Food for thought (Travels in the Scriptorium)

auster450I like this caricature of Paul Auster.  I will use it whenever I want to give you some "food for thought" linked to things we debated over in class.

We discussed about some interesting points in "Travels in the Scriptorium".  Some of you liked the novel, others hated it, especially for the passages about "bodily functions" and "sexual pleasure".  We still need to "dig in" and compare ideas and reactions.  Our starting point was to highlight the following trends present in this novel: modernism, post-modernism, dystopia, metafiction, intertextuality.  All these terms should be clear by now, but if they aren’t, please let me know.  I then mentioned the reader’s theory (reader-response criticism) and Roland Barthes’s essay "Death of the Author" , just to point out the paramount role played by the reader in constructing meaning.  We saw that in "Travels in the Scriptorium" Auster involves the reader in the process of investigation and asks the reader to continue the story, finish it, modify it, as the character himself Mr. Blank is asked to. 

Yesterday I was reading a book on creative writing and I found this interesting quotation by Hemingway, writing of the practice of fiction.  I would like to share it with you since I think it really fits the journey we have undertaken with this blog.

You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true … to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable and … have it seem normal … so that it can become a part of the experience of the person who reads it. travels

Writing and reading are collaborative acts in the making and performance of space-time.  Readers participate; they become, partly, writers.  They will take part, consciously and unconsciously, in a literary creation, and live their life in tht moment and at that speed – while they are reading. If matters are left unexplained, untold, then inquiring readers will lean towards that world.  Readers fill in the gaps for themselves, writing themselves into that small universe.  The reader is active, as a hearer and a witness.

So fill in the gaps, guys, and do not be irritated by the things Paul Auster does not tell us!

When reading "Travels in the Scriptorium" I could find some links with another dystopic novel that I would like to mention and refer to as soon as we get to deal with Orwell, Huxley and Bradbury.  The novel I am referring to is "High-rise" by J.G. Ballard  and it is a sort of modern fable, a commentary on the hideous possibilities of advanced technology and the rat-like nature of trapped human beings.  Just as it happens with Auster, Ballard contrives to unsettle and tease the reader and in the novel unease is created and thus perceived by the reader.  Should you have any time and should you be particularly hooked by dystopic fiction, then have a go with Ballard.  I can lend it to you if you wish.  Ballard defines Earth as the "only alien planet".  He is a very controversial writer, if you wish to get to know something about him, click on the link below (BBC Profile: J.G. Ballard talks to critic Tom Sutcliffe about his life and work).

Leave your empowering considerations!  I am eager to read some of your responses to this first "food for thought" session.  As you can see, there are no guiding questions this time.  You can express your thoughts freely!!!  I am sure the things I wrote will trigger some "fizzy" reaction. 


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52 risposte a Food for thought (Travels in the Scriptorium)

  1. anonimo scrive:

    Teacher, you never seem to stop working! Even food for thought now. Well, I must confess it is really challenging. First of all, congratulations for the way you have improved the blog. I will respond to this new posting, but now it’s too late. Time to go to bed.

  2. anonimo scrive:


    I am the one who was “scandalized” and “shocked” by Auster’s novel “Travels in the Scriptorium”.

    I just would like to explain my normal reaction to this book.

    I find that Paul Auster has a really strange way of writing, with a multitude of shades: it changes with the shifting from a literary genre to another.

    In one book, for example “Mr Vertigo”, he can be very subdued even when he has to describe very hard moments; in another he can be very rough and unfeeling. The last book we read is an exemplification of what I just wrote.

    I really did not like “Travels in the Scriptorium”, and I do not agree with your view of the novel.

    In several parts I read it as an offence to the female figure. [Sometimes I think I am a very proud feminist =) ]. The part where Mr Blank whimpers because he wants to touch Sophie’s breast otherwise he will not swallow the pills, it was very maddening for me.

    I cannot see it as if this man was a kid, as if everything was new for him.

    I see it as it really is: Mr Blank is an old man, and the touching of Sophie’s breast is only a fancy of a smart man, who knows, that being in his condition can help him getting some attentions that can procure him physical pleasure.

    I find also that these scenes could be described in many other ways. The author’s choice felt into the most direct and effective one that did not match with my expectation and sensitivity.

    There are some passages where he wrote about “bodily functions”. I found it very disrespectful; there are human being that have those kind of difficulties, and, in my opinion, this is not the way in which an acculturate man, like Auster, should pay respect.

    I am a good reader, I am very jealous of my books, and by reading I can explore millions of worlds that are described in my books.

    With Paul Auster’s novel I was not able to do this, to travel (despite this word is part of the book’s title) with imagination, and I am really sorry about that. It is really disappointing for a reader to find a book poor of involving power.

    That is all.

    This in my personal response to Paul Auster’s novel “Travels in the Scriptorium”.

  3. anonimo scrive:

    I’ve never read anything by Ballard, but after having watched this long interview and heard some extracts of his main books, I frankly admit that I will never read one of them. His books deal with very extreme situations, like car crashes, well-educated people that turn up in savages…I generally avoid this kind of books. I always read before bedtime and for me reading means to escape from my everyday routine, it means being immerged in another world/situation better than this, it means dreaming, open my mind and my soul…and then, after having closed the book I want to fall asleep with a smile on my face (Wait!! this doesn’t mean that I read always love stories or things like that!). For me reading is (another way of) living. I don’t want to read books that make me anguished, reading should be something delightful, not a nightmare! This are the reasons why I personally don’t read that kind of strange science fiction books that deal,in my opinion, with too strange and supernatural events that border on the absurd (like the one of Ballard).

    I recognize however the greateness of the author that writes that kind of books.

    P.S.concerning ‘Travels in the scriptorium’: I totally agree with what Eugenia said, and I support her opinion. It seems as if P.Auster’s charachters are sex-obsessed!! Gosh!!

    Chiara Pinardi

  4. anonimo scrive:

    Guarino Ilaria

    I have to be honest…at the beginning i didn t like “Travel in the scriptorium”…to many names,to many mysteries to be solved.I know that is a limit but personally,as a reader,I prefer a different kind of book.Despite this,after the discussion in class about our opinion I discovered several different aspects that I had not grasped or i had not go into that in order to understand better the “story”.Perhaps this term is not the one who suit the best because in reality this is not a true story but a story in a story with a conclusion to be invented.Mr Blank is the transposition of the reader on paper.Mr Blank coincides exactly with the reader as it is called to interpret and conclude a story already begun.The reader response criticism is applied both in Mr Blank and in the reader.Travel in the scriptorium is not a classic detective story.Auster gives us hint that provoced in us reaction that we have to compare with the one that has the main charachter when he receve them.When we see with Mr Blank photos and faces that are unknown to us associated to other unknown names we feel terribly stanned.

    In all this chaos and this mystery we are the witness of the death of the author.As Barthes says”The scriptor exists to produce but not to explain the work and “is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, [and] is not the subject with the book as predicate.” Every work is “eternally written here and now,” with each re-reading, because the “origin” of meaning lies exclusively in “language itself” and its impressions on the reader.”

    The thing that fascinated me the most of this book was the subtle analysys on communication(I m refering to the pages where Mr Blank realizes that all the labels calling items are somehow reversed).

    Regarding the video I find that Ballard is very close to Auster and his thought.Like in Paul Auster novels also in Ballard there are obsessive references to war.They both lead,although in a different way,an(let s say) “investigation”into the society.

  5. anonimo scrive:

    immediatly after reading the quotation “the earth is the only alien planet” i think about what we discussed in class about metaphysic. i think about the different everyday habits of people all over the world ( food, marriage, religion just to give some elementary example), as well as events like boys who run in class shooting all what are in front of him, just to arrive at the ( strong) conclusion that we’re all strangers to the others, simply because we cant’ possibly know the thoughts and the feelings of the others. and that the definition of metaphysic: trying to understand and describe the nature of truth, life reality [and human being…why not? =) ]

    as we also said in class travels in the scriptorium is a very centred post modernist work, created by a moisture and a pastiche of genres. the predominant one in this case is the detective story. i really appreciate this point because i feel very involved in unbending the mystery of mr blank life, even if the his congectures and actions was so slow that i would have kick him, if it hadn’t covered behind a solid piece of paper =P . i personally feel very involved by auster’s way of posing questions, leaving doubts and so on…but i like the detective stories because in the end there’s a solution! so i feel mocked and betrayed at the very end and when i abruptely shut the book i can’t keep a sufficient calm to thinking about the peculiarity of this novel. i would have had the capability of inventing the story and the next events even if in the end there had been the solution…i fill the gaps because of my curiosity ( that sometimes it could be very annoying), but i can’t help to be irritated. if it is a peculiarity of this way of writing, to create a sort of no-way ending, perhaps i don’t like the post modernist XD

    giacomin elena

  6. anonimo scrive:

    ….I’m VERY ANGRY NOW….the pc doesn’t work well and my personal(wonderful=))))new notebook can’t use my home internet modem(because it comes from a prehistorical world!!!!!!)however I hope to change it during this week, and by the end of next week I wish I could watch the video and have some interesting reaction to share with you)…

    now I can only work on ‘travels’…

    despite eugenia, I am not a good reader, unluckily I read very little…however I did’nt like this work from auster for two very reason…n°1:I found really vulgar the way he talked about ‘phisical need'(both sexual and ‘bodily function’)…I don’t mean it needs a kind of censorship or things like that…but I think the author could has been more tactful…there are differnt ways to deal with these kind of themes and if he writes for a vast, mixed public, he could has paid more attenction to the kind of linguistic register he used…(maybe I’m a bit too severe but in this period I’m angry whith the world and my pessinism reach the highest peaks in the story)…the second rason is the non-end of the story…

    however, the more I read this author the more I’m interested to know if he has a sort of project in his mind,a kind of web, in which every element(that is mentioned or protagonist in other works ecc…)of his books, finds a precise role in that mental web;in a work that riassumes all the themes ,the reasoning he made about life sense;I wish that in the end of his career,he wrote a book in which every history he didn’t conclude by now,will find a satisfacting conclution.In this way the readers(both fans or not) can check their supposed conclutions.

