The story of a new name
October 3, 2016 12:11 AM   Subscribe

Italian author Elena Ferrante has written under a closely guarded pseudonym for decades. Now, after a 'months long investigation', an Italian journalist uncovers the true identity of the author of the Neapolitan Quartet. Her readers, however, are less than grateful.

Previously:
Fanfare discussion of the first book in the Neapolitan Quartet: My Brilliant Friend.

Interview in the Paris Review.

The genius of her terrible book covers.

Vanity Fair interview in which Ferrante responded to the theory that she was (of course) a man.
posted by tavegyl (180 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
why did this dude feel compelled to do this?
i dont see him stalking Pynchon for a picture.
posted by sio42 at 12:30 AM on October 3, 2016 [23 favorites]


I don't want to know who Banksy is, either.
posted by drnick at 12:32 AM on October 3, 2016 [14 favorites]


.
posted by distorte at 12:38 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was always curious, but really, this sucks.
posted by frantumaglia at 12:42 AM on October 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


I felt genuinely betrayed when I read the article in the NYRB blog without realising what it was going to be about. From a reader's perspective, part of Ferrante's magic is that you have (had) no idea who she is whilst feeling that you have a window into her mind, personality and personal life.

From the point of view of privacy - this feels like on par with doxxing for the sake of curiosity alone. There is no public interest to be served by this reporting, and this is underlined by the justification that the journalist himself gives, which is peculiarly of the 'she made me do it' variety:
But by announcing that she would lie on occasion, Ferrante has in a way relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown. Indeed, she and her publisher seemed to have fed public interest in her true identity.
I find it interesting that there is such a visceral angry response to his investigation from so many readers including myself. When we have all information at our fingertips, we cherish what's left of the mystery of the world and thanks to this investigation a little bit of that mystery is gone.
posted by tavegyl at 12:43 AM on October 3, 2016 [33 favorites]


I haven't read the article yet, and am wondering if it's at all feasible to just not read it, and never read anything about it, and continue my relationship with the work as before. Or is the knowledge going to squirrel its way from the public realm into my head? Of course, this is assuming that the author will ever publish any new material, and that there is any future work with which to maintain a relationship.

I think linking to the NYRB site is tacitly supporting the publication of the facts by The New York Review of Books, since all they require to justify publishing this is pageviews.
posted by distorte at 12:45 AM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


As he notes Raja has been one of the prime suspects for a long time. It's interesting to know who and what influenced all the details in the books.

why did this dude feel compelled to do this?

Because he's a journalist and it's news.
posted by edeezy at 1:19 AM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


There is no public interest to be served by this reporting

The ol' "public interest" vs. "public interest."
posted by atoxyl at 1:22 AM on October 3, 2016 [19 favorites]


Because her writing is so intensely personal, so autobiographical in tone, it's hardly unexpected that people would want to "meet" the author, if only to see if/how the author's life overlaps with the novels. But this is an exercise akin to admiring an egg and then breaking it because you're curious to see what's inside. You might (or might not) get something out of it but the beautiful egg is broken for good.
posted by chavenet at 1:42 AM on October 3, 2016 [21 favorites]


Because he's a journalist and it's news.

no it's not. she writes under a pseudonym for a reason. and as someone else mentioned, her work comes across as autobiographical. i'm guessing maybe she didn't everyone to know who she was. why does he feel compelled to release her identity to the world when there is no scandal or wrongdoing to be rectified in her identification?

is he going after Bansky to find out who he is? is going after Pynchon to get a picture?

is he going to start going after everyone who publishes stories or art under a pen name? or was he only interested in exposing this one woman?
posted by sio42 at 2:25 AM on October 3, 2016 [31 favorites]


I'm interested to know. I wouldn't have dug it up myself, mind you, but as a member of the public, I, um, take an interest.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:26 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


(And hasn't Banksy already been identified? And everyone knows where Pynchon is nowadays.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:26 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Pseudonymity is a cat-and-mouse game. Sometimes the cat wins, I guess.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:27 AM on October 3, 2016


Wow. Going after her mom's old refugee photos is really, really ugly.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:35 AM on October 3, 2016 [18 favorites]


I'm in the "This was stupid" camp. In fact I brought smores and wine in a box, to share. (I'm not much of a camper, tbh.)

Because she doesn't want people to know who she is/ that she wrote these books so why be an ass and 'figure out' who she is and then blab it all over. Dude, sit down and shut up.

Maybe letters to the NYRB should be written.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:59 AM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


That reporter doxed her because he could. He utterly disregarded her artistic reasons for maintaining artistic control of her persona, not just because he wanted a story—though basic venal selfishness is, no doubt, part of it—but because he does not respect or value her work. It is impossible to construe that article as anything other than an attack on what her work is, what it represents, and why it is loved.

Ars longa, vita brevis in The New Inquiry.
posted by frumiousb at 3:03 AM on October 3, 2016 [38 favorites]


Thank you for that article, frumiousb. I wish I'd read it earlier, it would have made a better main link for this post than the ones I used. Those who want to avoid articles mentioning Ferrante's real name or avoid the NYRB should read this instead.

Here is a good bit:
What began as a defensive screen became a creative project, and her imagined, created persona was an important part of it. It’s why her protagonist is a writer name Elena. To be as blunt as possible: her greatest work is literally a novel about the persona she created to write it, and why. The Neopolitan novels are literally and directly and magnificently about female self-making, the importance of names, and the meaning of being a woman in public. They are about control over your identity, and about the specific hostility of the patriarchy for that project. They are about the men who will say things like this and write articles like this. They are about why not to do this.
posted by tavegyl at 3:20 AM on October 3, 2016 [65 favorites]


The generally negative response of readers to Ferrante's "unmasking" is interesting to me. I've done a bit of work in the past on the metaphorics of authorship attribution. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the favoured metaphors were scientific. The attribution scholar would conduct a study of the work at the particle level (shared phrases with other works of known authorship; vocabulary; verse structure) and do a kind of literary-chemical analysis to identify its core constituents and the author who'd put them there. In the mid-twentieth century, the metaphorics changed to those of the detective story. The attribution scholar would detect "traces" of the author of the work and try to identify his or her "hand"—an act of literary fingerprinting, if you will.

But in none of this was there an assumption that the work of attribution shouldn't be performed; that there was an ethical responsibility to protect the author's privacy from prying eyes. I don't remember anything like this with Donald Foster and Anonymous, for instance. I mean, sure—there was a long period in the twentieth century where critical fashions rendered authorship studies unfashionable. The New Criticism urged adherents to seek no information (no metadata, if you will) outside of the text. New Historicism viewed the author as a simple construction of external political regimes. But I wonder how much this current push back, this demand to protect one's own head canons from certain knowledge, stems from our own situatedness within history; within what Maciej Cegłowski (also on the front page today) calls "surveillance capitalism." In a world in which all key strokes—the basic building blocks of twenty-first-century authorship—are (potentially) logged, we want the illusion of privacy, the sense that our words are still our own and not part of generalised "big data" to be mined and analysed by powers outside our vision or control. We shield Ferrante's privacy as we would want our own protected, her ongoing anonymity carrying with it the comforting illusion that going unseen were still possible in our networked and all-encompassing state and social media panopticon.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:23 AM on October 3, 2016 [16 favorites]


Don Foster does this kind of work, with some success (Unabomber, Joe Klein & proving Pynchon isn't Tinasky).
posted by chavenet at 3:54 AM on October 3, 2016


Foster was exposed as ... well, not what he said he was over a decade ago, chavenet, and no longer works in the field.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:00 AM on October 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


If Elena Ferrante wanted privacy, she should not have -- quite literally -- made her work public. That's what publishing is, and she gave up in any meaningful sense her right to complete privacy the moment she submitted her work for publication. I admire her tenacity in sticking to her policies on appearances, publicity, etc., but I have no sympathy for the idea that someone who wants to remain aloof while publishing in 2016 is somehow being "doxxed" when her identity is inevitably discovered. Journalists investigate, academics study, and curious readers are curious. Artists have no reasonable expectation that they can dictate the terms of their reception, whether of their work or of their public selves.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:09 AM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


No, it's okay. I didn't want to have nice things anyway.
posted by Etrigan at 4:10 AM on October 3, 2016 [34 favorites]


I'm conflicted. On the one hand, I've read previous "who is Elena Ferrante?" articles, and I generally am interested in knowing the answers to questions. On the other, I don't know, it just seems a bit inappropriate. I'm gonna hold off on reading this for a while, I think.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:18 AM on October 3, 2016


Disappointed at many of these flippant comments, as if this is some amusing game rather than an attack on a woman who clearly wanted to remain anonymous.

Please read The New Inquiry piece that frumiusb linked to. It explains why Ferrante's anonymity is important in the context of the actual work and what it is seeking to do.

If you're not a woman who's read the novels I think you should take a seat.
posted by 8k at 4:29 AM on October 3, 2016 [40 favorites]


Artists have no reasonable expectation that they can dictate the terms of their reception, whether of their work or of their public selves.

I mean, of course they do. Everyone still, in the year 2016, gets to dictate the terms of reception by limiting what aspects of themselves they publicise. The audience doesn't get to have photos of the artist naked, or photos of the artist's bedroom, simply because that's what they might like. The artist dictates what aspects of themselves are open for "reception" by controlling what they make available. In Ferrante's case, she did not provide her real identity. It was her right to do so.

It seems broadly the moral choice to me to respect the boundaries of privacy sought by other people, but I know from other conversations about celebrity and paparazzi on the blue that this is not everyone's position.
posted by distorte at 4:33 AM on October 3, 2016 [53 favorites]


Please read The New Inquiry piece that frumiusb linked to. It explains why Ferrante's anonymity is important in the context of the actual work and what it is seeking to do.

It also ends perfectly.

Doxing her in this way was not inevitable—because nothing is inevitable until it happens—but she has written an epic novel about why this kind of shit is everything except unsurprising. That reporter doxed her because he could. He utterly disregarded her artistic reasons for maintaining artistic control of her persona, not just because he wanted a story—though basic venal selfishness is, no doubt, part of it—but because he does not respect or value her work. It is impossible to construe that article as anything other than an attack on what her work is, what it represents, and why it is loved.

