Nearly all of Paul Auster’s books are based in New York, and in each one the city is a central character, with a real identity that reflects the mood of the novel (I think Douglas Coupland does this with Vancouver too).
In Leviathan, the character of Maria Turner is based almost entirely on the artist Sophie Calle. About twenty pages of the book are spent detailing Maria’s work as an artist, and Calle’s projects are borrowed verbatim here, as are Auster’s own experiences in reflexively creating the narrator. “All of my works are stories, and even if they are true stories, they are also invented”, Maria says.
One of Maria’s first projects in the book is to travel to all fifty states in America, spending exactly three weeks in each one (although I’m not sure if Sophie Calle ever actually did this). The point of this is to experience regulated time in relation to place, an exercise in visceral location-focused being.
I saw Sufjan Stevens play in the Village on Friday, and loved it. Perhaps not the best performance ever (and a terrible venue), but seeing him live led me to understand his music in more ways than I had before. He does the same thing with his music as Auster does in his writing - he creates a sense of place through location-based storytelling. Being at the gig felt like reading a book or seeing a play.
Echoing Maria Turner’s project, Sufjan is planning to record an album about each of the 50 states - he’s done Michigan and Illinios so far. The music is extremely narrative, with emotive stories about smalltown happenings, the lives of their founding fathers, and the people who live there now. It’s also deeply respectful, and goes quite a way to investigating the psyche of a place. The landscape is defined by a series of tiny litereary vignettes.
Auster hangs his sense of postmodern solidarity on New York, because the city suits that mood. Sufjan Stevens is coming at it from the other side, allowing his characters to be informed by their location. But they are both essentially addressing the same thing, the relationship between person and place.
If psychogeography looks at how we are affected by our surroundings, what is happening when our environment reflects our behaviour? The concept of adaptive architecture is based around this, I think.
And what’s Sufjan going to do when he gets to New York?