    I don’t know if I was exaustive in my conceptuous thought….I hope it…however, maybe I can express myself better using voice that with words…


  7. anonimo scrive:

    Arnoldi Martina

    when I think about “Travels in the scriptorium”,I have in mind the adjective stange.reading this book was like resolve a puzzle.I read and I wanted to go on because I thought “I’m sure,I’m close to the Paul Auster will give me some information”.unfortunately I got to the end without a solution.Auster guided me through his novel,he helped me understanding some little things and at the end he left me or ha gave me the oportunity to go on with his novel,he gave me the ground but I am the one who should go on.maybe he already knows in what way we will decide to go my opinion he gave us mental liberty so that we can interpret it in a personal way.”travel in the scriptorium” is a book that brings you to the resignation,or you love it or you hate it.I think it’s a book that can’t have a summary because it doesn’t follow an ordinary is an investigation through a man’s mind.this man,Mr Blank,like us would love to descover the why,the what,the when and the how of his situation.Mr Blank lost his identity.I’m thinking about “il fu Mattia Pascal”,he lost his identity.the two story are complitely different but I think that it’s not a mistake if I say that in some way Mattia Pascal and Mr Blank are in the same situation.I hope I can explain you better my thought in class,maybe it is a little bit confused=)

  8. anonimo scrive:

    I liked this book, even if during the reading I wonder more than once if it was only a writing exercise for Auster. He gives us a short, eerie, artful and inscrutable story, a disturbing nightmare that we are asked to share with the protagonist, Mr. Blank. Auster is often referred to as a master of the metaphysical detective story, and this novel is the clearer sample: his great writing technique is complemented here by the modesty of the set: all he needs is a room, a bed, a chair, a door and a window. So it is not the characters or the plot that is difficult to keep tabs on but our own emotions, as this is a chilling story of isolation, about living in uncertainty (one of Auster’s perennial themes), immortality and art (the double sided life of his characters, who are nothing without the author – because the writer chose to say this and not that, he is their god of randomness – but, at the same time and differently from him, they are immortal). The reader will really be in Blank’s boat with him and it is Auster’s metaphysical technique, the power of fiction, that moves you even if you don’t fully understand the story. I am sure that Auster wits that a simple literary trick (a story within a story, a character with a strange name) can become something intricate and intriguing at the same time. The result is a puzzled and mysterious book that must be readed both the fine print and between the lines, even if there is no simple or even certain answer.

    Alessandro Piccin

  9. anonimo scrive:

    I’ve never paid attention before to this side of the role of a reader, I’ve always taken it for sure that it is the author who creates everything, this story of the gaps is new for me (i read only the books we are compelled to as students, my experience as a “free” reader is embarrassingly limited). Well, I did not like Travels for many reasons, but at this point I understand why: I did not feel like filling the gaps, I mean, I didn’t find it involving, but irritating. Perhaps it is because I wasn’t worried about Mr Blank destiny, the worst it is, the happiest I am! And since I’m not a patient nor an extremely careful reader, this book was really difficult, disappointing, superficial (“Man in the dark” seems to be more interesting, according to the few pages of Man in the dark I’ve read so far)

    But as you said in class, it provoked our reactions, violent and not very flattering, but at least reactions.

    I’m not sure it is enough, anyway.

    fede zille

  10. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Dear Eugenia,

    Thanks for your opinion. I am happy that you do not agree with me. The scenes that you found disrespectful to a woman’s sensitivity I did not find as such. I do not deem myself less feminist than you are, but I think that Auster is not being desrespectul or implite to women in this novel. Mr. Blank is a living dead: feeling pleasure is a way of feeling alive, and this pleasure is (in this novel) given by a man’s interaction with a woman (be it through touching her breast or being touched by her). Obviously, I do not want to convince you, since this is not my role or aim as a teacher. I am happy to read your reaction, this implies that you were pricked and prodded to do that. So, the novel was already successful in that, it sparked a reaction! This novel is even peculiarly affected by the detective story genre. I would say it is contaminated by it, but it subverts it. Mr. Blank (just like a detective) is trying to work out a mystery (who he is, who the people who may him a visit are, etc.), but in the end he does not resolve any case. We are shocked by the understanding that he is just one of the figments of the writer’s imagination. He does not exist. This leaves us perplexed because we felt the need to get to a solution.

    Chiara, thanks for sharing with us your approach to reading. It goes without saying that Ballard is not the kind of writer that lulls you into sleep! As to sex in Paul Auster’s novels, I would not say that Paul Auster’s characters are obsessed with sex. Sex is part of life, so the writer, by writing about life, touches on this aspect. As I pointed out in class, sex, o better, sensuality, may play a paramount role when it is seen as a driving force, as a source of vitality. You saw plenty of that in “The Inner Life of Martin Frost”. But in what other works by Auster do you see these sex-obsessed characters? Not in “The Country of Last Things”, not in “Timbuktu”, not in “Man in the Dark”, etc. In “The Country of Last THings” the sexual relationship between wife and husband is seen as a way of bonding, as a way to boy beyond the sense of loneliness and desperation that surrounds them.


    Thanks for your quotations from Barthes, very useful for your classmates too. Thanks for your link between Auster and Barthes. I am also happy to read that class discussion disclosed aspects of the novel that you had not thought of yourself. This is the main objective of this blog and of the class debates we have together.

    Dear Elena,

    You see, AUster plays with the detective story and he plays with the expectations we have of it. He starts from this genre, to then “capsize” it and create a totally new detective story, that is an Austerian detective story, where no answers are given. The reader is left with lots of doubts.

    Erica, what you wrote is clear. Happy to read you are intrigued by this writer. Auster does not want to appeal to a “wide readership”. As a writer I think he wants to sell his books, but I do not think his books can be read by everybody. He is not an easy writer so, I think, his way of dealing with sexuality and bolily functions is meant to put off the reader, to confront him/her with things s/he would not expect to find. As to your wish of having Auster write a novel in which he solves all the unresolved books of his, well, you could always ask him this question!

    Martina, it is right to say that the novel is about identity, but not about a given identity. It is about the construction of identity. The auther seems to play around with the question of identity (at least I think so, but as I pointed out in class, I am never sure myself with Paul Auster)

    Alessandro, thanks for yoru insightful comments. You reveal great understanding of this novel.

  11. anonimo scrive:

    There is no doubt that writing is a form of art, and as a form of art writing implies, or even demands, interaction with the recipient. A painting is painted in such a way that can evoke something in the observer, a sculpture is created to show a mood, an idea, or the power of who it represents; a book, -it could be a masterpiece or a best-seller, there is no difference- is written in a way that makes the reader feel to be into the story; the reader becomes the observer of a story that must be interesting for him from the first page till the end. The sentence of Hemingway is very appropriate: the writer has to invent a parallel world in which people and things move as if they were in a plastic, above which there is the author with a magnifying glass in his hand, guiding the reader, and showing him the most salient, the most significant aspects and things of that microcosm. The skill of the writer is, however “to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable”, that is, whatever you write, extremely real or extremely imaginative, must seem so real, so authentic, that the reader can be convinced that everything he reads is happened, or it is still happening, really. All this things can be realized in different ways.

    Today the world of literature is divided into two main genres: the real literature and the best-sellers. It is wrong, as it is usually thought, that only well-known books that don’t deal with deep themes, or that are easy to read for the general public can satisfy these characteristics. All of us have heard of J. R.R. Tolkien, Patricia Cornwell, Frederick Forsyth or Tom Clancy: they are world famous writers who build in their works, stories, settings, characters with a narrative style that meets these characteristics, even if they address a particular public and have a precise target (they write principally to sale) that condition their choices. The real literature meets these “requirements” in a more peculiar and interesting way. For example, Michael Cunningham (The Hours) creates his characters giving them an extraordinarily real humanity, and showing, even in their particularity and diversity, the everyday and universal problems of life.