It is also why this doesn’t matter. They are aiming small; she is aiming big. They want to play with individuals and dates, like speculating about who “Homer” was. Meanwhile, she wrote an epic.

posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:52 AM on October 3, 2016 [23 favorites]


I disagree that it wasn't inevitable but I definitely agree that it was petty bullshit that doesn't ultimately harm her work and our relationship with it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:54 AM on October 3, 2016


When I played the narrative video game "A Beginner's Guide" I knew nothing about it other than it was by the maker of another game I liked, The Stanley Parable, and a few rumours that it was better not to know anything about it or its creation before playing. I avoided all reviews and played it as soon as I had time. As a result, I had a strong experience in the game that made me think deeply while playing and feel an emotional connection quite unlike anything else I had experienced in a video game before. I became aware of certain things afterwards, that if I had known them before, would have changed the experience entirely. I think 'going in blind' was the intention of the maker, and was integral to the experience I had. Being informed would have lessened the experience. I haven't read the Neapolitan Quartet, but I think it is unforgivable to smash up the experience of a work of art for a few page views. The information is now on the Elena Ferrante wikipedia page making it now almost impossible to experience the work in the way the writer had intended and the reader in most cases wanted.
posted by drnick at 5:02 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Next up on NYRB is an expose on Dr Seuss, who many believe is not actually qualified to practice medicine.
posted by dr_dank at 5:03 AM on October 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


The man's rationale is disgusting. It's, boiled down: "she said she didn't want to, therefore she asked for it". He wanted to expose her. He prioritised his curiosity over her explicit, stated wishes and retroactively blamed her for his lack of control over his own impulses.

Gross, gross, gross.
posted by E. Whitehall at 5:05 AM on October 3, 2016 [68 favorites]


distorte, I understand why you say that, but I think there is a fuzzy-but-extant line between "the audience gets everything it wants, including all personal details and control over the artistic output" and "the artist has a lock and right of final arbitration on the reception of her work and public persona." Maybe it's more a zone than a line? Presentation =/= reception, in any case.
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:08 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


The work is a creation, and your impression of the author is a personal fantasy.

The private and physical being who is the flesh and bones author is nothing you even closely know or understand, so why be wrapped up in this author's personal life, when all you really have is a fantasy of who you imagine her to be?

The reader does not own her. They only own their imagination of who she is. Why isn't imagination enough?
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:15 AM on October 3, 2016 [17 favorites]


If Elena Ferrante wanted privacy, she should not have -- quite literally -- made her work public.

"If she didn't want to be assaulted, she shouldn't have gone out dressed that way."

Bullshit. Writing and publishing a book entitles the public to read that book (or not read that book, or criticize the book as they will), nothing more.
posted by Shmuel510 at 5:15 AM on October 3, 2016 [82 favorites]


cupcakeninja, I think I understand you too, but I feel like our sense of where that fuzzy line is located might be quite different.

Presentation absolutely =/= reception, but the right to withhold presentation would preclude reception (under whatever circumstances that might exist). Of course everything released is fair game!
posted by distorte at 5:20 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Dear Editor—

I am 48 years old. Some of my literary friends say there is no Elena Ferrante. Papa says, "If you see it in The MeFi, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there an Elena Ferrante?

Virginia O'Hanlon



Virginia, your literary friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.

Yes, Virginia, there is an Elena Ferrante. She exists as certainly as love and female friendship and the unspoken dynamics between people exist.

Not believe in Elena Ferrante! The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

No Elena Ferrante! Thank God! She lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, she will continue to speak.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:31 AM on October 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


Everyone still, in the year 2016, gets to dictate the terms of reception by limiting what aspects of themselves they publicise.

But this simply isn't actually true. Facebook can, and does, change their privacy policy and take things that I made private public, and I can do sweet fuck-all about it. Your and my texts and calls and emails are in a database and sufficiently-amusing or -titillating specimens are routinely passed around as entertainment by the thousands of people who have access to it. Many of us have experience of being written about in the media over our objections. I'm not happy about this, but this is the reality—and against this reality, asking for us to give celebrities a level of privacy that the rest of us will never get to experience feels like special pleading.

Separately, I am having a hard time understanding how people feel that this ruins the experience of the author's work. I loved the Neapolitan books and I don't feel any differently about them now. Why would I?
posted by enn at 5:42 AM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Everyone still, in the year 2016, gets to dictate the terms of reception by limiting what aspects of themselves they publicise.

But this simply isn't actually true. Facebook can, and does, change their privacy policy and take things that I made private public, and I can do sweet fuck-all about it. Your and my texts and calls and emails are in a database and sufficiently-amusing or -titillating specimens are routinely passed around as entertainment by the thousands of people who have access to it. Many of us have experience of being written about in the media over our objections. I'm not happy about this, but this is the reality—and against this reality, asking for us to give celebrities a level of privacy that the rest of us will never get to experience feels like special pleading.


I believe you are confusing is with ought. I don't think the vile behavior of one government, corporation, spy, or journalist to one person excuses the vile behavior of other people to another person.
posted by Hypatia at 5:49 AM on October 3, 2016 [16 favorites]


I'm not saying that it excuses it. I guess it seems to me that people here, in this and in e.g. paparazzi threads, get a lot more worked up about the privacy of celebrities (who have chosen to promote themselves in the public sphere) than the privacy of ordinary people who want only to be ignored. That feels backwards.
posted by enn at 5:53 AM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


The problem with saying that authors are celebrities and therefore fair game is that you're saying that the price of privacy is not sharing your work, as if that's only a problem for the authors. But it's also a problem for readers. How many great novels are we not reading because the author decided she didn't want to be a celebrity? Would you be cool with your policy if the price were that nobody had ever been able to read Ferrante's work?

I don't know. I was curious about who she was, but I don't really care, and I assume that she had reasons for not wanting to be public. It occurs to me that one of them may be that people will use antisemitism and xenophobia to discredit her: her novels can't be authentic, because she is not authentically Neapolitan. And that's a load of crap that she managed to avoid by not having anyone scrutinize her biography.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:02 AM on October 3, 2016 [14 favorites]


Can we add the elenaferrante tag? Also, previously.
posted by Fizz at 6:08 AM on October 3, 2016


@arbitraryandcapricious:

Me, for one.

My wife published a book into 2010 as well and the process of public comment and notability caused her to not ever want to publish a book again, thank god that's changing for her and she wants to publish again, but for me, no way in hell will I ever publish the book I'm sitting on, mostly because people act horribly online and don't care how their actions affect others. Or more precisely, enjoy the process of shitting all over whatever the "thing to be shat upon du jour" happens to be.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:10 AM on October 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


Irrelevant man seeks to become relevant by violating the privacy of an actually talented woman. Film at 11.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:11 AM on October 3, 2016 [52 favorites]


I agree that, once she became an international sensation, it was inevitable. Someone was going to want to know enough, and they would find out and they would publish it. The specific article publishing it was super gross, though: it isn't her fault, she didn't bring this on herself because she was too private, or too public about her privacy.

I also liked this long twitter stream:
(Did Ferrante *really* make all that up? Is she really that brilliant & META? Or is it just thinly-veiled MEMOIR? This last is key.)
posted by jeather at 6:12 AM on October 3, 2016 [4 favorites]


This strikes me as the written equivalent of upskirting. I'll be avoiding the NYRB permanently and sending a letter to their editor as to why.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:14 AM on October 3, 2016 [13 favorites]


From reading the New Inquiry link as well as parts of other interviews, it seems like the author used a pseudonym as a protest against the cult of personality that surrounds art in general and books in particular. Stephen King engaged in a similar exercise with Richard Bachman, though for different reasons. That is a noble cause - art should stand on its own and not be tied to and dependent on the compelling narrative of the creator's life.

The problem, it seems, was that the author started doing interviews, painting a picture of her pseudonym's life. At that point she was leveraging the very cult of personality she claimed to loathe, even if it was an inverted approach. Others have done this and been excoriated by the press and publishing industry for deceiving the hands that fed them. This author appears to have avoided that particular fate. But if the goal was to prove that good art can stand on its own without the supporting story of the author's life, its success or failure will now be determined by whether or not she can sustain her literary career without the mystique of pseudonymity.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:16 AM on October 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


Shmuel510, I feel that is a false equivalance, and would never advocate this line of thinking (and actively work in my daily life to stamp it out). I see a vast gulf between walking down the street as a private person with reasonable expectation of protections and rights and a person who enters a literary marketplace that is historically well known for exactly what has just happened. Attempting to claiming privacy while also claiming a public life is challenging at best.
posted by cupcakeninja at 6:21 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Kind of disappointed that the New York Review of Books made the choice to make this investigation a thing, to out her as an author. Elena Ferrante is one of those authors (like David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, and J.D. Salinger) that I have read more about than from. So she's occupied a kind of special place in my literary life.

I am very much interested in her works and how they influence and shape our literary landscape. I love to read people's reactions to her works, how much they enjoy her, etc. The news articles, the interviews with different writers, etc. The mystery that surrounded her felt so epic and legendary. And I was hoping that it would just stay that way. Now a bit of that magic has been lost. I guess it was inevitable, considering how big she blew up on the literary scene, but I still feel like we've lost something in the revelation of this author's identity.
posted by Fizz at 6:21 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying that it excuses it. I guess it seems to me that people here, in this and in e.g. paparazzi threads, get a lot more worked up about the privacy of celebrities (who have chosen to promote themselves in the public sphere) than the privacy of ordinary people who want only to be ignored. That feels backwards.

[citation needed]
posted by zombieflanders at 6:22 AM on October 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


Elena Ferrante is her true identity.
posted by escabeche at 6:26 AM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


All these "rationales" being thrown around about what makes someone's privacy no longer private is kind of scary. And what does Facebook have to do with publishing a book? The contracts are different. You agree to terms and conditions when you use Facebook; those terms and conditions are not the same as those of MetaFilter. Nor are they the same as with a book publisher.

There is such a thing as not wanting to deal with what society demands of celebrities. Ferrante has gone a very long way in order to do her best to ensure that. This dude made up his own fallacious rationale to exculpate his doxxing of her.

