The notion that Ferrante and her work are public property

Stig Abell at the TLS on why the TLS wouldn’t have named Elena Ferrante:

His piece bears all the hallmarks – the signs, the stretch marks – of his effortful need to explain away what on the surface might seem a needless intrusion into a fellow writer’s privacy. He wants us to be convinced of the notion that Ferrante and her work are public property: the books are a “sensational success”; despite her anonymity, she has become an “oddly public figure” (a description where “oddly” can reasonably be translated as “not a”); she wrote a book arrogantly “purporting in part to outline her family background”, offering “crumbs of information designed to satisfy her readers’ appetite for a personal story”; her identity will “assist us in gaining insight into her novels”; and so on.

She was asking for it; she was dressed like a slut; she’s a prude who needs loosening up; she should have stayed home; she loved it; she’s a bitch.

I am the editor of the Times Literary Supplement, one of very few titles that is analogous to the New York Review of Books. So it is reasonable to ask: if Gatti had come to the TLS, would we have published him?

The answer, I believe, is no.  We would have been tempted, of course. A solution to a genuine literary conundrum does not arise often. It would make people talk about the TLSand bring them to our website. Of course it would.

But I write this surrounded by people who have devoted their lives to the world of books and authors, because they believe it is worthwhile and civilized. We would have discussed the piece, and I think we would have asked: what good does this do Elena Ferrante; what good does this do the TLS; what good does this do the world at large?  The answer is, resoundingly, too little on all counts.

Or even more simply they could have discussed the piece and observed that Ferrante clearly does not want to be outed and allowed that to settle the matter.

I, too, would have been uneasy about the gender politics of all this.  Ferrante has talked about “male power, whether violently or delicately imposed, still bent on subordinating us”, and – while I am sure this was neither the motivation of Gatti or the NYRB – there is the regrettable, sulphurous whiff of a female artist being “mansplained” here.  We may never know all of the reasons for Ferrante’s desired anonymity, but it is dangerous to assume they are simple and straightforward.

I wonder how he’s sure this was the motivation of neither Gatti nor the NYRB. I’m certainly not sure of that – in fact I think it was Gatti’s motivation at least. (The NYRB can’t really have a motivation, being a periodical, not a person.) I think it was part of Gatti’s motivation and I think it’s way more than a whiff. A man deliberately brushing aside a woman’s long and often stated determination to remain anonymous? More than a whiff, and more than mansplaining, too. Stripping in public, at the very least.

Oh well, it’s only a woman.

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