For most of his adult life, he has earned his living by translating the book of other writers. He sits at his desk reading the book in French and then picks up his pen and writes the same book in English. It is both the same book and not the same book, and the strangeness of this activity has never failed to impress him. Every book is an image of solitude. It is a tangible object that one can pick up, put down, open, and close, and its words represent many months, if not many years, of one's man solitude, so that with each word one reads in a book one might say to himself that he is confronting a particle of solitude. A man's solitude, so that he is confronting a particle of that solitude. A man sits alone in a room and writes. Whether the book speaks of loneliness or companionship, it is necessarily a product of solitude. A. sits down on his own room to translate another man's book, and it is as though he were entering that man's solitude and making it his own. But surely that is impossible. For once a solitude has been breached, once a solitude has been taken on by another it is no longer a solitude, but a kind of companionship. Even though there is only one man in the room, there are two. A. images himself as a kind of ghost of that other man, who is both there and not there, and whose book is both the same and not the same as the one he is translating. Therefore, he tells himself, it is possible to be alone and not alone at the same moment.
A word becomes another word, a thing becomes another thing. In this way, he tells himself, it works in the same way that memory does. He imagines an immense Babel inside him. There is a text, and it translates itself into an infinite number of languages. Sentences spill out of him at the speed of thought, and each word comes from a different language, a thousand tongues that clamor inside him at once, the din of it echoing trough a maze of rooms, corridors, and stairways, hundreds of stories high. He repeats. In the space of the memory, everything is both itself and something else. And then it dawns on him that everything he is trying to record in The Book of Memory, everything he has written so far, is no more than the translation of a moment or two of his life –those moments he lived through on Christmas Eve, 1979, in his room at 6 Varick Street.
FROM PAUL AUSTER'S THE INVENTION OF SOLITUDE