Really, read frumiousb's link. Ferrante has explained herself:
Once she had written a few novels, however, her understanding of what her name meant began to change. “I came to feel hostility toward the media,” she said, “which doesn’t pay attention to books themselves and values a work according to the author’s reputation.” And she became interested, as she put it, in “testifying against the self-promotion ­obsessively ­imposed by the media”:

“It’s not the book that counts, but the aura of its author. If the aura is already there, and the media reinforces it, the publishing world is happy to open its doors and the market is very happy to welcome you. If it’s not there but the book miraculously sells, the media invents the author, so the writer ends up selling not only his work but also himself, his image…This demand for self-promotion diminishes the ­actual work of art, whatever that art may be, and it has become universal. The media simply can’t discuss a work of literature without pointing to some writer-hero. And yet there is no work of literature that is not the fruit of tradition, of many skills, of a sort of collective intelligence. We wrongfully diminish this collective intelligence when we insist on there being a single protagonist ­behind every work of art. The individual person is, of course, necessary, but I’m not talking about the individual—I’m talking about a manufactured image.”

“What has never lost importance for me, over these two and a half ­decades, is the creative space that absence opened up for me. Once I knew that the completed book would make its way in the world without me, once I knew that nothing of the concrete, physical me would ever appear beside the volume—as if the book were a little dog and I were its master—it made me see something new about writing. I felt as though I had released the words from myself.”

What is staggering and infuriating about all of this is that Elena Ferrante has not only explained, carefully, why she needed this privacy, she wrote four books and 1700 words about it.
It's the same old story of women being facilely denigrated down to the subordinate level society forces us to be at rather than actually paying attention to what we're doing and saying no matter how often, how clearly, how eloquently we say it.
posted by fraula at 6:27 AM on October 3, 2016 [49 favorites]


is he going after Bansky to find out who he is? is going after Pynchon to get a picture?

Presumably he isn't going after Banksy or Pynchon because there are already people who are or have been investigating them. There's a new theory or new information about Banksy's real identity every couple months, and people have pieced together about as much information about Pynchon as was revealed in this article about Raja. Hell, there are paparazzi pics of Pynchon. He probably investigated Ferrante because he's an Italian journalist and she's an Italian author.
posted by edeezy at 6:32 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hannah Gold: Doxxing Elena Ferrante Will Get You Nowhere
The prominent and famously pseudonymous Italian author of the Neapolitan Novels (read if you’re willing to briefly surrender your life to them, they will wreck you) and many more works of fiction, had made it clear that she values her anonymity highly, even threatening to stop writing if her identity were ever unveiled.

If that happens, we have NYRB and Italian journalist Claudio Gatti to thank (if they are right). Gatti tracked down Ferrante’s private persona using real estate and financial records. A perfectly professional, objective reporting project—except that unmasking a woman who wanted no part in her celebrity, in the name of journalism, is both grandiose and cruel.
[...]
Of course none of this gossip and outrage is really about a name, as the think-pieces have, no doubt, begun to tell us already. Some will say it’s about overexposure in the age of the Internet, or privacy concerns, or the right of a woman to be left alone, or of an author not to have to go on book tour.

And it’s all those things, yes, importantly so. I hope too it will be a lesson in how data journalism does not always heal social ills or hit upon greater truths. In this case, it led readers to a particular person, but not to why she matters to people the world over or how her anonymity fit into that. In fact, this piece of journalism ignored such questions in order to exist.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:41 AM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


[citation needed]

I can't remember a single conversation where "right to be forgotten" laws have come up on Metafilter where they haven't been roundly mocked by the majority of thread participants. But in this thread, in innumerable threads about paparazzi, and in innumerable threads about celebrity culture in general, it's widely posited that the wealthy and famous should have something very similar to what "right to be forgotten" laws provide for ordinary people—the ability to demand that other people stop paying attention, or pay attention only within certain parameters chosen by the wealthy and famous person.

Maybe I'm wrong. I'm describing my subjective experience of Metafilter which is surely incomplete and perhaps skewed.
posted by enn at 6:49 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Much of what first occurs to a twenty-first-century reader about attribution is a product of our own heavy reliance on the author’s name to organize college syllabi, bookstore and library shelves, or professional specializations. We rely more frequently now than was possible [in the eighteenth century] on what Roger Chartier summarizes as the early modern “invention of the author as the fundamental principle for the designation of a text” represented by a proper name. The hotly contested corpus of texts attributed (or not) to Daniel Defoe makes clear how much interest and cultural capital remains bound up in connecting texts to authors. In Attributing Authorship (2002), Harold Love defines the subject of attribution studies as “the uniqueness of each human being and how this is enacted in writing” ...
G. Paku, "Anonymity in the Eighteenth Century," Oxford Handbooks Online (August 2015).
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:08 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why the TLS would not have named Elena Ferrante—Stig Abell (some high-minded thoughts on the subject from someone who was ‘previously the managing editor of the UK’s Sun newspaper’).
posted by misteraitch at 7:11 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


The difference between what you go through as a notable person versus what you go through on facebook aren't even remotely comparable.

The way celebrities are treated cannot be fixed by EU data privacy laws.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:12 AM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I am reconsidering my subscription to the New York Review of Books as a result of this and I will be writing the editor. It's very disappointing to me that the decision was made to not respect the author's request for anonymity/privacy.
posted by Fizz at 7:13 AM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


"right to be forgotten" laws have come up on Metafilter

And for what it's worth, I fully support data privacy laws and believe that whatever content you create online, no matter the site, it should all belong to the content creator, not the website provider.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:15 AM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Whatever. That Italian person has earned an eternal place in that circle of hell until now reserved exclusively for big game hunters. You know, the ones who murder one or more of the following: elephant, lion, rhinoceros, giraffe.
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:27 AM on October 3, 2016


Why the TLS would not have named Elena Ferrante

We should take all pieces like this - written by other publications, after the fallout from this article has been well-established - with an extremely large helping of salt.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:29 AM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Random thoughts -

This was inevitable and I always assumed it would be done by an American journalist, partly because Ferrante is probably a bigger name in NY than in Italy, partly because Italians have a much stronger sense of personal privacy as a right and don't have such a strong public-interest-journalism discourse around this kind of stuff. So one up for Italian journalism, on ths particular front, I guess.

Everyone will be really pissed off, and the writer's implicit justifications - But look, she's bought loads of nice properties, and look, there's an interesting Jewish refugee backstory that I'm un-suppressing - will piss everyone off even more and cause lots of spilled ink and pixels.

Like it or not, it will have an effect on the way people think and talk about Ferrante, because it's part of the mystique that's accrued around her that people can vaguely assume the novels are rawly true to life while also having fun arguments about the importance of her anonymity as a critique of the author-function in a celebrity culture and whatnot. But at some gut level people respond better to "rawly true to life" than they do to "insightful and resonant thanks partly to lots of literary artifice".

LRB probably wouldn't have set out to get this scoop or taken it had it been offered. I wonder what Barbara Epstein would have thought of it.
posted by Mocata at 7:32 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can't remember a single conversation where "right to be forgotten" laws have come up on Metafilter where they haven't been roundly mocked by the majority of thread participants.

Okay, but that's just anecdata. A quick skim of threads about it shows that those "roundly mocking" them are doing it because of potential use as erasing corporate malfeasance and legal issues. This isn't either of those, it's some dude looking up a woman's personal info, despite her explicitly asking people not to, for no other reason than to expose her. There's no noble reason, no unveiling of some crime or bigotry here. He just did it because he could.

But in this thread, in innumerable threads about paparazzi, and in innumerable threads about celebrity culture in general, it's widely posited that the wealthy and famous should have something very similar to what "right to be forgotten" laws provide for ordinary people—the ability to demand that other people stop paying attention, or pay attention only within certain parameters chosen by the wealthy and famous person.

Perhaps you should worry less about what people on this website feel and more about how, I dunno, Elena Ferrante feels.

Maybe I'm wrong. I'm describing my subjective experience of Metafilter which is surely incomplete and perhaps skewed.

Apparently so.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:34 AM on October 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


This was a terrible thing to do to Elena Ferrante, but I'd like to be clear that this was something that reporters have done to Thomas Pynchon in the past too. Here's the CNN paparazzi photography as alluded to above.
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 7:38 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm going to hold out as long as I can in not knowing. I realize this was more or less inevitable, but it bums me out. It bums me out for the author, who I presume had their reasons for the anonymity, and it bums me out as a reader who relished the rare opportunity to consider a work entirely apart from its author.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 7:59 AM on October 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


To rail about "the right to be forgotten" or the perils of fame, the cost of celebrity, the right of the people to know shit about famous people, is to completely miss the point. This isn't about some random celebrity who has decided they are sick of being chased by paparazzi after years of chasing the limelight. Elena Ferrante wrote an epic masterpiece about female identity and the damage the patriarchy inflicts on fiercely intelligent women. Ferrante has explicitly and repeatedly and eloquently written about why she feels it is important to not reveal herself. The shallow, insecure, malicious, miscreant Claudio Gatti, and his enablers, had no right and no valid reason to doxx her. Period. Full stop. Gatti's article is so transparently misogynistic it is painful to read. He gives not one compelling argument for why Ferrante's true identity should be revealed. As I read the article all I could think is how desperately Gatti, and by extension The New York Review of Books, wants to be able to put Ferrante "in her place." It's as if they NEED to know who Ferrante really is so they can get greater satisfaction out of criticizing her work. Which will be the next article NYRB publishes. Fuck em all.
posted by pjsky at 8:10 AM on October 3, 2016 [29 favorites]


I'm very disappointed in this: in the doxxing, in the NYRB publishing the results, and in the MeFites who are so determined to equate this with something, anything, else that would somehow make it OK. I'm not going to read the links in the post and I hope to avoid similar ones; I thank frumiousb for linking to something decent to read on the subject.

Also, if you haven't read Ferrante, go read Ferrante. She's one of the best living writers, and her epic will change you.
posted by languagehat at 8:23 AM on October 3, 2016 [36 favorites]


Author Roxane Gay said it well: The thing is, you are entitled to curiosity but you aren't entitled to having your curiosity satisfied.

Lili Loofbourow's tweets on the subject are especially insightful. A sampling: Male confessions are coded artistic, philosophical, and experimental. Women’s are coded as brave, conventional, and unworked. / Myths of male and female "genius" follow our dumb scripts for male and female life. Men FASHION their lives/stories. Women survive them. / At best, women bleed what happened to them bravely onto the page. (Craft? What craft?) At worst, they’re “doing it for the attention”. / What would happen if Knausgaard were revealed to be a woman? The work would be read as self-indulgent and dismissed. So would she.
posted by duffell at 8:46 AM on October 3, 2016 [14 favorites]


cupcakeninja: If Elena Ferrante wanted privacy, she should not have -- quite literally -- made her work public.

