“You Remember the Planes,” by Paul Auster

The reading that I have selected for the month of February, “You Remember the Planes,” is rather different from the ones we have seen in past sessions – different in that it is not a “short story” in the traditional sense. And yet it certainly has something that resembles a narrative. Some of those traditional literary critics (who adhere to the ‘traditional sense’ I mention above) would undoubtedly consume pages upon pages in an attempt to classify and define it according to certain ‘genres’ whose nuanced definitions are constantly under revision anyway. What seems to be clear in our case is that the author of this piece, Paul Auster, has produced a short literary-essay-memoir for the literary magazine Granta and its readers, but whatever name we give to this particular type of writing is ultimately not very important. The answer to this question of genre is not what I think we should be looking for here. Rather, I think it would be an interesting idea to look at it as if mirrored in what it is not: a piece of short fiction, similar to those we have discussed in recent months. What do we see?

As you read, I encourage you to reflect on the following points:

  • “Planes” certainly shares a number of qualities with the ‘short story’ as we know it. What are they? What qualities does it not share?
  • The narrative voice particularly intriguing. What effect does the use of a second-person ‘you’ have on the workings of the text, and in turn, what effect does the text have on the reader?
  • Although there is no resolution to the conflict, the text finally acquires some sense of coherence and conclusion at the very end, with Auster’s flowery, Joyce-like revelation. Memory, however, has no such conclusion. Why would an author, particularly in a text such as this one, want to structure a memory like fiction? Is it an effective maneuver?
  • I always ask my students to reflect on that cluster-question “What is the author trying to transmit, how, and to whom?” rather than plunge into a discussion of biography – a moot point in the case of the autobiographical text in question. What do you know about Granta? This is also a great moment to reflect on the general theme of this year’s Reading Circle.

I look forward to seeing you all on Tuesday and hearing your thoughts. Till then, happy reading.