    Auster narrates stories, that are someway unusual, but, even if they are a little bit “strange” -Auster’s novels are metafictional ones, where concepts of fiction and reality are vague and elusive- they seem incredibly real. The most obvious example is the description -that may seem sometimes morbid, but it is absolutely not like that- all the natural functions of the protagonist. Mr. Blank is not an “artificially” constructed protagonist, it is so real that he can upset the reader for his disarming reality, that is described in details. And even if the reader knows that the whole novel is fictional –it seems that the author is admitting that- fiction is increasingly elusive and everything is observed by the reader that illudes himself that he can even talk to Mr. Blank, an elderly man who has his own health problems, more or less unpleasant, is neither very brave or very smart, it’s just a man, as who is reading. The reader observes Mr. Blank, he sees everything he does and says, even in the privacy of the bathroom: the reader is shocked, but continues to read what happens to this strange man without memory. And although he is disturbed by what he sees, the reader continues to read, reacting to Auster’s provocation. The game between the reader and the author is renewed, and the author wins.

    Raggiotto Francesco

  12. anonimo scrive:

    i don’t want to bother you too much, but i would like to know if my conceive about ballard’s quotation of the alien planet is quite right or if it goes beyond the task of this post, because i’m not sure if it something possible or if my opinion is just an erroneous link. i’ve fear to make my imagination too fast in future tasks.

    thank you

    elena giacomin

  13. anonimo scrive:

    I saw the video on youtube and I understood very little about Ballard. At the beginning there is the interviewer who says that J.C.Ballard is a writer who wants to peel away (is it correct??!!) the surface of the world, who is fascinated by the connection between real world and imaginary one’s, which don’t exist, but he creates it. For Ballard the most safe country in the world, becomes the most fearful. It is a little bit strange what he thinks but I agree in part with his quotation because nowadays with all these injustices in the world, and this brutality, also the best person in the world, becomes the worst. I see the link, as you Mrs Ziraldo pointed out above, between Paul Auster (“in the country of last things”), Orwell (“1984”) and J.C.Ballard (“High-rise”). This last book was published in 1975 and was a sort of preoccupation for enclaved communities. In this book there is an apartment block whose prosperous and educated teenagers slowly repress into a state of savage. They don’t have any contact with the world around. I think it could be interested reading this novel, I have read the other 2 novels and I like them, because they deal with a particular argument: totalitarism, but honestly I have no time! As I write before, J.C.Ballard is a little bit strange because in this large interview he also says: >. I don’t like this part that’s why I would never read one of his books, which deals with this argument because I read every single day about things like this in the newspaper and I always see news on tv, yes it is the reality but I am too sad and angry for what happens in our world, in my country that I don’t want to feel anxious before I go to sleep, otherwise I couldn’t fall asleep. If I think about this dreadful things, I couldn’t live! I also agree with J.C.Ballard’s last quotation: >. I think that some sports prompt violence too but their influence on us depends also on our intelligence…

    Santarossa Barbara

  14. anonimo scrive:

    When i think of “Travels in the Scriptorium”, the first question that i would love to know is: ”Who changed the label?”. But immediatly hundreds of different questions come. All the book is a mystery, a train of unsolved issues: Who is Mr Blank??? Where is he??? Why is he there???

    Another point that astonished me is “the end” ,but what end….there isn’t an end!!! Somebody can show me the end??? I don’t think so….

    I completely agree with Eugenia that in class said that Paul Auster have describe some situations that were not essential and necessary to involve the readers…The fact that Paul Auster is vague about the life of the protagonist is already a form of involvement. For me, in the passages when he deals with “bodily functions” and “sexual pleasure”, he appears a little bit volgar. He used “spicy details” that make the characters of the story appear as a sexual-addicted person. Even the image that i draw in my mind of the women isn’t a good image…Both the two women appears as the object of man’s pleasure. They are submitted by the wish of Mr Blank…

    Riccardo ,If i’m not mistaking, in class said that Mr Blank is like a child…I don’t agree with him. My point of view is that he is a pervert because if somebody told me that he wants to touch my breast, my first reaction is to slap him and i wouldn’t find any kind of compromise as the woman did….

    In the video about James Ballard’s life and work the phrase that strikes me is when he said that he always creates a connection between the real world and the imaginary one, that exist only in his mind…For me it’s important to create your own world, where you can go when you are sad…it’s important to create a parallel world that goes near the railway of the real life…Two different railway that don’t across one another…the imaginary one can’t be contaminated by anybody!! It is secret world, nobody can see it, only you!!! It possible that the fact that happen in your world are the same that take place in the real world…..

    The titles of the books that Ballard presents are a little bit worrying….I remember “The drowned world” that deals with a chatastophe…The solar radiation has caused the melting of the ice-caps and all the cities are submerged by the water and it creates a beautiful lagoons…The video show some wonderful images about this imaginary lagoons…it seems to be a paradise!!!!

    But other book are really sad as ”The atrocity exhibition” that deals with every possible strange and painful events….

    As Chiara, I think i can’t read books too much distressing because if i read, i read to relax….


  15. anonimo scrive:

    “Travels in the scriptorium”…a very strange story which deals with metaphysical themes…It seems all real but it is only the result of our imagination…

    There are lots of questions that come out from the story but they remains all open…unless an answer… A normal novel would have disclose all the enigmas at the end but in this case the author, Paul Auster, decides to leave them open. He does not want to reveal all the misteries…Who is Mr Blank?…Where is he and what has he done to the people who stay around him? Mr Blank himself does not know these things and it seems he does not do anything to try to understand…yes, he tries to watch out the window to discover where is he, but he always forget to ask it to his visitors (and it should have been the first and the most spontaneous thing to do!).

    Another detail that somehow prod the reader is that of the door , he always ask himself if he is blocked inside the room or if he could go out everytimes he wants to, but he does not do anything to make this happen…It seems an incessant thought that bombards his mind as the other enigmas but he does not react. He does not go to the door to see if it is open and it is so easy!

    He is somehow absent and he faces days as an unexperienced child…as if he does all for the first time…as if all around him was new.

    I did not like so much this novel…it does not reflect my tates and maybe it is too twisted and compelling for me…when i read i would like to relax and to “travel” with my mind in a story already written, not to create my own one. Here Paul Auster leave the story open…I like the way how Sophie Harrison, in her review, describes the way how Paul Auster worked in this book, she said he is the teacher who gives the hints and the students (the readers) have to construct the sense…It is true and this quotation perfectly suits the book!

    As regards J.G.Ballard i think that he has lots of correspondences with P.Auster. For example the themes…they both deal with strange things…car accidents, floods,extreme situations and apocalyptic visions for Ballard and metaphisical and unreal things for Auster…they “travel” a lot with their imagination!

    A last thing…i totally agree with another sentence of Sophie Harrison concerning all the labels on the objects in Mr Blank’s room, she said that the reader remains so puzzled by this novel that he would like to place a label marked WHY? on Paul Auster!!!

    Marson Chiara

  16. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Dear Francesco,

    I compliment myself for the wonderful post you wrote. You did a wonderful job. However, I take the term “good literature” with a pinch of salt. You may find a book like the “Hours” a perfect example of “good literature”, but there are some literary critics that would not agree with you. They may agree with you as to its being a good novel, but they would not define it a masterpiece, or they would not annovarate it among the list of must-read books! I like the novel myself, with this comment of mine, I am just inviting you to reflect on the use of words. It would be great to discuss in class what you all consider “good literature”, what its features are, or better what a novel, poem, play, etc. should have to be considered an example of “good literature”.


    I’m sorry, but I have not understood your question. Ballard deals with the theme of loneliness/isolation (created by a world dominated by lack of true interaction, drugs, incoherence, lack of understanding, smothering atmosphere – be it because there are too many people living cheek by cheek and thinking about their well being only, etc.) and the need of finding someone who listens to you, who shares certain values and principles, who gives you love, etc. The city becomes symbolic of this smothering loneliness, this absence of constructive interaction. The city becomes a hellish place, where you run the risk of losing yourself. We will be reading some excerpts taken from “High-rise” which will exemplify this concept. I don’t know whether I have answered your query or not. If I haven’t, well, you know where you can find me! 🙂


    You did not manage to attach the quotations, never mind, but I would have liked to read what puts you off about Ballard. As to you not feeling like reading certain authors now, I do understand. You are all under pressure and you are somehow “disappointed” by what you watch on tv or read in newspapers. Yet, as a teacher, I try to find links between what we deal with in class and your everyday’s life/existence. This is the reason why I confront you with certain authors. On top of that, Ballard is a dystopic writer himself, and in “High-rise” the setting is London, whereas in Paul Auster’s novels, it’s New York. Two capitals of two powerful and leading countries.


    thanks for your comment. I agree with you that reading is meant to relax us, but I would add that there are different kinds of reading we should do in our lives to become responsible citizens and thinking human beings. We read to relax, but we also read to be informed about certain issues, to be challenged in our views, to get to know what other people may think about an issue or how other people perceive the world around us, etc.


    be careful with the use of adjectives such as “normal”, etc. Who establishes what is “normal”? I know what you wanted to say, though. The fact that the reader is always given the same kind of novel (problem is presented, solution is given) creates a canon. This makes readers react negatively when they read something that does not match this canon. This is what Auster does, he goes against the canon to awaken us, because by going against the canon, our expectations are not met, so we feel puzzled and perplexed. Whatever reaction we have (acceptance or dislike), there is a reaction. We are not left indifferent by the writer’s work, we respond to it! If we put the label “why”, then it implies we have been touched by the novel, we have been moved to a sort of reaction!