There's a spectrum of options for authors to interact with the world. On one end, you have the hidden hermit, who works with a publisher, possibly through an agent to further hide their identity. On the other end, you have the very public person whose public persona is as much a part of the book as the stories within.

The NYRB article titled Elena Ferrante: An Answer? starts with this paragraph:
Ever since the first novel by Elena Ferrante was published in Italy in 1992, and especially since the sensational success of the four novels that make up the Neapolitan quartet (2011-2014), there has been much speculation about the writer’s identity. Until now, there were never any photos and almost nothing has been known about her. Yet she has been an oddly public figure in recent years, granting numerous interviews through her small Rome-based publisher, Edizione e/o, and gathering together a volume purporting in part to outline her family background, Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey, which will be published in the United States on November 1.
I wouldn't say that someone who has interviews is necessarily a public figure. I haven't read any interviews with Ferrante, so I can't say how truly personal they are. But I think you can give public interviews and still retain some level of personal secrecy, such as seen with MF Doom and his silver mask (Red Bull Music Academy Madrid 2011 Lecture). We know who he is and his backstory, so why not take off the mask and speak honestly about himself? Because that's his choice. Sometimes it's an artistic statement, sometimes it's meant to separate the reality of the author from the meta-story about the pseudonym the [physical] author created for the [literary] author of their works.

Back to Ferrante, her forthcoming book, Frantumaglia: A Writer's Journey, has this official blurb:
Elena Ferrante is one of the greatest novelists of our time. Read her novels and don't worry about who she is: you will be entranced by her writing.

Fragments is a riveting compilation, over the course of her writing career, of Elena Ferrante's letters to her publisher, interviews with editors and journalists, and responses to readers' questions. For fans of Ferrante, and for fans of writing, this is essential reading. Her comments have the ring of truth and the power of wisdom. This is a woman who not only knows her own mind, she can see deep into ours, too.
I haven't found any reviews of the book, but this makes it sound like Ferrante stays "in character" in the background story.

Maybe the author behind Ferrante will create a new persona, and if they choose to do so, I hope they have better luck staying hidden than J. K. Rowling, when she wrote as Robert Galbraith (Wikipedia article on The Cuckoo's Calling, but this is also clarified on the About page of Robert Galbraith's website (which doesn't list Rowling's name on the first page, but then the summary text from Google reads "Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, author of the 'Harry Potter' series and 'The Casual Vacancy'").
posted by filthy light thief at 9:04 AM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


FWIW (which is, I'm sure, very little) I recently finished the first volume of the Neapolitan Quartet and I anticipate that my experience of reading the remaining 3 will not be changed by having some knowledge (which may be partial or false) of the author's "real" name. I always imagined that those books borrowed from either the author's life or the lives of her intimates. To me its literary alchemy which turned them into works of genius. I re-read Proust, and read biographies of Proust and still find the facts of his life pale in comparison with his art.

What I mainly took from the NYRB blog post was imagining that the author had apartments in Rome that rivaled the one that Jep Gambardella occupied in the film The Great Beauty.
posted by Charles_Swan at 9:05 AM on October 3, 2016


why did this dude feel compelled to do this?

Click, click, click, click, click, click, click........
posted by Beholder at 9:06 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Click, click, click, click, click, click, click........

Also the radio interviews... (BBC Worldservice's Newshour).
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:21 AM on October 3, 2016


I just wrote to the editor of the New York Review of Books to express my disappointment with the decision to run that article. Feel free to do the same.
The New York Review of Books
435 Hudson Street, Suite 300
New York, NY 10014
Tel 212 757-8070
Fax 212 333-5374
editor@nybooks.com for editorial matters
posted by Fizz at 9:47 AM on October 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


If Elena Ferrante wanted privacy, she should not have -- quite literally -- made her work public.

By that logic, we should be able to chase people inside their homes if they dare go outside for work.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:10 AM on October 3, 2016 [22 favorites]


Elena Ferrante is her true identity.

This is poetic nonsense. The author is the sum of her true experiences and her imaginings, not a fictionalized subset.

I'm more sure about the absolute rightness or wrongness of this -imagine if Ferrante was actually, I dunno, a straight white German or something- but my gut reaction was pretty blech.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:21 AM on October 3, 2016


I think if anything the best outcome at the point is for literary journalists to critique their attachments and desires to suck up to and intimately know a writer with the net effect of creating a mythical personality cult around an actual, just like everyone else, wanting a normal life, human being.

For fuck's sake I know a published anarchist author who laments having to "wear his brand" on book tours. I'm fortunate that I get to shoot the breeze with this dude with absolutely zero pretense, but jeez, he's no more exciting and special than anyone else is, he's just a guy who writes about anarchy. The irony of his situation astounds me. An anarchist should not be required to "wear his brand" in order to be promoted, read and appreciated.

I've probably said enough. This whole thing gets at an aspect of authorship that I guess I struggle with.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:01 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I believe in the importance of privacy, but I don't think it extends to whether or not one has written best-selling novels (assuming that one's safety is not jeopardized by the revelation--the amateur writing cultures in which the pseudonym is sacrosanct involve work that was considered at one time to be a potential menace to one's reputation, or worse). It's hard for me to see this as a violation of that principle.

However, since Ferrante has been quite explicit about how her anonymity has been a powerful tool in her writing, I don't see how a person who respected or admired her writing could divulge her identity while she is alive. If her interest in privacy in her authorship is weak, the legitimate public interest in her identity is not that much stronger, and, setting her ability to create as she has been against the latter, it should win if you care about her work. It is also nauseating, as a general prospect, to imagine a male journalist working feverishly away for months to find a woman who didn't want to be found. The energy he brought to the project must have been awful.

At least we no longer have to endure speculation that she's really a dude?
posted by praemunire at 11:03 AM on October 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


(I’m also surprised that no one has mentioned the case of James Tiptree Jr., which jumped out at me. That said, the parallels actually seem fairly slight.)
posted by Going To Maine at 11:07 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


At least we no longer have to endure speculation that she's really a dude?
I wish that were true, but I suspect it's not. The speculation will now be that her husband is responsible for her work.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:07 AM on October 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


I wrote to the editor of the New York Review of Books to express my dissatisfaction with that article and an auto-generated e-mail response was sent to me reminding me that my subscription was ending in November.
posted by Fizz at 11:09 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Man, people love these books. I tried to read My Brilliant Friend, and gave up about 65% of the way through. I kept waiting and waiting for something to happen, and nothing ever happened. It was just a series of minor vignettes involving an endless succession of barely-described characters. I was bored out of my mind.

I feel like the central fixture of the book was the protagonist's friendship with Lila, which also bored me out of my mind. How many different ways can you say, "When Lila was studying the same thing as the protagonist, the protagonist was more interested in her studies. When Lila was not studying the same thing as the protagonist, the protagonist was less interested in her studies. When Lila was spending a lot of time with the protagonist, the protagonist was happy. When Lila was spending less time with the protagonist, the protagonist was less happy. Lila and the protagonist were friends in some ways, but they were also rivals in other ways."

I do realize My Brilliant Friend is the first in a four-part series. Does anything ever actually happen in these books?
posted by panama joe at 11:23 AM on October 3, 2016


yes
posted by edeezy at 11:31 AM on October 3, 2016 [13 favorites]


I would suggest that there is a connection to be made between this discussion about the ethics of exposing Ferrante's identity and other discussions recently on the Blue about cultural appropriation in fiction, insofar as both of these discussions do in many ways circle around the same question: how and why and to what extent is the author's identity relevant to our reception of her or his text?

Moreover, if instead we insist strongly that there is NO connection between our respective thoughts in these two discussions, then that in itself is quite interesting and deserves some sustained and interrogative thought.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 11:33 AM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wish that were true, but I suspect it's not. The speculation will now be that her husband is responsible for her work.

Ugh, you're probably right. Not unlike the Truman-Capote-really-wrote-Mockingbird people.
posted by praemunire at 11:46 AM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I would suggest that there is a connection to be made between this discussion about the ethics of exposing Ferrante's identity and other discussions recently on the Blue about cultural appropriation in fiction, insofar as both of these discussions do in many ways circle around the same question: how and why and to what extent is the author's identity relevant to our reception of her or his text?

Special snowflake points that probably matter here:
  • Ferrante was clear that she was writing under a pseudonym
  • Her true identity does seem to have a decent degree of accord with the people about which she writes.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:05 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I wish that were true, but I suspect it's not. The speculation will now be that her husband is responsible for her work.

The NYRB article even gestures in this direction, saying the financial information was "leaving open the possibility of some kind of unofficial collaboration with her husband"
posted by BungaDunga at 12:09 PM on October 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


There is no public interest to be served by this reporting

"Public interest" is turning into a slippery concept that has been justified to do a number of things that invade people's privacy, or comments that they had intended to be private. It's a blurry, inexact statement that was designed to be a line of demarcation between appropriate and inappropriate uses of the press, but these days, you can contrive any sort of "public right to know" such that it doesn't mean as much as a guiding value. It's a shame, because human decency should be the guiding principle here, but then there are those who will argue that if the press isn't almost sacrosanct, you don't get the hard decisions when things really need to be exposed and they have some sort of a doxxing element to them.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:30 PM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


sio42: why did this dude feel compelled to do this?

Beholder: Click, click, click, click, click, click, click........

I wonder how many journalists who publish pieces online are hooked to "page hits" like bloggers and other online personalities are, or if it's the generally the same reason he imagined Elena Ferrante wrote books: fame.

That's the thing that kills me: I think Claudio Gatti (Italian interview, Google auto-translation) thinks Ferrante is the same as him, except she's successful. Both writers, though she works in fiction while he spends month digging up truths. Both publish their material for public consumption, except she hides behind a pen name and does very well for herself, while he toils in public for limited recognition. For example, this post doesn't even mention him by name, and this is only the third comment to mention his name.

