Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The mental instability of Quinn - Ben Carlson

While reading the book “City of Glass” I accepted everything that happened in the book as something that was written from an outside perspective as a mystery that had the potential to be a non-fiction novel that the author happened to include his name in. On the last page I was under the impression that the story was written from the influence of the red notebook as if this story had happened in real life and the mystery at the end of the story was what happened to Quinn. While the story may be intended from the point of view of Auster telling the story about a writer he knew posing as a detective that disappeared. I think that the story was written from an outside perspective and that Paul Auster’s presence in the book is merely the author writing himself into the story. Seeing that the book from the outside perspective allowed me to fully grasp the dreams that Quinn continued to have and I saw how it lined up with his behavior in other parts of the book to come to the conclusion that he was mentally unstable. To me this mystery was the real mystery of the book.

Early on in the book on page 8 the author writes about how Quinn feels regarding his mystery novels that he writes under a different name; “What he liked about these books was their sense of plenitude and economy. In the good mystery there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant. And even if it is not significant, it has the potential to be so – which amounts to the same thing.” (Auster 8). Having this written in the book allows for Auster to point out subtly that nothing he has written in this book is without purpose, if it doesn’t directly pertain the mystery of the book, it has another purpose. I think that the dreams that Quinn has and does not remember help us to realize his insanity, and his subconscious is trying to get this message across to us.

In Quinn’s first dream on page 9 of the text it says “In his dream, which he later forgot, he found himself alone in a room, firing a pistol into a bare white wall.” (Auster 9). I take this dream to mean that he subconsciously recognizes that he is about to undergo a pointless task that will not amount to anything at all. Firing a pistol into a blank white wall strikes me as a meaningless task that has no bearing on anything. In the second dream that I found in the text was on page 71 where the dream that Quinn has is him in the town dump of his childhood and he is sifting through rubbish (Auster 71). This point in the book was where he was trying to make sense of the walking patterns that the elder Peter Stillman had been taking. I think that Quinn knew subconsciously that there was nothing in the way that Peter walked, but he wanted to create something, he wanted to become lost in his identity as a detective.

Later in the book Quinn has another dream that involves him walking down broadway hand in hand with Auster’s son (Auster 113). This shows to me that he misses his son dearly and craves that connection he had with his child and probably that he was still hurt by it. The pain that he shows from his lost son, something in him wanted to escape from the pain and the identity that came from being a detective helped him with that. He not only wanted to escape his own identity but he wanted to help out Peter I think, because he regrets not helping his son more. When he decided to take the case and he was leaving, he thought to himself “It did not help, perhaps, that his son’s name had also been Peter.” (Auster 35).

There are some more notes in this story that scream to me that he is mentally unstable. While walking through the city early in the book, Quinn talks about losing his identity in the city and just blending in. There are several times where he tries to escape his identity and run away from his past, and he thinks that nothing is wrong with these actions. He writes his books under a different name (William Wilson) and abandons the work that he loved. Desperate for something different again in his life he lies about being Paul Auster and accepts a job as a detective and assumes that identity. Near the end of his “detective career” he decides to become homeless and survive on the least amount possible while achieving nothing for his case. Separate, the first two do not seem like they would point to mental instability, but combined with the last change in identity, he does not appear to be healthy. We are given information in the text to not ignore the dreams that he has or the identity changes that Quinn makes, and hopefully I have proven my point about his health.

1 comment:

  1. The first paragraph is a little hard to follow. Even in an introduction, I'd like to know something about the significance or importance of Q's mental instability - not just that he *is*, but what you *do* with that characteristic of him.

    Dreams are a obvious, easy, and yet often correct place to go in novels to think about sanity. Why, though, is it particularly important whether a dream is remembered or not? For two more paragraphs, you write briefly about some of the important dreams in the novel. You pick fine dreams, and your reading of those dreams is fine as well. Yet, we're almost at the last paragraph, and I have absolutely no idea what his dreams have to do with mental illness. Clearly, that's not where you want to be. In fact, everything so far seems to be a very surface-level reading of the novel.

    Yet, in the last paragraph you seem to *assume* that you've demonstrated that the dreams show something about his mental instability. I accept that you show that he subconsciously knows the pointlessness of his endeavors- but I simply don't see how you get from there to madness of any variety.

    Curiously, you don't get to the question of identity or to his most obviously unbalanced behavior (living on the street by choice) until the last paragraph, and then you brush over them. In particular, it seems like these are the issues you'd really need to investigate in order to understand whether he is merely strange or sad on the one hand, or mentally ill on the other.

    Overall: I don't really see a clear argument running throughout. Or rather, I don't see any pattern of *evidence*. It's clear what you intend to argue, but you really aren't *doing* very much of it.