    Thanks you all for your considerations. I loved reading them all.

  17. anonimo scrive:

    “Travel in the scriptorium” is a modernist book. I mean: in this book we don’t find answers at human existence. The modernist movement doubt our language capacity. The essence of a thing is not given by a name. It’s also a modernist book because it doesn’t belong to a specific genre, but we find an union of genres and arts.

    An example of what I said is in the labels: Mr. Blank knows all the things in the stanza from their names; one day they are changed. Auster wants to declare that a thing is that thing independently from his name. Moreover, as I have put out, there are many doubt, many questions that remains all open. This book gives no answers, it leaves our imagination free.

    – Who is Mr. Blank? Why is he in that room? Why is he obliged to take the pills? Why that pills have different colours? Why he doesn’t go to the door? Who is the people photographed in the pile of sheets? What has he committed in his past? Why is he obliged to finish the story? –

    Another thing to point out is the behaviour of Mr. Blank. His behaviour is the same as a children, that little by little learns to know his body: Mr Blank suffers of amnesia; we don’t know why but because of that, his behaviour looks like very funny. He gives a name at his penis [Big Shot]; he learns that he must go to the bathroom: he learns the basis functions of our body.

    The ability of Paul Auster was to make us identify with the protagonist, Blank. We are sucked in the feeling of him. We are confused, muddled as if we are in that room, as if we have to finish the story, or as if we are undecided of going to the door or not. It looks like if we have to solve the mystery.

    Also if it isn’t my genre of reading, I liked it because I lived with the protagonist, I felt his feelings. The no solution in a book is unusual because in the book I get used to read there is always a proposed key-reading. However, that particular gives to the work a subjective reading and it makes the book more “attractive”, puzzled and mysterious in the same time.

    Monica Santi

  18. anonimo scrive:

    When I first read the title “Travels in the Scriptorium”, it really made me curious about the meaning and about the story. The title is very stroking and, along with the cover, I think could tempt a potential reader to buy it. The cover is quite cold and empty but it implies mystery and surreal things ( I didn’t understand why in the other cover there is an horse in the middle of the room!!!). Then I began reading it and it was quite amusing the way the author presented the various pieces of the story that (I thought) by the end of the story should take a proper place in it. But I discovered soon that the whole process wasn’t going toward a right conclusion, so at the end of the story I felt really disappointed. Then I began thinking about this ending and I tried to make my own conclusion, and I realized I was doing exactly what Mr. Blank did, and maybe this was Paul Auster’s aim. At the very end I can’t say I am totally satisfied with the book but at least it wasn’t an heavy book, which takes you ages to finish it.

    Concerning the “sexual pleasure” and “bodily functions” I didn’t feel “scandalized” (as Eugenia said) because I saw this thing as if Mr. Blank was a baby who was discovering again his body, the female body and obviously sex.

    The thing I found most interesting was how the story was told: until the end you don’t realize that it is being told from the outside, that the focalization is external, but I had the feeling that it was told from Blank’s point of view.

    Riccardo Bagattin.

  19. anonimo scrive:

    One day in class you said that Paul Auster is a writer that can be only hated or loved, but the feeling that I have is more similar to indifference. However, it would be wrong say that it is not a good book, because (despite the modernist style I don’t like so much) it is well-written and the story is so absurd that it is quite interesting. But I have a strange impression, that this book born as a literary exercise, and the story came after the ending, that is quite disconnected from the plot.

    About the connection between writing and reading, it is not a new idea, as the Hemingway’s document says, and this Auster’s novel is a “extremist” way to affirm that. Probably Auster wanted to underline more as possible this aspect, and the “shocking” final is a good choice, I can’t deny it.

    Damiano Verardo

  20. anonimo scrive:

    Firstly I have to admit that usually I’m not really keen on the kind of novel that “Travels in the scriptorium” is and I forced myself to read it until the end. This is because there is too much investigation over human feeling, thoughts, actions etc…The only investigative novel I can stand is a thriller!

    Anyway, after this confession, I would like to point out something that I enjoyed of this novel.

    I really appreciate the importance that the reader has in this novel, if you loose the attention for a second you can’t possibly go forward and you have to use your brain and your creativity to fully understand the meanings the novel have, it’s an hard work but it’s pleasant that an author give us such a credit; I think he gives us the power to choose how we want to read what he wrote (isn’t a Banana Yoshimoto’s where every single thought or feeling is explained, analyzed and rewrote three or four times…Sorry Banana).

    I interpreted this book as the story of an author that forces himself and his creativity (represented by Mr Blank) that at the end of his work vanishes.

    PS: I read that in Italy a family buy an average of SEVEN books, CDs and DVD in a year long. This is really astonishing! But guys, I have to say that regarding only the books we have to read for school we break the statistics! 😉

    Francesca Cazorzi

  21. anonimo scrive:

    I think I will never suggest “Travel in the scriptorium” to anyone because I find it very disappointing and too much mysterious . To tell you the truth, at the beginning I kept my prejudices aside and I started reading it quickly because I was really interested in discovering the development of the events. But more I proceeded, more I did not manage to come across with the identity and the “real” role of the different characters. In this way I have to say that Austster has been able to make the reader play an active role in the novel and instil him/her the curiosity, but I also think that he put sexual innuendos and also explicit action referred to Mr. Blank penis to catch the attention of the readers and give him/her the fuel to go ahead, in a sort of sensational development to intrigue the reader and heat his inner perverse side . If in the film “The inner life of Martin Frost” the characters have sex to withdraw vital energy from it, in this novel I picked up only a sense of frustration, dissatisfaction and inability of being a defined men. In fact Mr. Blank is in continuously searching of his identity, his story, whatever thing which could link him to the reality. Everyday he runs on different people, but the irritating thing is that you cannot know the role that this people are playing on; Auster didn’t explain it, they are only people which come in and out from the “white room” of Mr. Blank. As far as the themes and especially the end are concerned, I think Auster wanted to wear (a little bit) the clothes of Pirandello. Actually the author wanted to point out the multiplicity of the reality, the relativism of our World instead of the existence of one only absolute Truth. But if Pirandello was more clear in his story and only in the end he revealed the concept of relativism, Auster put all the story in a huge cloud of dust, all is suspended in the air, you cannot successfully complete. I Know that life is very close to this concept, but a novel structured in this way is really mental distressing.

    Carolina Braghin

  22. anonimo scrive:

    I liked the story in order to follow the mental process that involves writers.When Auster asks us to write a story ourselves, one of his purpose,is to give us the possibility to become writers ourselves and to make us able to understand the responsibility the author has towards his characters.He is like a prisoner of his own creations and he has always to be pure like a baby in order to reconstruct their psychology and to not take nothing as given.Irrationality is a prerogative of children and characters have the need of that. Also the sexual acts have to be interpret I did not like the book for its length: the narration is stopped in the middle and the reader loses his power to be the creative mind and feels like another character in the hands of Auster.The scenery is very similar to the one of a dystopian world,and that’s interesting because it gives us the suggestion that dystopia is not absurd,but is create directly by us,so it is not absurd that Orwell had written 1984.

  23. anonimo scrive:

    Perin Marco

  24. anonimo scrive:

    You wrote: “ Readers fill in the gaps for themselves, writing themselves into that small universe”. This is what I was not be able to do reading “Travels in the Scriptorium”. I don’t like this book. Reading it I was not involve. I entered the scene, but not the mind of Mr. Blank; I mean: when I read this kind of book, which purpose is to analise the phsicology of a human being, I aspected to enter in the mind of the character and start thinking as he does, as if I where him or recognise me in some of his actions and thoughts to see how human mind works in some cases. I can do that also with “Travels”, but not in the way I aspected and not while I was reading.

    In this case I have not collaborated too much with the writer.

    However, it is true that when you read you become part of the world of the book. Personally, when I read a book or I see a film, I become very very involved sometimes, when I recocgnise myself in a character and, because I like enter the phsicology of human being, I don’t know, I start reflect on the mistery of the mind and on how can we be so strange in some things…

    Perhaps my mind is too strange and too intricate (like a clew) but I aspected something different by that book.

    Giulia Canzi

  25. anonimo scrive:

    I enjoy reading books that involve me completely. I agree when the writer leaves space and time to the readers, so that they can fill the gaps. Filling the gaps is a way to make the book and his contents ours. We are not passive readers, we have to feel involved and imagine to live the story that is told.