So why does she hide? Why should she get to hide, yet also do interviews and publish a book about the author behind the pages, yet still claim anonymity? I'm creating a narrative for Claudio's reasoning for his actions, based on the limited writings of his I have read. For instance, here's this passage from Elena Ferrante: An Answer?
In fact, in a letter included in Frantumaglia, Ferrante warns her publisher that she will not tell the truth about herself, writing “I don’t at all hate lies, in life I find them useful and I resort to them when necessary to shield my person, feelings, pressures.” And when Ferrante is asked to describe herself in a 2003 interview republished in the book, she offers Italo Calvino as a precedent for her evasions:
Italo Calvino, who, convinced that only the works of an author count, in 1964 wrote to a scholar of his books: “Ask me what you want to know, but I won’t tell you the truth, of that you can be sure.” I’ve always liked that passage, and I’ve made it at least partly mine.
But by announcing that she would lie on occasion, Ferrante has in a way relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown. Indeed, she and her publisher seemed to have fed public interest in her true identity.
That's some serious expansion of a theme from Claudio - liars don't get to hide (why did she "relinquished her right to disappear behind her books"? I don't see that explicitly addressed), and some of her fame comes from her mysterious identity, so I have a right to out her and expose that falsehood to undo the marketing ploy at play.

In the end, Claudio spoiled some of the story created by Elena, but also opened the door for more connections. In An Answer?, he makes some ties between the [real world] author, Elena and her works more explicit, which are interesting to me as someone who hasn't read her books yet.

But in the end, it's not up to Claudio to spoil this aspect of the story, it was Elena's option alone to take off the mask, or say "this is my mask, and this is me behind the mask, and the two will continue to exist, side by side."
posted by filthy light thief at 12:55 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would suggest that there is a connection to be made between this discussion about the ethics of exposing Ferrante's identity and other discussions recently on the Blue about cultural appropriation in fiction, insofar as both of these discussions do in many ways circle around the same question: how and why and to what extent is the author's identity relevant to our reception of her or his text?

Moreover, if instead we insist strongly that there is NO connection between our respective thoughts in these two discussions, then that in itself is quite interesting and deserves some sustained and interrogative thought.


I won't speak for others, but as a POC who has been very outspoken in the various cultural appropriation threads here (and particularly the ones having to do with literature), my position on this has always been that one must use care and respect when writing about marginalized cultures to which one does not belong. I can name many white writers whose depictions of POC characters I deeply appreciate, as well as POC writers who have been weak and lazy in depicting their/my culture. To me, identity doesn't dictate what you are "allowed" to write about, although it does have a lot to do with how effective your writing might be (and is strongly correlated with how likely you are to dodge criticism by taking cheap shots at "PC culture"). I don't need to know your identity to judge this. So I feel I am being consistent with my stated views when I say that this is some bullshit.

I can't quite tell if this is meant as a gotcha, but if it is, I don't appreciate it.

I have not read the NYRB article, I'm disappointed in the whole situation, but if there's one thing that gives me hope it's that the internet (not just Metafilter) is reacting with anger. Women know what this is really about, we've read her works and know that everything we need to know about Ferrante is there.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:03 PM on October 3, 2016 [13 favorites]


I can't quite tell if this is meant as a gotcha, but if it is, I don't appreciate it.

Not a gotcha at all. In the other discussion, one of the central emergent concerns was not only the question of the way in which we evaluate representations (and how those evaluations may or may not be influenced by the author's identity) but also the troubling problem of who gets to tell what stories -- the institutionalized inequalities that privilege some voices over others. To effectively begin to address such inequalities, one could argue that authorial identity -- however one defines that nebulous term -- cannot be shrouded in (or romanticized through) anonymity without intersecting with and inadvertently supporting harmful discourses about "color blindness," say.

But in this ongoing discussion of Ferrante, anonymity is being defended as the rightful privilege of the author. And I find that interesting and potentially problematic for the other discussion. As someone pointed out above in reply to my comment, it doesn't seem offensive to us because, as it turns out, Ferrante's "real" identity coincides closely, though not perfectly, with the representations she has created. But that post facto judgment, while happy and convenient, works only in this specific case. Meanwhile, many of the arguments being made here are in defense of authorial anonymity more broadly -- which is what got me thinking of the implications of that stance for the other conversation about the representation of marginalized peoples.

I'm not arguing for any particular stance here, btw, just thinking out loud about a surprising weird intersection in recent discussions on the blue, and hoping that maybe some other insightful folks can think through it with me.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 1:57 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ferrante's work seems deeply, painfully, honestly autobiographical in some way to me. With all the furor over the "My Struggle" series in Norway I can see why someone would want to remain anonymous- Karl Ove Knausgaard probably should have, given the fallout with his family after they were harangued by the press.
posted by raw sugar at 2:05 PM on October 3, 2016


mylittlepoppet, this is not abstract to the people in the conversation. Doxxing against one's wishes is frowned upon on MeFi to begin with, and this specific case is emblematic of, speaking for myself, personal disgust and personal concerns.

Take a stance. The conversation you want will be a conversation then.
posted by E. Whitehall at 2:11 PM on October 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


He's the sort of arshole who'll press the red button that says "DO NOT PRESS" and destroy the world.
posted by Burn_IT at 2:21 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Bullshit. Writing and publishing a book entitles the public to read that book (or not read that book, or criticize the book as they will), nothing more.

Is that a James Frey quote?
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:22 PM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I’m not arguing for any particular stance here, btw, just thinking out loud about a surprising weird intersection in recent discussions on the blue, and hoping that maybe some other insightful folks can think through it with me.

mylittlepoppet, this is not abstract to the people in the conversation. Doxxing against one's wishes is frowned upon on MeFi to begin with, and this specific case is emblematic of, speaking for myself, personal disgust and personal concerns.

Take a stance. The conversation you want will be a conversation then.

Sometimes taking a stance is good and helpful, if your stance is coming from a particular place of knowledge or experience. If you have no knowledge or experience taking a stance is not a good idea at all. Unfortunately, in certain high-stakes conversations not taking a particular stance may be (or may be construed as) trolling, and in general we don’t have those conversations anymore.

I’m not sure that taking a stance is particularly warranted here. That said, I think the reactions of Ferrante’s fan base are instructive in how to respond to the story.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:25 PM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I just wrote to the editor of the New York Review of Books to express my disappointment with the decision to run that article. Feel free to do the same.

The New York Review of Books
435 Hudson Street, Suite 300
New York, NY 10014
Tel 212 757-8070
Fax 212 333-5374
editor@nybooks.com for editorial matters


Ditto, and copied a translation to the editor of the once-reputable Italian outfit behind this - letterealsole@ilsole24ore.com - publishers, not a year ago, of an interview in which EF notes (as translated in the FT): "Male power, whether violently or subtly imposed, is still bent on subordinating us. Too many women are humiliated every day and not just on a symbolic level. And, in the real world, too many are punished for their insubordination...

(Perhaps not unrelatedly, it seems their editorial judgement is currently thrown by their imminent bankruptcy...)
posted by progosk at 2:45 PM on October 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


Oh, and: full marks that title, tavegyl.
posted by progosk at 2:52 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, and: full marks that title, tavegyl.

Seconded.

I have been thinking about "Elena Ferrante" as a kind of space in which to work, relatively undisturbed by readers and critics, a kind of coffer dam, a wall to keep the water out while the work goes on inside. How is that work going to change--or continue--without benefit of that protective layer? She wanted to work in peace, in a room of her own, in a name of her own making. The rage to deny her that much--or maybe that little--bothers me, and it will be a loss to literature if she decides never to write another word.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:09 PM on October 3, 2016 [12 favorites]


Her name was published in 2015 by NPR , also by Rebecca Falkoff and earlier by an Italian gossip blog, Dagospia.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:26 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Quick! Unsubscribe from NPR!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:13 PM on October 3, 2016


Something that has been mentioned only once in this thread that i can see - and only in a quotation - is that Ferrante has said she would stop writing were her identity to be revealed. (Cite) It is impossible to credit Gatti with ignorance of this fact, given how thorough an investigation he has clearly made of her.

So this man -- and it is absolutely relevant that he is a man -- decided unilaterally, for the whole world, that any future work by Ferrante is automatically less important than his own invasive desire to expose her.

(And "expose" works very well as a verb here, since it's very clear that Mr. Gatti's intentions are base and vile. He as much as said in his article, "she was asking for it, she shouldn't have gone out dressed that way.")
posted by adrienneleigh at 6:16 PM on October 3, 2016 [27 favorites]


Her name was published in 2015 by NPR

Yes, as a tidbit, not as the target of an investigation.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:16 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]




So this man -- and it is absolutely relevant that he is a man

Maybe, but what about Rebecca Falkoff back in 2015?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:56 PM on October 3, 2016


Re Falkoff et al: There's a difference between more-or-less idle speculation/gossip and leaking private financial information/doxxing.
posted by sideofwry at 7:18 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Falkoff's essay wasn't okay, either, but there are at least three relevant differences:

a) Falkoff speculated about Ferrante's identity, based on writing style comparisons and local gossip, whereas Gatti brought the full apparatus of his "investigative journalism" to bear, invading her life and her finances;

b) Falkoff admits that her own curiosity is "prurient", rather than expressing a right to violate Ferrante based on nothing more than "she tempted me";

c) Public Books is a highly-regarded venue, but it's insular and not, in the scheme of things, very widely-read; it's hardly comparable to a simultaneous release in four huge newspapers in four different languages.
posted by adrienneleigh at 7:19 PM on October 3, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'm sad for her. I think no one should mention this so called journalist's name at all. And I applaud fizz for unsubscribing.
posted by gt2 at 7:25 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


there are at least three relevant differences

Those differences aren't relevant to me (although of course I can see how they would be for some people). I see them as differences of degree (if anything) rather than kind.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:35 PM on October 3, 2016


Yeah, i'm sure they're not relevant to you. Which is why i didn't actually respond for your benefit, but rather for the benefit of other people in the thread who might otherwise buy the false equivalence.
posted by adrienneleigh at 7:48 PM on October 3, 2016 [14 favorites]


Wait what? Subjectivity of relevance isn't the same as "false equivalence."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:04 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


(I should know better--this is clearly a moral absolute line in the sand for some people, and that's not something that's subject to discussion, nor should it necessarily be. More important to you than to me, so I should butt on out. Wish you the best.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:12 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Subjectivity of relevance isn't false equivalence, no, but false equivalence is. I said that Gatti's being a man is relevant to what he did; you tried to gotcha me by saying a woman did the same thing last year. But she didn't do the same thing; she did a different thing with some similarities.

