nation, where most things revolve around money. Movie actors seem to have filled in the role of public intellectuals in Europe, and are the ones who people for some reason want to listen to: “Which seems neither good nor bad, just bizarre.”
Paul Auster (b. 1947) is a highly acclaimed American novelist. He has published numerous novels such as the ‘The New York Trilogy’ (1985-1987), ‘Moon Palace’ (1989), ‘The Music of Chance’ (1990), ‘Leviathan’ (1992’), ‘The Book of Illusions’ (2002), ‘Man in the Dark’ (2008), ‘Sunset Park’ (2010) and ‘4321’ (2017), as well as autobiographical books such as ‘The Invention of Solitude’ (1982), ‘Winter Journal’ (2012) and ‘Report From the Interior’ (2013). He has also written screenplays for several films, including ‘Smoke’ (1995). Auster is the recipient of prestigious awards such as the Prix Médicis Étranger (1993) and the John William Corrington Award for Literary Excellence. From 2018 he will be President of PEN America.
Paul Auster was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in August 2017 in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival in Denmark.
Camera: Klaus Elmer
Edited by: Klaus Elmer
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2017
Supported by Nordea-fonden