Ferrante, celebrity culture and the literary scene

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When I started reading Ferrante, I didn’t know that the writer was working under a pseudonym. I didn’t really care, either. I read some of her work, loved it, and eventually her identity piqued my interest – largely because I heard some rumour that the author was in fact male. But really, like many other readers, I didn’t care or mind who Ferrante really was – though I did hope she was a woman!

Claudio Gatti did his digging and has, apparently, discovered the identity of Ferrante, which has caused an uproar – he’s been chastised by the literary community and  across the press. Some people, however, are more concerned by the public takedown of Gatti than by his revelation of who Ferrante might really be.

Both stances are reflective of the age of celebrity that we inhabit.

These days, it’s very hard to live a private life if you are famous, and it’s no secret that the media has embedded itself in many a female celebrity’s life to expose as much as possible. The media’s unquenchable need to own women’s lives doesn’t usually trickle down so much into the world of literary fiction – but perhaps with Ferrante we have seen a replication of the kind of delving into celebrity privacy that we more often see in the worlds of music and film.

When we pick up a book and see an author’s name, we instantly make assumptions about their gender, and often too about their race or cultural background. If the author is somebody we know a great deal about as a person or public figure, this significantly changes how we read the book. I can see the appeal of anonymity if one wants their writing to stand on its own two feet.

The rumours that Ferrante was a man were unnecessary tabloid gossip; then there are the arguments that had Ferrante’s books been published under the author’s real name they could have been pushed aside as memoir (though it’s suggested she is not Neapolitan). Choosing to be anonymous enabled Ferrante to let her books speak for themselves.

But in this voyeuristic age, asking for anonymity is very much like waving a red flag at a bull. You could argue that this exposure of her identity was inevitable, even if it is morally wrong. There was always going to be a Gatti in this situation.

And yet in an age when we, as a whole, are desperate to scrabble around into other people’s business, we are also very quick to damn those that step over our collective-outrage mark. Especially on social media. The angry and loud public takedown of Gatti proves this. And it is likely that many who are shaking their fist at Gatti are, in some small way, satisfied to have an answer to a mystery.

As individuals, we each have different morals and feelings on this matter. But en masse we crave answers to questions, and we relish the airing of dirty laundry – yet we are very quick to judge those that give us what we’re asking for. This fact, however, should in no way undermine the current discussion going on around the subject.

No part of culture and the arts is immune to the fact that we live in an access-all-areas time and we shouldn’t take that for granted. Not that I’m complaining that the literary scene isn’t off-limits to zeitgeist cultures and symptoms of celebrity infatuation. In fact it’s all rather interesting.

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