Also i have no idea where you get the idea that this is a "moral absolute line in the sand" for me. I'm not categorically morally opposed to investigative journalism about people's identities, even! (I'm opposed to it this time, sure.) I just don't like lazy gotchas.
posted by adrienneleigh at 8:45 PM on October 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


Violation of consent is no more excusable when it happens to a public figure. Her consent was violated. The great lengths and flouting of her explicit wishes are a violation of consent. A desire to expose and use and exploit. We have no right to anyone's life, and no one gives up their right to privacy by being generous with their talents. That this right is sometimes violated does not mean it doesn't exist.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:08 PM on October 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


Rachel Donadio and Jennifer Schuessler in the New York Times: “Who Is Elena Ferrante? Supporters Say NOYB”
posted by Going To Maine at 10:09 PM on October 3, 2016


"So this man -- and it is absolutely relevant that he is a man -- decided unilaterally, for the whole world, that any future work by Ferrante is automatically less important than his own invasive desire to expose her."

I wish I could favorite this a hundred times. I listened to the interview with this man on CBC tonight and he manages to come out with some self-righteous anger at people who are criticizing him. I guess he feels like a victim now...

One of my hopes for a Hillary Clinton presidency is that people in the US will start recognizing misogyny more often, and speaking up about it.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 10:53 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Rufous-headed Towhee heehee:

I'm afraid that a Clinton presidency is going to bring the truly VILE misogynists out of the woodwork the way the Obama presidency has done with the really vile racists. But you're right, the upside of that is that at least people might start noticing.
posted by adrienneleigh at 11:03 PM on October 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


Anonymity is dead. There is no way anyone can stay unfound and unproven and unknown in this day and age. If someone has heard of your fake name, they WILL find you.

And if you can't take being stalked/shamed/harassed all over the place, then you'd better keep your work to yourself for the rest of your life, eh?
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:10 PM on October 3, 2016


Anonymity is dead. There is no way anyone can stay unfound and unproven and unknown in this day and age. If someone has heard of your fake name, they WILL find you.

Satoshi Nakamoto begs to differ.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:17 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Satoshi Nakamoto doesn't have the marked disadvantage of being a woman. Everyone who's everyone wants to know who he is, but people don't feel like it's their right to violate her privacy for their own titillation.
posted by adrienneleigh at 11:41 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I understand that you're trying to draw a line, but the facts don't seem to square with it right here. People have been trying to pin down Nakamoto to for a long time; they just haven't yet succeeded. (Although there has been at least one wrong expose and one group of reporters that got conned.) The field of candidates is small, but the field for Ferrante was small as well.

(contending that the generic man doesn't feel like they should know the generic woman's business would be silly. But in the specific case of Nakamoto,quite a few people feel like they have the right to know who he is. But creating the blockchain is an entirely different accomplishment from writing novels under an assumed name.)
posted by Going To Maine at 1:08 AM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


D. Orr on the "unmasking of Elena Ferrante" in the Guardian:

"If you want to work, achieve money and acclaim, then play by our rules. That seems to be Gatti’s horrible message. Ferrante’s writing is suffused with explorations of how aggressive and damaging to women such attitudes are. No wonder he wants to damage her back."


J. Klein in Time on "the Beauty of Anonymity":

"The work is the important thing. If losing her anonymity compromises Ferrante’s creative space and jeopardizes our chance to read more of her novels, a terrible wrong will have been done. "


A. Friedman in NYMag: "Kim Kardashian West, Elena Ferrante, and the Right to Privacy":

"Don’t listen to Ferrante’s outers or Kardashian’s haters, who say that women who shy away from publicity are inviting exposure and women court publicity are inviting attack. Listen to women themselves when they declare how much privacy they want."


A. Deslande for the SMH, "In outing Elena Ferrante, journalist Claudio Gatti has assumed the role of typical patriarchal villain"

A. Pigliaru for il manifesto, "il triste banchetto di una società cannibalica"

EW has a round-up of opinions from figures in the literary community.
posted by progosk at 3:44 AM on October 4, 2016 [14 favorites]


"Ferrante’s readers were quick to denounce Gatti’s revelation. I myself was irritated. Even the stones know that Ferrante is Ferrante, and that’s the way her readers want it. More than Ferrante herself, her readers have benefited from her choice, spared so much extradiegetic noise. We are as invested in her anonymity—and her autonomy—as she is. It is a compact: she won’t tell us, we won’t ask, and she won’t change her mind and tell us anyway. In exchange, she’ll write books and we’ll read them. The feminist defense of Ferrante’s privacy was especially swift. It’s difficult to read a man’s attempt to “out” a writer who has said she would stop writing if she were ever identified as anything but an attempt to make her stop writing."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:07 AM on October 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


D. Tortorici's article linked by MonkeyToes is excellent. Its title, Bluebeard, refers to a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay, that it ends with:

This door you might not open, and you did;
So enter now, and see for what slight thing
You are betrayed . . . Here is no treasure hid,
No cauldron, no clear crystal mirroring
The sought-for truth, no heads of women slain
For greed like yours, no writhings of distress,
But only what you see . . . Look yet again—
An empty room, cobwebbed and comfortless.
Yet this alone out of my life I kept
Unto myself, lest any know me quite;
And you did so profane me when you crept
Unto the threshold of this room to-night
That I must never more behold your face.
This is now yours, I seek another place.

posted by progosk at 7:02 AM on October 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


In 1929 a similar thing happened to my great-aunt, when the third volume of her autobiographical fiction trilogy about her childhood in Australia, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, was published. She was a novelist who wrote as a man – Henry Handel Richardson – and whose first novel, Maurice Guest, was described by Carmen Callil, founder of Virago books, as “one of the great novels of the 20th century”.

The books’ strongly feminist approach attracted attention and the press became determined to find out more. It was, Richardson noted, the Daily Telegraph that published a paragraph, “saying my identity as Miss Ettie R [her real name was Ethel] had been discovered and disclosed. Who was the culprit?” She never found out.
I know how Elena Ferrante feels. My great-aunt was outed too by Angela Neustatter.
posted by Kattullus at 8:55 AM on October 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'll make an effort to make "Claudio Gatti" the only name I remember from this story.
posted by WalkingAround at 9:53 AM on October 4, 2016


What I find interesting is how people treat Elena Ferrante as if she were a real person. I mean, clearly the author is real, but Elena is fictional, with a fictional personal history. Very meta. It is a testament to both the effectiveness of the author's long game re: manufacturing the identity and the loyalty of the author's fans that Elena is considered as good as real.

Nobody but the author knows the actual motivations for this ruse or what the consequences of its unraveling will be. Hopefully the writing doesn't actually cease and Elena's protestation to that effect was merely an attempt to ward off the inquisition.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:04 AM on October 4, 2016


Nobody but the author knows the actual motivations for this ruse or what the consequences of its unraveling will be. Hopefully the writing doesn't actually cease and Elena's protestation to that effect was merely an attempt to ward off the inquisition.

First of all, calling this a "ruse" really set off my WTF-meter. Ferrante's use of pseudonym isn't a con; it's something she's been open about. To call this a ruse is to call Ferrante deceptive rather than secretive, which does her a real disservice.

Secondly, "nobody but the author knows the actual motivations..." except for the interviews she's given, linked and quoted throughout this thread, that state fucking exactly what her motivations were.
posted by duffell at 10:37 AM on October 4, 2016 [23 favorites]


All of those interviews were given in the voice of Elena Ferrante, who is fictional, and whose stated motivations may also be fictional, is my point. One can choose to believe that the author is speaking the truth through this character, but it cannot be taken as objective fact, especially given that Elena explicitly stated that she "[doesn't] at all hate lies."

She's a veritable Archimboldi.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:41 AM on October 4, 2016


Yeah, no. I'm sorry, but "We can't know for certain whether or not Elena Ferrante is a lying liar who lies, so for argument's sake let's assume she is" is a totally bizarro response to an author's use of pseudonym.
posted by duffell at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


Elena Ferrante is a fictitious character with her own ficticious backstory, not merely a pseudonym. So no, we can't know what of her words pertain in fact to the author's life vs. what is made up, and that includes her motivations. That doesn't make the author a horrible lying liar who lies a lot, it makes them inscrutable.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:06 PM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Does it matter? Does it actually fucking matter one bit whether the facts of a fictitious character's life match up with the author's? Do you realise how absurd it sounds to demand that they do?
posted by tobascodagama at 12:10 PM on October 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Does it actually fucking matter one bit whether the facts of a fictitious character's life match up with the author's?

Not in my opinion. Great fiction is great fiction and an author who can create an extraliterary character like Elena Ferrante and have her span 25 years before being (unfortunately and unfairly) unveiled is clearly a master of the craft. It just seems like the depth to which people thought they knew the mind of the author - as many have expressed a belief that it was thinly-veiled autobiography, which it appears not to be - may be far shallower than once believed.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:16 PM on October 4, 2016


as many have expressed a belief that it was thinly-veiled autobiography, which it appears not to be

In fairness, Ferrante has a lot of fans (to say the least). Quite a few could have thought it was a thinly-veiled autobiography and quite a few others could have been assumed it was fiction.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:20 PM on October 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Honestly? Tragic as it will be, i sincerely hope she does stop writing because of this. (Or at least, writing for public consumption.) Gatti wasn't satisfied with what she made available for public consumption; he wanted - he thought it was his right - to consume all of her. So, he's done that. Men like that really ought to learn that their actions have consequences.
posted by adrienneleigh at 1:30 PM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm reading a collection of Fanny Burney's letters and diaries now. She published the masterpiece Evelina at the age of 26 in 1778; she did so anonymously, without her father's knowledge, because of the social opprobrium against women publishing. She used several intermediaries and cloak-and-dagger tactics to shield herself from being known even by the publisher, but eventually her identity leaked out.

Evelina was widely acclaimed and she was praised to the skies, but she was shy (perhaps had social anxiety), and this caused her a lot of psychic damage. Her diaries speak of her being followed around at parties by people who want to torment her with her authorship--who take delight teasing her about something she's unwilling to discuss--who repeat lines of her novels at her because they know it makes her uncomfortable--who ascribe other anonymous (and racy) novels to her and then refuse to believe her when she says she didn't write them. You see the vulgarity of people who fasten on to this aspect of her identity with an "a-ha!" You see people who constantly want to discuss her delicacy and her moral virtue and how she's kept them even though she's written a novel. What about her love life? How can she write about love if there's nothing going on there, eh?

