Paul Auster‘s Hand to Mouth is one of my favorite starving-artist memoirs, and it’s nice to see it come up in Ed Champion‘s interview with Auster—whose new novel, Man in the Dark, is just out. Champion asks Auster whether his fixation on the specific cost of things speaks to the money worries he chronicled in his memoir. To which he says:
[T]he only good thing about making money is that you don’t have to think about money. It’s the only value. Because if you don’t have it, you’re crushed. And for a long period in my life, I was crushed. And so maybe this is a reflection of those tough years. I don’t know. I don’t know…. I’m generous. I give good tips. It’s just — the way I live my life, ironically enough, is: I don’t want anything. I’m not a consumer. I don’t crave objects. I don’t have a car. We don’t have a country house. We don’t have a boat. We don’t have anything that lots of people have. And I’m not interested. I barely can go shopping for clothes. I find it difficult to walk into stores. The whole thing bores me so much. I guess the only thing that I spend money on is cigars and food and alcohol. Those are the main expenses.
3 thoughts on “Auster and Money”
I love Paul Auster, but this does strike me as one of those things I hear so often — “I’m not a consumer except for … oh yeah, the cigars and food and alcohol.” Dude, that makes you a consumer. Maybe it ain’t Manolo Blahniks or sevruga caviar, but you’re still part of the capitalist machine! DEATH TO THE PIGS! DEATH–oh, wait, excuse me, I’m talking through my (expensive designer) hat.
In all seriousness, I always like to think I’m not that huge a consumer: I hate malls. I frequently buy secondhand clothes when I buy clothes at all … but then I look at our bookshelves and see how much we spend on THAT little indulgence … Don’t you think everyone has their little luxuries that they think of as somehow exceptional and not part of the consumer craze? As though buying books doesn’t count as consumption … because it feeds the soul. (I believe that to be true, on some level, but I probably believe it, at least in part, because it makes me feel good about my spending.)
I’m willing to hang with Mr. Auster’s assertion that he isn’t really that big of a consumer. “Hand to Mouth” makes it pretty explicit how crummy his situation was—desperately trying to fob off this crummy, convoluted baseball-themed game was as much about being able to justify his existence as it was making the rent.
I consider my books “stuff”—proof of the awful consumerist I am. If you were truly feeding the soul, you know, you’d only read library copies and give away all the books you read. Because by clinging to them, you deny others the opportunity to feed their own souls. How selfish of you! I mean, me!
Oh, I definitely believe you! It was more the construction of that sentence that I thought was funny and familiar; I feel like many of us have so thoroughly absorbed the “consumption is bad” message that we’re regularly explaining the things we do buy as though they don’t count.
BTW, I heard Auster interviewed on Rehm’s show this week; interesting back-and-forth, but the poor guy was put through what I always think is the most painful moment for a writer: Someone called in and asked him to explain part of his book, “In the Scriptorium.” Being asked to explain something you’ve written is always so cringe-inducing.
(BTW, I’m doing better about using the library for reading, but it has less to do with selflessness and more to do with the fact that if we buy any more books, we may have to move out of our house.)