My favorite passage from Paul Auster’s “Oracle Night”

My favorite passage from Paul Auster’s “Oracle Night”

“Early in our friendship, Trause told me a story about a French writer he had known in Paris in the early fifties. I can’t remember his name, but John said he had published two novels and a collection of stories and was considered to be one of the shining lights of the younger generation. He also wrote some poetry, and not long before John returned to America in 1958 (he lived in Paris for six years), this writer acquaintance published a book-length narrative poem that revolved around the drowning death of a young child. Two months after the book was released, the writer and his family went on a vacation to the Normandy coast, and on the last day of their trip his five-year-old daughter waded into the choppy waters of the English Channel and drowned. The writer was a rational man, John said, a person known for his lucidity and sharpness of mind, but he blamed the poem for his daughter’s death. Lost in the throes of grief, he persuaded himself that the words he’d written about an imaginary drowning had caused a real drowning, that a fictional tragedy had provoked a real tragedy in the real world. As a consequence, this immensely gifted writer, this man who had been born to write books, vowed never to write again. Words could kill, he discovered. Words could alter reality, and therefore they were too dangerous to be entrusted to a man who loved them above all else. When John told me the story, the daughter had been dead for twenty-one years, and the writer still hadn’t broken his vow. In French literary circles, that silence had turned him into a legendary figure. He was held in the highest regard for the dignity of his suffering, pitied by all who knew him, looked upon with awe.

John and I talked about this story at some length…[John] said that the writer’s decision made perfect sense to him and that he admired his friend for having kept his promise. ‘Thoughts are real,’ he said. ‘Words are real. Everything human is real, and sometimes we know things before they happen, even if we aren’t aware of it. We live in the present, but the future is inside us at every moment. Maybe that’s what writing is all about, Sid. Not recording events from the past, but making things happen in the future.’ “

~Paul Auster, Oracle Night (page 220)

Paul Auster

image via Historic Green-Wood’s website


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