Incidentally it also screwed up her later public writings. Her father was proud of her, but then needed to "oversee" and approve her later work. The public was denied seeing her comedies--very good ones!--because her father and his friends first became enmeshed with their writing, and then forbade her to have them performed. Her later novels were self-conscious; she lost the psychological freedom of her first. But her diaries and letters, which she was able to write without the public eye on her, are as good as anything.
posted by Hypatia at 1:48 PM on October 4, 2016 [13 favorites]


> It just seems like the depth to which people thought they knew the mind of the author - as many have expressed a belief that it was thinly-veiled autobiography, which it appears not to be - may be far shallower than once believed.

This is ridiculous. Some people thought it was thinly veiled autobiography, but there are always people with poor reading/thinking skills, and to treat them as representative of Ferrante fans is insulting to everyone concerned, including the Ferrante fans in this thread. But keep holding your position on that hill.
posted by languagehat at 2:29 PM on October 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


[One deleted, please cool it with the insulting stuff. People feel various ways about this, we can have a conversation without insulting each other.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:12 PM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Another really good article about the Gatti article and resulting backlash: The Sexist Big Reveal.

'As Ferrante put it when an interviewer for the Financial Times asked why there are “few positive male characters in [her] books”: “I still think the men who can really be trusted are a minority … male power, whether violently or delicately imposed, is still bent on subordinating us.”'

-----------

Over here is Gatti whining about how his violation of a woman is getting so much more attention than his usual articles about human trafficking and CIA contractors. "All the people that hate me for what I wrote are bad people," he says, "and I don’t mind the fact that they hate me."
posted by adrienneleigh at 10:46 PM on October 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


Another quote from the great New Republic piece above:
Gatti’s defense of his piece continues to echo the most chilling claims of men who physically violate a woman while claiming the resisting woman wanted it and had it coming. On the BBC, he reiterated his conviction that readers have “a right” to know about her personally by virtue of purchasing her (fictive) work. He then added, “Most importantly, I believe that Ferrante and her publishers agree.” Ferrante and her publishers reiterated numerous times, including directly to him when he sought comment for his article, that she did not want her legal identity confirmed. This is one man deciding his desires are so imperative that they more than negate the wishes of others—they remake the will of others to align with his own.
"She wanted it, don't you see? She was begging for it."
posted by adrienneleigh at 10:47 PM on October 4, 2016 [11 favorites]


(A twitter account appeared yesterday, apparently to confirm the exposé; then, the publishers confirmed the account a fake.)
posted by progosk at 12:21 AM on October 5, 2016


To make myself feel a tiny bit better, I am going to tell myself that Claudio Gatti is Nino Sarratore.
posted by peripathetic at 2:02 AM on October 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


To make myself feel a tiny bit better, I am going to tell myself that Claudio Gatti is Nino Sarratore.

Ninos gonna Nino. And I say that with bitterness, not flippancy. Maybe it's a side effect of gender discrepancies being so much on display in the U.S. in this election season, but I don't care who the books' author really is, only that the woman who articulates and limns human relations be able to have the peace she needs to work. I am really angry that one man took it upon himself to ignore the efforts she has made to explain her way of working, and to actively dismantle the protection she has built and accounted for that affords her the mental space to create. She's not a secretive arm of government or a criminal organization, but evidently Gatti feels that it was right and proper to investigate her as if she were. Because Ninos gonna Nino: more laurels for him, damn the harm that comes to her or the collateral damage to her readership if Ferrante ceases to publish.

God, I wish Mary Beard would speak out on this.

But even more, I wish that the Ferrante Sisters would spring up--some anonymous collective of women writers interested in similar themes, all writing under the Ferrante Sisters name, precisely because of Gatti's reasons for outing the woman behind the pseudonym.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:06 AM on October 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


"One man" did not take it upon himself to reveal her identity. A reporter and multiple international media organizations published a story about a public figure.
posted by edeezy at 6:22 AM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


[One deleted, please cool it with the insulting stuff. People feel various ways about this, we can have a conversation without insulting each other.]

Not for the first time, I wish MeFi mods ruled the internet at large.

posted by Celsius1414 at 6:37 AM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


published a story about a public figure.


Did they, though? Didn't they actually out an entirely private individual (should their exposé turn out to be correct)?

Or is what your saying more #notallmalereporters?
posted by progosk at 6:46 AM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Did they, though?

Yes.
posted by edeezy at 6:58 AM on October 5, 2016


A reporter and multiple international media organizations published a story about a public figure.

This isn't quite the exoneration that you think it is...
posted by Going To Maine at 8:18 AM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Power of a Pen Name, Indexed
posted by Etrigan at 8:27 AM on October 5, 2016


The Power of a Pen Name, Indexed

But... wouldn't "obscurity" and "success" be on opposite ends of the same axis? (Not sure where "safety" ends up...)

posted by progosk at 8:35 AM on October 5, 2016


I think the intent was for "success" to be about Ferrante's professional life and "obscurity" to be about the author's personal life.
posted by Etrigan at 8:48 AM on October 5, 2016


Going to Maine: This isn't quite the exoneration that you think it is...

I didn't read it as exoneration but as a statement that Gatti isn't solely responsible for the publication.
posted by Kattullus at 1:43 PM on October 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Gatti, presumably, pitched the story. (I don't imagine the Financial Times was champing at the bit for a story outing a random fiction author, even a famous one.) Gatti did the work. Gatti said, and continues to say, "she was asking for it".

Yes, other people consented to publish it, and they are also responsible and are facing consequences for their involvement -- see, for example, the many people canceling their subscriptions to the NYRB. But all of this is ultimately Gatti's fault. So yes, "one man" did take it upon himself to violate Ferrante, and then involved "multiple international media organizations" in the process. He doesn't own all the machinery, but he sure as hell pressed the button.
posted by adrienneleigh at 2:19 PM on October 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


The more I read about this, the more it seems like EF is a product of both the author and the publshing house. The pseudonym started off as an artistic statement by the author - one book, L'amore molesto published in 1992, made into a film in 1995. Then, in 2002, I giorni dell'abbandono is published and followed only a year later - ostensibly at the publisher's behest - by La frantumaglia, which fleshes out EF's alleged life in order to satiate a curious public. At that point the character of EF is fully realized and captivates people, no doubt leading to more sales. And now the author has the freedom to fully inhabit this character, write the novels with what appears to at least some people (who I wouldn't categorize as having "poor reading/thinking skills") to be a convincing air of authenticity, of lived experience. It must have been freeing and amazing to live dual lives, kind of like a literary Batperson. And the publishing house, once the Neapolitan series gains runaway popularity, is very pleased about how well the La frantumaglia gambit has paid off and is fiercely determined to protect the sanctity of the EF fiction because it is both hugely profitable and likely, at this point, a necessary (in a Dumbo's feather sort of way) ingredient in the author's secret sauce, this writing-in-character-under-cover-of-darkness thing. All of this secret-keeping gets harder and harder as EF's popularity grows exponentially.

And now, thanks to Gatti's dick-swinging, overly intrusive expose, the jig is up. Nobody's happy - not the author, whose alter ego is no longer inhabitable; not the publishing house, which no longer can rely on the EF mythos to maintain interest; not the fans, who can no longer just believe in EF without reality poking its less interesting had in; and not the progressive world in general, who see Gatti's article as an attack on women in general. EF, it has been noted, has claimed that she would stop writing were she exposed.

In a way, she has to, because she no longer really exists. But what of the author? Will they continue to write? Clearly they have immense talent. I hope they do.

But who knows! Maybe this synopsis is completely wrong. This is such a huge (if painful) literary event that it seems unlikely it won't be analyzed and written about for years to come. It would make an amazing indie biopic.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:59 PM on October 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Whatever else happens, I hope Ferrante doesn't stop writing.
posted by Kattullus at 3:36 PM on October 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


And again, i hope she does stop writing. The world took from her more than she was willing to give, so i sincerely hope she says "fuck you" to the world.

It will be a great loss for the people who might otherwise have been inspired by her future novels. It will be a great loss to literature. But when people are so very willing to hound women and disregard their very clearly expressed wishes -- for no better reason than "she asked me not to but i know she really wanted it" -- they don't actually deserve nice things. Nor does the world that keeps allowing it to happen.
posted by adrienneleigh at 4:45 PM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


The more I read about this, the more it seems like EF is a product of both the author and the publshing house.

Yeah, because a woman's career and personal life can never be just the product of her own actions and choices. Especially if she is successful.

< /distaste>
posted by Thella at 5:08 PM on October 5, 2016 [15 favorites]


It will be a great loss for the people who might otherwise have been inspired by her future novels. It will be a great loss to literature. But when people are so very willing to hound women and disregard their very clearly expressed wishes -- for no better reason than "she asked me not to but i know she really wanted it" -- they don't actually deserve nice things. Nor does the world that keeps allowing it to happen.

Ironically, of course, the practical ramifications of this choice is that it will hurt those who like her works most, and who most strongly wished that she hadn’t been outed. Which is fine - Ferrante should do exactly what she wants. But it seems to be a situation that sucks for everyone, regardless.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:08 PM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


Going to Maine - It definitely does suck for everyone! Maybe if it sucks enough, Gatti and his ilk will get hounded out of journalism and public life! (I doubt it, unfortunately.)

And ultimately, my towering fury about this aside, my greatest hope isn't actually that Ferrante stops writing. It's that Ferrante does what is best for her, and keeps her sane and happy. Because ultimately that's what matters -- that a dude tried to deprive this woman of agency, and that the rest of us don't do the same thing.

(Thella - thank you for your comment; i couldn't figure out a way to say the same thing that wouldn't get me deleted, because that original remark was fucking disgusting.)
posted by adrienneleigh at 5:26 PM on October 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


The more I read about this, the more it seems like EF is a product of both the author and the publshing house.

Yeah, because a woman's career and personal life can never be just the product of her own actions and choices. Especially if she is successful.


The point, apparently inelegantly made, was not that Edizioni E/O is in any way responsible for the content of EF's novels or life's narrative - that is clearly her own, and to suggest otherwise would indeed be distasteful. The point was that, in La Frantumaglia, it is documented that Edizioni explicitly suggested that the collection itself be published in order that the readers get to know EF better, and in that respect had a hand in turning EF from just a pseudonym into a fleshed-out character. That would have been a savvy business move and also a totally normal interaction between publisher and author. Now, maybe all of Frantumaglia - including the correspondence between EF and her publishers - are themselves a fiction invented by the author, which would be even more impressive. Chances are we'll never know, and that is exciting.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:59 AM on October 6, 2016


Her true identity does seem to have a decent degree of accord with the people about which she writes.