    I’ve found ”travels in the scriptorium” really interesting. It is like a travels in somebody’s mind to see how our psychology works. While I was reading some passages of the book I really felt angry with the principal character because I didn’t share his way of behave; for example, when he does nothing to know how the door works, if it is closed from the inside or from the outside. Maybe Auster wanted to underline the fear of knowing the reality around us; and sometimes I yelled to Mr Blank to stand up, go straight to the door and try to open it, so that he, but also me, can solve his dilemma.

    I don’t know my attitude toward Ballard because I’ve never read one of his book, I couldn’t know if they are interesting and if they are able to involve me. His catastrophical stories may catch my attention and do not give me the time to breath, but they may be so sad that I’m able to close the book and throw it out of the windows, I’m not very keen on stories that are terribly sad. What I know, at this very moment, is that when I finished watching the video, I had felt a sense of anguish, because I coludn’t find a logical connection in what Ballard was saying, maybe I’m stupid, but I’ve found it very confusing.

    Carla Cipolla

  26. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Dear Monica,

    As we pointed out in class, most dystopic novels raise some issues, make us think about them, but do not give us pre-packed or clear-cut answers. I agree with you when you mention that we are used to reading books with definite endings, this somehow explains why so many readers feel disoriented with some of Paul Auster’s novels.

    As Riccardo points out, even if a novel is not our cup of tea (that is it is not our favourite kind of reading!) this does not imply there are not things that are appealing and interesting in it. “Travels in the Scriptorium” is evidence of it: regardless of it being considered as a “atypical” novel (if the stick to the canon!), nobody can deny that the way it is written is not “original”, highly “experimental”, thus intriguing and involving.

    Dear Damiano,

    Your point is quite interesting. I had never seen this novel as a “pure” exercise in writing teachniques/styles.

    Dear Francesca,

    For sure you are not representative of the average Italian, you are lucky enough to attend a nice school and most of all of having a teacher of English who dogs you and makes you read books in English!!! I loved the comparison you made with Banana Yoshimoto. This is what a good reader should do. Compare and contrast, so thumb up for you. I also appreciate the fact that even if you did not like the novel so much you were so smart to look at the positive sides, instead of feeling frustrated by the reading. Another thumb up!

    Dear Carolina,

    You made me smile when you use the adjective “mentally distressing” to refer to “Travels in the Scriptorium”. You make some interesting comments and comparisons.

    Dear Marco,

    good considerations “my boy” (just to remind you of the expression used in “Animal Farm”!). :)))

    I appreciate, most of all, your considerations on dystopia: though a dystopic atmosphere is something we are entrapped in, ironically enough, we have created our own trap. Typical of human beings, it seems.

    Dear Julia,

    the fact you expected something different from the novel makes you realise and aware of the fact that when a reader starts reading a book s/he has expectations and when these are not meant, frustration follows. This is what Auster, in my opinion, wanted to achieve! Let’s put it like that: you read the novel, you did not like it and so now you know which literary genre you prefer. It is just by reading different things that we can state what we really like and why! (this is called looking at the positive side of things!)

    Dear Carla,

    You are stupid, Ballard, just like other dystopic writers, can be very disorienting. The view of the world as a chaotic and annihilating place influence the writer’s style and stories. I think you are just great because you are all reading a writer who is found “challenging” by many experienced readers. You are all doing a great job.

  27. anonimo scrive:

    Immediately when I recived the book ‘travels in the scriptorium’ I started reading it, because I cannot resist, I am always too curious to know what it is about..the title was so misterious! So I started reading it, but I didn’t find it sooo involving…and I put it away. Only after 2 weeks or so I continued it, and in that moment I couldn’t stop reading it! I hoped so much in an answer to all the question that I posed to mysel, but there was none to see. So I got to the last page, with no answers at all. This disappointed me, because I hate books with an unhappy end, but completely without an end, that’s too much! I think books are already involving in what concernes the story, the events, the plot, they don’t have to challenge directly the reader…this is linked to what we said today in class, why are people watching reality shows? Because in this way they can forget for a moment of their own life, and immerse themselves in another life, that is perhaps better than theirs. So the most of us like ‘complete’ stories, to forget about our present problems, to project ourselves into a different world, a world that is perhaps better than ours, or at least where sad things turn into happy ones at the very end.

    I have never read one of Ballard’s novels, but from what I understood from the video I would consider them as horror ones…I think I would feel worried and afraid reading that type of stories…For example I felt that sense of fear when I read ‘1984’ or Franz Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’. I felt like reading a horror story, I was anguished from it, but at the same time I loved those books and I couldn’t stop reading them. It’s such an ambiguous and strange feeling, a relationship between hate/love that is so attractive..

    Jana Stefani

  28. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Dear Jana,

    I like the expression you use to refer to your approach to the reading of certain books “a love/hate” reaction. It goes without saying that we all respond differently to a story and that we respond differently to the same novel over time (you are proof of this!). As it happens with Romanitic poets who want to awaken people from the “lethargy of custom”, Paul Auster (and many other writers) does not want to reinforce our complacencies, our sense of security, our need of peace and rest. He throws into our faces the tensions and anxiety rooted in our society and he “asks us” to stop escaping from them. He wants us to face them, because just by doing that we can change things. If we continue escaping into a utopistic dimension, things can only get worse. What better age to react to the negative “bits” if not your age?

  29. anonimo scrive:

    Giulia Marcassa

    I still don’t know If I liked “Travels in the Scriptorium” or not… It is a really strange book, according to Paul Auster’s mind, in my opinion (because of the story within the story, the importance of chance…). I must say thank you, because while I was reading the beginning of the book, it relaxed me so much that I risked to fall asleep many times (and that was a period in which I couln’t sleep very well, because really nervous; but Paul Auster “helped me”… )

    I’m joking, because after some pages I began to understand some things, but some points are not clear to me. Perhaps I should read the book again to understand it better, or read more reviews… But I’m not used to read books two times, or to watch films again, because life is so short and things to do are manifold.

    Really nice Hemingway’s quotation.

    I also watched the video on Ballard, even being really long… I found it really interesting… I liked the editing, the choice to show people some images of Second World War and the song used… I really appreciated to hear “The End” by The doors as background music, both because I really like that song and because it really fits the idea of apocalipse, expressed in one of Ballard’s dysopic novel. What’s so interesting about dysyopic novels?

    These tails seem often to be nonsense, but they’re really constructive, because make us reflect on the perversion of life and on justice… They’re so absurd that they eventually become true (as is happening for 1984 by George Orwell). In Ballard’s case, an environmental apocalipse is treated, and If we stop a minute, we can conclude this could be really possible. Ballard is really close to nature: the idea of the dystopia was born observing nature, landscapes and sea where he lives(so, as the interviewer says at the beginning, Ballard’s place is evocative to him as Dublin was to James Joyce). What’s more interesting about his work, is the creation of a different world, starting from a previous one, thanks to some “hidden truth”.

    I also found the connection with history really important (this link is explained also with some Twin Towers images), because our past life is the most powerful proof of the connection between the real and faint world: reality in the world has changed suddenly and this can still happen, so dystopia and our nightmares could become true and demonstrate to men that illogical things are a part of everyday life, even if hidden, perhaps.

    This gives me the shivers!

  30. anonimo scrive:

    J G Ballard ? in my opinion, a very strange, curious, unusual man. I found the interview with Ballard a bit disconcerting; I’ve never read a novel like the ones of Ballard yet. But now I’m very curious to know more about this genre. As a reader I used to read books like best-sellers, and all books dealing with involving love stories, or teenagers-issues, some times science fiction or crime stories; I don’t know exactly how to define this kind of books, but they are the ones that you can read when you have some hours off, or when you go to bed! “normal/ ordinary books” I don’t know! XD…..but reading authors like Paul Auster I’ve discovered a new literary world! Differences between Auster’s novels and “ordinary novels” are crystal clear!! An example: I love crime stories, because I use to identify myself with the characters of the stories, analyse the case and find out the murderer!.. but reading the stories, you can think a possible solution of the case but in the end the author gives you the answer of all the clues, and most of time destroys all your theories! That is good if you don’t want to fall asleep anguish because you don’t know how the story really ends!!! However That is exactly what happen if you read TRAVELS IN THE SCRIPTORIUM!!! Gosh! How could a story develop and finish in that way?!?!? It is obvious that when you finish it you are deeply bewildered and very angry!!! You’ve just lived a hard and pressing situation with Mr Blank for 130 pages! And you can’t get to the solution!?!?! This was my first reaction when I finished this ,by now, “legendary” book XD……. But just trying myself out with this book and experimenting this kind of feelings toward a book.. I’ve discovered another approach to the reading. By now I’m starting to appreciate this kind of stories, in which I have to give myself up into the story and live together with the characters. Paul Auster’s Travels in the scriptorium teaches me the important role that a reader has! The reader becomes an active agent , it becomes foundamental to give interpretation to what is written on the paper, wich turns into something real in the reader’s mind!

