Becoming a Celebrity

By 1990 not only were there favorable reviews in Spain and France, but Auster’s German dust jacket compared him to Kafka. His publishers pushed into Israel, Turkey, and Japan. Pascal Bruckner contributed another short celebrity piece to Le Nouvel Observateur, which began by again introducing Auster as “the translator of Mallarme, Blanchot, and Sartre, introduced to France by Francois Samuelson” and comparing the character Quinn to “the chameleon Zelig of Woody Allen.”111 This offering up of Auster as a celebrity is interesting because, even as his characters are familiarized by comparison to those of Woody Allen, his foundational relation to the French reader is as translator of Mallarme, Blanchot, and Sartre. The on-going cultural re-representation became almost silly. Auster was linked to French super-agent Francois Samuelson at Intertalent, who is credited with getting bigger contracts for actors, directors, and writers like Michel Houellebecq. Samuelson’s grabbiness was considered le style americain by some, thus reason enough to link him to Auster. Samuelson’s other clients included Bernard-Henri Levy and Philippe Djian. But while he associated himself with Auster, displaying personal correspondence during interviews, Samuelson’s connection turned out to be limited to European film rights.112 All publicity is good publicity, as the saying goes, but Auster’s agent was still Carol Mann, with French literary rights handled by Elaine Benisti. Opportunists on both sides of the Atlantic tried to draft in his slipstream, but Auster has been faithful to the gatekeepers who sponsored him.

Celebrity status, however, was not something he sought to avoid. In 1990 the French magazine Elle, as part of a series of encounters between cultu- rati who’ve pined to meet one another, set up a meeting between Auster and Jeanne Moreau.113 Edited in the breathless style of French women’s magazines, the interview is full of “incroyables” and “droles” and finds the two comparing New York and Paris as urban “personages.” Auster assumes a deferential role as the two discuss food, Judaism, her celebrity acquaintances, and occasionally his books. It turns out that she has never read The Invention of Solitude. When he asks how she prepares for roles, she responds, “Well ... I never prepare very much. I am always very astonished when I hear or read that actors prepare themselves in a realistic fashion” [Non, je ne me prepare jamais beaucoup. Je suis toujours tres etonnee quand j’entends ou lis que des acteurs se preparent d’une fa^on tres realiste]. Even though he had to play straight man to Moreau, these celebrity puff pieces sold books for Auster and embedded him in the “must-read” currents of European culture.

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