    —I’ m very interested in phsycology, and I’ve read the story of mr Blank like a travel in his erased mind; the way in which he approaches to his new reality it’s very interesting but also difficult to understand. He seem to be like a child, who has to discover step by step who he is, his body and his needs and I’ ve read those parts concerning with “bodily function” and “ sexual pleasure” just under this point of view; I wasn’t shocked by those parts because I can’t see things just like they appear so I think that they have more meanings and aims even if my 18-year-old brain can’t understand them yet. Maybe we will ask for answers directly to Mr Auster!

    Definitely I like this new way of reading that involves me complitely and gives me the opportunity to read a story under different points of view and to make my brain work to find out the phsycological aspects of characters’ mind and behaviour and even a possible end and sense of the story!! But in “travels in the scriptorium” I think, There isn’t one.. like there is not certain aswers to all questions in our life!

    —maybe I will read something by Ballard, it is onother genre that cought my attention.. expecially “Crash” that is a novel that deals with a terrible aspects of our life that are car accindents and violence; I’m curious to now why he chooses this kind of theme for his novel because I didn’t understand it very well watching the video!


  31. anonimo scrive:

    n30. sorry. I’m –Martina Nadal– 🙂

  32. anonimo scrive:

    “Travels in the Scriptorium”. I hate it. I cant’ stand a book without an end. Reading in my opinion has to be a moment of relax, the little time that I can reserve to my own pleasure, the time I can fly with my imagination in better worlds or adventuring one. Reading this book, or better, trying to read this book, is been stressful. I had to force my mind to go further, while I was reading I was telling myself “go ahead Giulia, another page, only one page”. I hate this genre of writing because makes me fell anxious and anguished. The vantage or disadvantage of my way of reading is that from the first page of a book I dive in it and I become the charachter with all his/her feelings. Wearing the shoes of Mr. Blank was a terrible experience. I feel anxious in my real life almost every day I do not want to feel anxious whenever I read, that’s the cause I hate this book. Than the end, or better, the not-end. I’m a very curious person and I do want to know the end of a story. The passage about “bodily functions” or “sexual pleasure” makes me totaly indifferent. I mean I’m not shocked by books that write about it because are normal functions of our body and how I can feel disgusted towards something that is me?

    For what concern distopic novels and others similar i’m sorry to tell you taht I hate this genre and these themes because I think that it’s sufficient to look around us to see all the ugly deeds we can find in the distopic novels. The time I spend in reding I want to read something taht bring me in another fantastic world.

    Giulia Raineri

  33. anonimo scrive:

    I admit that many times I thought the book was actually a porn. Well, when I finished it I understood: this book has a own genre. A book without a beginning, without a plot, but more than anything else, without an end. It’s only a day of the life of a man, who is “closed” in a jail. I like much the inner story about the confederation, where at the end you know who is the good and who the bad. However I like this book, and I started ask me this question when I finished it: “Can a man be slave of his own creations?”. I think only a person who loves his works, wants “feed and improve” them after he had thrown them in the harsh world.

    The life of Mr. Blank is like a “Truman’s show”, where the audience see any aspects of his day. It’s very similar to the “Big brother” of Orwell, only difference is that Mr. Blank doesn’t know it. Mr. Blank and Winston Smith have to live under a total control, without a way to escape.

    As for J. G. Ballard, after I have seen the profile and I have found information about him, I would like to read one of his books (I’m made curious by “The drowned world” and “The Unlimited Dream Company”), so I could evaluate him. As far as, he looks like a likeable elderly man, his works are very serious; the book which convinced me to give a chance to this author is “The drowned world”. I was charmed by the Jim Morrison’s song, which remind me the shocking film “Apocalypse Now”.

    Nicola Truant

  34. anonimo scrive:

    While reading it, I absolutely didn’t like the book. Every sentence I read made me more hungry, nervous and astounded, because it described a man too childish, too strange, and too idiot to be the protagonist of a book. After I finished it I didn’t change immediately my mind, but after discussing in class and after thinking by myself, I begun to appreciate it.

    Probably that’s because it’s not the right book to read if you don’t know Paul Auster. After the great image of him you gave us, reading “Travels in the scriptorium” was a disappointment. Anyway, there are some aspects of the book I liked. First of all, even if it doesn’t seem so important, I liked the style. Paul Auster writes in a very clear and simple way. He can create long sentences that, though containing different relatives, are simple.

    Secondly, I liked the fact that sometimes the infantility was so strong and evident that provoked laugh. Laugh because we see the behaviour of a baby in the body and the mind of an “old man”.

    In a certain way I liked the condition of Mr. Blank: the room, the pills, the strips of paper, the manuscripts on the desk, the closed window. They are all elements that create a mysterious atmosphere. They were the incentives to go ahead. I thought they were going to be explained at the end, but I was disappointed.

    I didn’t like the end. Auster makes you “suffer” until the end and then he leaves you without a proper end, without explaining anything.

    However I’m quite happy of having read the book, because it was a way to discover an author and a kind of novel that I didn’t known before.

    Pietro Perin

  35. anonimo scrive:

    I’ve read the majority of the posts written by my classmates and i was really astonished to find out they wrote the opposite of what i was told they thought about “Travels in The Scriptorium”: come on guys, you told me the novel was the worst book you had ever read and now, reading your comments, it appears to be a masterpiece of contemporary literature! I’m sorry I cannot find any either interesting or challenging or even, as some of you have asserted, “pleasant” thing in this novel, even if i tried endlessly to persuade myself it could have been a great reading!

    Maybe I’m not capable of wearing the shoes of characters when i read (although that happened to me several times while readind other books), but i can’t understand how a teenager could feel the same as Mr.Blank while reading his nonsense twirling thoughts!

    Certainly it should have been difficult for Auster to imagine a situation like the one he described in the book as, since the first pages, it’s so strange and unlikely, that in the end it reveals to be merely an author’s invention. Some of you dealt with his dystopic aspects: also analyzing this particular side of the novel it’s hard to emphasize its positive peculiarities instead of focusing on Auster’s failed attempts to recreate a dystopic situation: there are mycrophones and cameras spying on the protagoinst in every moment of his life, that’s true. But it has also to be said that a lot of dystopic features aren’t present or fully developed in the plot, starting from the protagonist, who cannot really be conscious or unconscious of his imprisonment, as he is no more a thinking man. The special treatment he is undertaking has completely cancelled his brain activity and he ridicoluosly looks like a baby with the body of an old man. The teacher said she laughed a lot at the miserable protagonist but i felt differently; at the beginning i smiled, but than, as Pirandello explained very well in his works about humour and his bitterness, i started making comparisons between Mr. Blank and truly, deeply sick old men of nowadays; the similarity between their illnesses has really erased the smile from my face. Looking at the novel from this point of view it seems even to be a mockery on old men problems, and surely Paul Auster knows that, sooner or later, those will be also part of his future!…so i really have to say i didn’t like the novel, but as Damiano pointed out, this doesn’t imply i hated it : it has been a reading which passed away as a weak breeze in my mind, without leaving anything new inside it; and mainly because of it i felt really disappointed, estimating Auster a better writer than what he revealed to be in “Travels in the Scriptorium”.

    I liked Hemingway’s sentence and i agree with it; i think he is a great writer as i’ve read some of his works. Maybe Paul Auster should read his wise advice, in order to improve is capability to “throw” the reader into his stories.

    Simone =P

  36. anonimo scrive:

    Here I am to explain some consideration about travels:

    Fist I want to point out that this book has instigated in me a question about post-modernism literature. I know that a book is made by the reader and not by the author because the former have to speculate about the story and made his own book. I think that the message that this book give is in contrast with the previous definition, I think that Paul Auster wants to say that the reader is a prisoner of the book and, consequentely, of the writer; is he that decides how to manipulate the heart of the reader (I think that a book should be read with the heart).

    I will now give some evidence: let’s analyse the title: the traveller is the reader that travels in an anguish space (scriptorium) so the reader is prisoner of the book and the writer; after all misadventures that Mr.Blank had passed entering into the plot Paul Auster brokes the enchantment of the book and make the reader’s heart free but with a sense of melancholy because the reader “discover” that all the book is not really, his imaginary world is only in his mind; Auster show all the power of the writer when takes the story and puts it into the story, I think he wants to say to the reader “And now? What do you do?”; I want now to focus on Mr Blank, the reader himself, the writer takes he into this “comfortable” prison and sends some characters to interact with him so the reader is entrapped into the book and cannot escape, only the reader can make he free.

    This is my key to disclose the book.


  37. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Giulia, your comment made me smile. I think you are one of the few students of mine who has watched the whole video. I know it is long, but I do think it is worth watching. As you pointed out, dystopic novels are eyeopeners, so, even if they may be perceived as too anguishing and thus disturbing, they are a must, that is they should be read in a society so much driven by consumerism, chaotic behaviour, lack of independent thought, absense of reasoning, disturbed/disturbing thoughts, etc. They are a warning, they help us (if we read them with due attention and sensitivity) understand the “hidden” aspects of our “adrift” society. I don’t think we should eschew the aberrations of our society. Doing that would imply getting used to them. I think we should face them, confront them, regardless of them being a punch in our stomach. it is just buy tackling problems that difficult situations can be changed. We are living through a “difficult” era, so we need to roll up our sleeves and react with optimism and mainly with an objective.

    Martina, schools should promote a different approach to things, by this I mean that schools should not be a replica to what you already do at home by yourselves. It is implicit that students (with the exception of a bunch of them) nowadays do not tend to go for the “demanding” reading, they opt for writers that do not make them think too much or do not challenge their view of the world, that is writers that do not question what they know and thus do not make them feel inadequate. We tend to run away from whatever we find difficult, we tend to go for the easy stuff. Well, schools should just do the opposite: make you see with new eyes and by doing that make you realize how many potentials you have as learners. I am happy to read that through the challenges of Paul Auster’s books you have discovered a new Martina, a Martina capable of appreciating a different way of reading a novel. As to why Ballard deals with certain themes: well, when we switch on the tv, or we read the newspaper, or we listen to the news on the radio, what are we confronted with? Good and reassuring news or the reverse?

    Giulia, I think dystopic novels confront you with the anguishing world you are already experiencing, but they also give you a key to it, they offer you a solution if you read them carefully. However, we will soon deal with authors that may be your cup of tea. It is impossible to find authors that appeal to all the students. I think a teacher should choose among different genres, so that students are exposed to different ways of writing.

    Dear Nicola, thanks for your brilliant links to films and other authors. The comparisons you carried out are undoubtedly interesting. Unfortunately I do not have the books by Ballard you would like to read, but I am sure you can find them at the local public library.

    Pietro, thanks for looking at the positive side of things. There are obviously things you did not like, but at least you appreciate the idea of having been asked to read something out of the ordinary.

    Dear Simone, you have given a harsh reprimand to your classmates, haven’t you? I hope you will enjoy “Man in the Dark” better, this way you will be able to forgive me for having made you read “Travels in the Scriptorium” and Mr. Auster for having written it!!!

    Dear Lorenzo, I think that the idea of the reader as a prisoner of the book and thus of the writer is quite interesting. I need to reflect upon it myself.

  38. anonimo scrive:


    Travels in the Scriptorium?? Sincerely, I did not like it. Maybe for the writing style of Paul Auster or maybe for the story that I’ve found not so many interesting, I think it is a book without a beginning and without an end. The story, to all appearance quite mysterious, is at the end unsolved, nearly trite. It seems that the author had a piece of story in his hands but he was not been able to create a complete plot

    Mr. Black is certainly a well rounded character but in some part of the story he looks too much absent, as if there is no one man in the tale. Paul Auster wanted to leave many “space” at the reader, but in Travels in The Scriptorium I think that he has overacted; the story is without a common thread, it is a succession of casual events: the plot, also this time, is controlled by Chance. But a Chance sometimes “controlled” and others not that is lightly trying.

    In conclusion I’m sure that Travels in the Scriptorium is not the kind of book that I like to read 😛

  39. anonimo scrive:

    Travels in the Scriptorium is a strange book and it doesn’t belong to a genre that I like or really appreciate. First I found really irritating the absence of inverted commas and the free indirect speech because I had to be care to understand who was talking during the dialogs. Well, this is a superficial observation, I know.

    I don’t find the passages about bodily function so disgusting but I don’t understand why there were so detailed. Who was care?

    While I was reading the book I thought that this entire novel would be only a Paul Auster’s writing exercise, in some way interesting, but just an exercise. Well, the idea of the metafiction is pretty but it seems to be a Paul Auster’s foible because also Man in the Dark is a metafiction.

    In class you said that Paul Auster’s reader can only love or hate his books. I don’t really hate this book, I’ve read worse books, but I also don’t love it. Even if it has some features of dystopic novel (that is a genre that I like) I don’t find this book particularly interesting: well there are some interesting hints that made the reader think, but only if he pay attention.

    Anyway I don’t think it was a waste of time reading the book: I discover another genre, another author and that is important. Maybe in some years I would read it again and maybe I would appreciate the book more.

    Federica Battistin

  40. anonimo scrive:

    Travels in the Scriptorium is a very strange book. Auster spins the metaphysical fable of Mr. Blank, an old man who awakens in an unfamiliar chamber with no memory of who he is or how he has arrived there. As he pores over the relics on the desk, examining the circumstances of his confinement and searching his own hazy mind for clues, he realizes someone is watching… I love the story with action and funny scenes, but in this book I try to understand who Mr Blank was before and what he have done… I don’t love and I don’t hate Pauol Auster’s work… I prefer the story with a conclusion (it’s better if it is happy) and I hope to know better the Paul Auster’s mind and ideas…

    Federico Plazzotta

  41. anonimo scrive:

    Sincerely, I don’t know if I liked this book. Because there are a lot of things that I don’t appreciate and some things that make me curious.

    I didn’t like the meticulous description of “bodily functions” or “sexual pleasure”. I admit that these functions are everyday in our life but I don’t see the necessity to describe these so perfectly.

    Another aspect that made me nervous is that this book hasn’t an end. I’ve understood what Auster wanted to do and I don’t criticize him. But if I haven’t to read this book, maybe, I hadn’t read it. Like Giulia R. I like travel with my imagination in other place with an other “Laura” when I read. I like to give an end to my imagination and my travels…and here there isn’t an end. There is free interpretation, free power to create a story…but if I read a book…it is because I want to read something in which I recognize myself . But if I would create a story there wasn’t the necessity to read a book…you writing and stop!…also Auster gives some limits and you are obliged to imagine with scales: isn’t imagination. isn’t freedom to elaborate a thought. so this is the cause that I don’t like books and films without an end.

    A thing that I very liked is the sense of mystery in every page. I’m keen on of thrillers and mystery stories, because I like find the solution, the truth of what happens. And not finding a solution or an answer, mystery won’t be resolve like in this book…and this make me nervous!=)..

    Laura Sist

  42. anonimo scrive:

    “Travels in the Scriptorium” is an interesting book that should be read within its context, in my opinion. It was designed for one purpose (ex. a literary exercise) and it would not be appropriate to cross this threshold. The

    techniques through which it was written are numerous, and all respectable. I agree with Federica B. in saying that the inverted comas help the reader, and that is one more effort, but I think this an original way to make direct speech! (I had never read a book like this.)

    as far as Mr. Blank, I see it as an odd character, but well described, in which I identified myself, in most part of text (of course this is not true for most sexual, because others had already told me what happened …) Initially the finish left me a little bit confused, do not expect me, and it was a surprise: personally I prefer books that have a linear structure, rather than the those one a “circle”. After all it is important to read different

    genres of writing, in order to create my own way to write.

    Althought I prefer books where my imagination could be free to expand and embrace the world described. A book is right for me when it flows over me, without being conscious.

    “Travels” was a good book to the point of view of learning but it is certainly not my ideal reading.

    Matteo Cervesato

  43. anonimo scrive:

    I think that ”Travels in the Scriptorium”is a book with a really strange type of costruction. I m sure that before read this book I had never read something like this and, for this reason,i have found it quite interesting although it is certainly not my favourite book. During the reading i have trying to understand the sense of this book because i think that it is impossile to stop at a first reading of it but more i went on in the reading and more it seems to be so absurd.

    i don’ t like the end of the book because there is not an end of it and although this is a choice of Auster i disagree with it because lets the alone of mistery presents in all the book and does not solve it.


  44. anonimo scrive:

    The thing which struck me most of “Travels in the Scriptorium” was the end of the novel, for several reasons: first of all because (whether you like the plot or not), continuing with the story, the reader is intrigued and began to ask thousand questions, just as Mr. Blank, but then he is interrupted by a drastic end, which solves almost all the doubts born while reading; then because even to the reader, as Mr. Blank, seems to be imprisoned in the room and at the same time you feel powerless (and this is a dystopian aspect).

    The post-modernist techniques make us think that not only Mr. Blank is manipulated by its creator (Auster), but also the reader, because it is being captured by the mechanism of writing.

    As for the description of bodily functions and sexual references, I think that they are part of the modernist technique: the narrative is quite intimate and personal, is not subject to censorship, it is as if we had free access to the mind of Mr. Blank, and we can see what he thinks about anything (and then to have a 360° description of the character, unlike a canonical narrative).

    Federica Cozzarin

  45. anonimo scrive:

    “Travels in the Scriptorium” is a meta-literary novel, in which the protagonist is a writer, a reader and a character at the same time. Once again Paul Auster demonstrates his interest in introspection and analysis of the meaning of writing and his creative power. The reader is captured inside the story, but slowly he become aware of not having any reference point and he began to understand the true message of the novel. The meaning is not in the story, but it is the act of narration. The author examines and describes a simple place in a precise way, almost obsessive. The detailed description of a closed and isolated room projects the story in a timeless dimension that represents the immortality of literature (in fact the characters of the book are immortalized by writing). Another interesting aspect is that of dystopia, linked with the presence of the video-camera and the microphone, which control Mr.Blank all the time.

    I do not know what to think about this book. Even if I liked the post-modernist idea, I think that this is a book without any intention to explain or teach; it left many opened “food for thought” and questions unanswered… I think that this novel is a sort of “whim” of the author, who did not want to communicate anything, but only to give rise to doubts, to make us think about unanswered reflections.


  46. MicheleDB scrive:

    I do not retain Travels in the Scriptorium is a literary exercise; is a strange book, of course, but after reading Man in The Dark, I think this style belongs to Paul Auster. Events are narrated and stopped several times, with notes, thoughts and sometimes you lose the thread of discourse because you are lost in the story and in the succession of events, too. Moreover the novel within the novel (meta-novel) is a thing that leave you thrilled, amazed.

    The part I like the most is the novel read by Mr. Blank and it is symptomatic the fact that we, as Mr. Blank, don’t know who is the protagonist, whether he is identifiable with Mr. Blank or not. So I value less important and a little superfluous the background, the place where the main story is set. Similarly, the dystrophic element did not find a lot of space in the novel both because was Mr. Blank that who chose the room and because he often forget to ask if he is imprisoned or not.

    I preferred to give my opinion after some weeks, because my firsts thoughts where against this novel whereas the following impression were closer to what I think now. Me too, initially I find horrible this novel also because it was the first time I ever read something similar but in the end I am able to appreciate the work of Paul Auster.

  47. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Dear Federica (n.39),

    I really love your attitude. You can find a positive side even in something you did not really like. Thanks for you review. I appreciated it.

    Laura, as you point out, different writers appeal to different readers. We all expect different things from a book and this is what makes reading so great (and on the part of the writer, writing so intrinsically enigmatic, challenging, mysterious). Lots of writers do not provide the reader with a clear-cut or precise ending or a clear interpretation of their work. Unfortunately we have not been able to deal with lots of writers since the amount of time allotted to English is too limited to cover a “substantial” range of authors. There are different reasons why a writer does not want to provide an ending to the story. Perhaps there is no ending to provide, since the work mirrors the writer’s view of life and human existence (no answers are given to us, do you remember the works by Shakespeare we analysed last year?); perhaps the writer wants to create anxiety and frustration in the reader; perhaps the writer wants to leave the work open to another sequel; perhaps the author want to invite the reader to imagine his/her own ending to the story, on the basis of what s/he has grasped of it, etc.

    JUST VERY FEW OF YOU WROTE SOME COMMENTS ON BALLARD’S VIDOECLIP. Does this mean you have not watched it? Does it mean you didn’t like it?

  48. anonimo scrive:

    After reading the first few lines of Paul Auster’s novel “Travels in the Scriptorium” I was immediately caught from hundreds and hundreds of different questions. Who is the man sitting on the bed?Where is he?Why is he there?

    Paul Auster uses a particular technique that involves the reader: he is faint and imprecise in the description of Mr. Blank. I think that he tells us irrelevant and not essential things to understand the continuing of the story and the reader does not have the possibility to resolve the puzzled plot.

    The fact that the reader has to finish the story, as Mr. Blank is asked to is quite interesting and makes in this way the reader active,involved and witness.

    I have never read one of Ballard’s novels but when i read words that Ballard said about Earth(He defines Earth as the only alien planet) i made a connection between Paul Auster and Ballard.

    They both each other talk about strange things and extreme situations:for example floods and car accidents.

    Anyway they are great writers.


  49. anonimo scrive:

    I think this is the strangest book I’ve ever read.. The beginning caught me completely, I was curious and going on reading made me even more curious, but at a certain moment I started to get bored because I understood things didn’t seem to change any longer.. I think Auster has an interesting way of writing: he doesn’t care about anything, he describes “reality” as well as it is. Perhaps I’m ignorant but it is the first time I read an author who constantly writes about.. well.. things we do in our everyday lives.. in a certain room.. (it is difficult even here for me!!) or even worse! Anyway, I must admit those things made me.. laugh?!!? And perhaps made the narration more “charming” in a sense that you would like to know till where the author is able to go 🙂

    However, what disturbed me the most was the ending of the story: it’s absurd the way you involve readers and at the same time “slap their faces”. I disagree with what is said before. Not all of us are able or want to create a final by ourselves. Sometimes we want to read just in order to relax our brain, to keep far from our problems flying away with our mind into a world already set by another person, who is able to do it better than you. I want to underline the fact that this doesn’t happen constantly, but it happens and if you are like that you get disappointed (and would really love to through the book out of the window!).

    For what Ballard is concerned, I agree with the fact that he is similar to Paul Auster in some of his pessimistic visions of the world, but I don’t think Auster is that bad! 🙂 Defining our world the only “alien” one is an exaggeration: we are not only car crashes, wars or bad people in general and I think Mr Auster understands that!

    –Maiutto Jessica–

  50. anonimo scrive:

    Food for thought (Travels in the Scriptorium)

    Well, “Travels in the Scriptorium” could have been a beautiful, pleasant and interesting book for my classmates, but not for me. Since I started reading, I was astonished by what I was reading, I’m not referring to the passages about “bodily functions” or “sexual pleasure”, I’m talking about the way he wrote the book. It was not easily understandable, nether readable. I’m not exaggerate if I say that “Travels in the Scriptorium” is one of the worst book I have ever read. I completely agree with Simone when he said “Maybe I’m not capable of wearing the shoes of characters when I read (although that happened to me several times while reading other books), but I can’t understand how a teenager could feel the same as Mr.Blank while reading his nonsense twirling thoughts!”.

    I understand that Auster deals with complex themes, but it was very hard for me to understand every passage. I’m really sorry when I say that I do not like his books (as I said for the movies). It could have been also the fact that I do not like this kind of book. I mean, introspective books never fascinated me, I tried to approach this book in a neutral way, but, as I already told you, I was already conditioned by my thoughts.

    However I liked Hemingway’s quotation. It’s true that a writer needs sheets of blank paper and a pencil but he mostly have to have the capability of writing everything and making it true (“the obligation to invent truer than things can be true”)

    I’m sorry if I didn’t give you the feedback before but in this months I have had some problems so I couldn’t answers the post in time. I’m sorry.

    Elena Poles

  51. anonimo scrive:

    I think Travels in the scriptorium is the strangest book I have ever read,as jessica says at the beginning it is intriguing and it really catches the reader,but in the end it may seem quite disappointing,in fact there isn’t an end,the readers will never know what happen to the characters.when I finished the book i was quite annoyed but in class and during the interesting interview with Paul Auster =) I understood the technique and the stylistical choice of the author. even if i don’t like those kind of books I must admit it has an original style.Another thing that stroke me in a negative way when I read the book were the description and the frequent references to physiological functions,I found them useless to the narration but after the interview,which I found really enlightening ,I understood that Paul Auster wants to describe every aspect of the reality without hiding concealing the things that are still taboos in our society,this is humankind,i appreciated his answer, that makes me revalue this work even though it won’t become one of my favourite of the things I learned from Dedica experience is that as readers we don’t have to stop to appearences we have to dig into books and understand that even a single comma has a deep meaning,and this is what happened to me with Travels in the scriptorium,every situation is useful to understand the psychological condition of Mr Blank.

    About Ballard’s videoclip,I think he points out some important issues and themes in his works that should be taken into consideration by young people,high rise should be interesting it shows bad consequences that can arise because of our not responsible behaviour.I like authors like Ballard because they show a great sensibility,they foresee a future that we normally don’t consider,we don’t think to the consequences of our actions,I think that books like that can give some food for thought to absent-minded and inattentive people as I am.

    Montrasio Valentina

  52. PaulAuster2008 scrive:

    Jessica, you pointed out clearly what you think the differences and similarities between the two writers are. As Giulia, you initially found the novel strange, but you both appreciated the narrative style. As to feeling annoyed by the way the novel ends, well, I think this is the main difference between Auster and other contemporary writers. He does not interpret fiction as a way out of our reality, existence, it is not evasion. He thusts reality (with its ups and downs, positive and negative aspects, hopes and dilemmas, dreams and nightmares) into your face and you either accept it or decide to put his books aside.

    Elena, no need to apologise. Perhaps one of your problems was to “digest” the book, so this is the reason why it took you so long to write your post! I appreciated it because you are frank and straighforward. This is the reaction that we get when we read literature: we get to understand better what is meant for us as readers and we reject what we do not feel suitable for our reading taste! Go on reading what you like, as long as you read!

    Valentina, I am happy to read that you learnt such an important lesson: reading hones our interpretation and evalutation skills. I deem it obligatory to develop these skills at school. If you do not do that at school you will not ever to it. I don’t think you are either an absent-minded or inattentive person. I esteem you a lot, so I can’t agree with you on this aspect. I think, as you beautifully point out, that writers like Ballard and Auster force you to take a different look at things. Obviously you can’t read them only, you need to find a balance between the all-positive approach of certain writers and the dystopic view you find in Ballard and in “the Country of Last Things” by Auster.