It does seem to have a huge degree of discordance with her fictional background, though. Being the daugher of a magistrate and a teacher and having had a whole career as an insider in the very cliquey Italian publishing industry and with a partner who is an established author within that same intellectual bourgeoisie environment in the capital and having privileged access to publishing houses - not quite the same as emerging into literary stardom from a poorer uneducated working class. Not in Italy, for sure.

On a purely literary level it’s great if this is an insider, and especially if this is a translator, it’s proof of the amount of talent you need and skills you can hone in that kind of career, one that enjoys so little recognition itself. A translator becoming a worldwide literary phenomenon, that’s a welcome rarity.

In the context of the politics of that publishing industry in Italy and the road to recognition for writers and the struggles other younger talents go through, it is perhaps a different story. Maybe international readers and commenters are understimating the relevance of that kind of social and cultural background - not to the writer’s talent or merits, but to her path to fame.

That relevance does not retroactively justify the journalistic unmasking or the way it was done, or nullify all other issues about privacy and misogyny - but they are all different issues, and the issue of the background of the author and her privileged access to the publishing industry cannot be brushed aside because of those other issues.

It’s not even a question of "cultural appropriation" as some American commenters have put it - that too is more of an American angle. It’s a more fundamental political question, and a very Italian question, one the journalist surely must have had in mind: would such an anonymous writer with none of that background and access have been published at all in the first place, in today’s Italy, nevermind achieve worldwide popularity?

Once you know this may have been an insider all along, you cannot ignore it. And it says more about that industry than about the writer herself. It does not diminish her work in any way. It is however - from within an Italian context and from an Italian perspective - yet more proof that the chances of breaking through that industry as an outsider on the strength of your talent alone are a pure myth. That is the fiction that has been debunked.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:14 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was just reading this article (published in the NYRB) by Tim Parks, an English writer who has lived and worked in Italy for the past 30 years or so. It's an interesting little take on insiders and outsiders in Italian culture and Italian writing and was written before Ferrante's outing. She's not the primary focus of the article, but is referenced a couple of times. I found it interesting.
posted by PussKillian at 2:43 PM on October 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


breaking through that industry as an outsider on the strength of your talent alone are a pure myth.


Surely that's not really a central issue here, though, bitteschoen?

The books' quality is pretty immense, by a whole lot of people's standards. It seems a little... tangential to highlight this a positive side effect of an intitiative that was centrally about something else, and really quite explicitly destructive in its intent.
posted by progosk at 2:45 PM on October 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


(Disclosure: I initially dreamed of working in publishing (albeit the editing side), when I first came to Italy, sent off fifty-odd resumés to all the major publishers, and... felt the full brunt of being, despite my shiny new degree, an emerito nessuno. So I agree there's in-breeding - it just seems a derail, here.)
posted by progosk at 2:52 PM on October 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


progosk - I don’t even see that revelation as a positive effect. It wasn’t a much-needed revelation either. Hence the bit about this not retroactively justifying the scoop.

But it is a fact that has now come out, and it does have implications about the workings of that industry in Italy, rather than the individual author. All this is being fully drowned out by the debate over privacy and sexism, and it’s a bit of a pity, because I do not think any single issue raised by this disclosure is more central than the other - they all are in their own way, and the point about the Italian publishing industry is more relevant to many many more authors than just Ferrante.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:56 PM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


fully drowned out by the debate over privacy and sexism

It's actually sadly symptomatic that discussion of this exposé here in Italy has really hardly even touched on the sexism, though, or at least nowhere near what's come out of the US/UK. As though it's not time yet, or anymore, to address that angle...
posted by progosk at 3:07 PM on October 6, 2016


(cf. the Wu Ming collective's take.)
posted by progosk at 3:16 PM on October 6, 2016


> (cf. the Wu Ming collective's take.)

Can you sum up their take for those of us who have a hard time with Twitter even when it's in a language we know well (let alone in a language we can barely make our way through, like Italian)?
posted by languagehat at 5:30 PM on October 6, 2016


We are such moralists, on all sides.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:03 PM on October 6, 2016


lh: I stumbled across this train of thought of theirs (via il post, whose comments section continues to be a rare oasis of sane opinions, not unlike MeFi), and was surprised how neatly it captured a general vibe I'd been feeling. Always nice to find like-minds; the twitter daisy-chaining is an unwieldy format, but not unsuited, I think.

Wanting to highlight the very different tacks between local and international commentary on the affair, they first provide a round-up of U.S./UK links, pointing out the scant exceptions to the overarching Italian mansplainiad. Then, while parrying with commenters below, they boil their view down (upwards, for some reason) to these last two tweets:

In a nutshell, the heroic, male Italic inquiry has unmasked a rich, deceiving Jewess.

In a country that's never come to terms with its racist fascist and collaborationist past, certain stories should be handled less nonchalantly.

Interestingly, they do not play the #JesuisElenaFerrante game - maybe, arguably, because it's something they've always been doing, to a degree.
posted by progosk at 11:04 PM on October 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


A German lawyer finds the exposé likely to be illegal under local laws.

Oh, and: t-shirts available here.
posted by progosk at 5:51 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Jeanette Winterson on "the malice and sexism behind the ‘unmasking’" (Guardian):

"It is only [...] 110 years in Italy since women were able to own property, earn and keep their own money, and stand under the law equal to men. Women got the vote in Italy late – 1946 – and Italy is still a Catholic country with strong patriarchial attitudes towards women. Gatti is no doubt a secular journalist, but listening to him talk about his scoop on the BBC – his pompous unthinking sexism, his desire to discredit the creator of both Ferrante and Ferrante’s books, what he calls her “lies” about her mother, tells us a lot more about him than about his subject."

and

"She has been very clear about why she has chosen to be two people – one of whom can be known through her books, and one of whom cannot be known at all. Writing is an act of splitting – like mercury. Writers are multiple personalities. This is clear when we create other characters – it can be confusing when the character we create is ourselves."
posted by progosk at 6:29 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


(But hey, at least we're not in Iran, where a woman's unpublished manuscript gets her sentenced to six years in jail - right?)
posted by progosk at 6:38 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Interesting: Elena Ferrante, in an appreciation of Jane Austen:

"The fact that Jane Austen, in the course of her short life, published her books anonymously made a great impression on me as a girl of 15. It was the surly English teacher who told us this, and I was tempted to ask why, but I soon abandoned the idea, out of timidity. Meanwhile, I read Pride and Prejudice, but it didn’t interest me. At the time, I was enthralled by the great male adventure novels, with their stories that ranged all over the world, and I wanted to write such books myself: I couldn’t resign myself to the idea that women’s novels were domestic tales of love and marriage. I was past 20 when I returned to Austen. And from that moment not only did I love everything she had written but I was passionate about her anonymity."

"It seems to me that Austen, by not putting her name on the books she published, did the same thing as Elinor, and in an extremely radical way. She uses neither her own name nor one that she has chosen. Her stories are not reducible to her; rather, they are written from within a tradition that encompasses her and at the same time allows her to express herself. In this sense they are indeed written by a lady, the lady who does not fully coincide with everyday life but peeks out during the often brief time when, in a common room, a space not hers, Austen can write without being disturbed: a lady who disappears whenever something – the disorderly world of the everyday – interrupts her, forcing her to hide the pages. This lady doesn’t have Jane’s anxieties or her reserve. The lady-narrator describes the ferocity of the male world that clusters around income, is afraid of change, lives idly, contends with futility, sees work as degrading. And above all she rests a clear gaze on the condition of women, on the battle between women to win men and money. But she doesn’t have Jane’s natural resentments toward daily life. The lady-who-writes can set aside dissatisfaction and bitterness, spread a light, ironic glaze over the old world that, with its wrongs, is collapsing and the new world that is emerging, with its abundance of new wrongs."
posted by progosk at 6:50 AM on October 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


Here's a really good take on La Frantumaglia, anonymity and the inscrutable nature of Ferrante's identity in the LA Times.

Incidentally I just picked my My Brilliant Friend and was hooked by the first page. That is some synapse-stimulating prose.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:44 AM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


progosk: Thanks for the explanation and the great links!
posted by languagehat at 8:10 AM on October 7, 2016


A German lawyer finds the exposé likely to be illegal under local laws.

That is another very interesting angle! And on top of the general legal aspects of privacy violation, there is also the more specific question of privacy of financial records.

How did the journalist get access to the payment records from the publishing house? He only says he got them from an anonymous source.

But, thing is, unless I missed something about the evolution of privacy laws in the EU and Italy recently, those payment records are not public, they are very private and that privacy is supposedly covered by a series of laws and agreements.

Other than the person receiving the payments, the only other entities with access to that financial data are her tax consultants, her bank, her publishing house and their tax consultants, and of course the Italian tax authority. And a disclosure to a journalist by any of those entities would have been in violation of the law (and possibly a case of corruption of public officials, if the source is someone from the tax authority). Whoever the anonymous source is, how can their disclosure of private financial data not be illegal? It’s a bit surprising there is no specific reaction to that in Italy. I’ve only seen mention of how it’s not cool, how it’s in bad taste. As if to confirm the cliché that for Italians doing something in bad taste is worse than violating the law...

Il Sole 24 Ore, the publication involved, defended the digging into financial records as part of the tradition of investigative journalism. So apparently, digging into the financial records of individual private citizens not indicted or accused of any crime is a legitimate part of journalistic investigations, on a par with exposing corruption of public officials or tax evasion by big corporations or the financial dealings of convicted crime bosses.
This is a major respected publication, so I suspect no other mainstream media will be too keen to suggest that this "investigation" was a violation of several laws, but I do wonder - would the publishing house and the person named as the person receiving those payments not have grounds for legal action for violating the privacy of those records?

It's actually sadly symptomatic that discussion of this exposé here in Italy has really hardly even touched on the sexism, though, or at least nowhere near what's come out of the US/UK.

I guess it depends where you look - on Twitter and blogs and online magazines and comment sections I have seen quite a lot of that in Italy too. I don’t follow the mainstream Italian media much, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had been extremely cautious in their reactions - even more than the publishing industry, the media and journalism industry in Italy is extremely cliquey and incestuous, and the influence and reputation of a publication like Il Sole 24 Ore is huge, and to imply they did something worse than a violation of good taste would require a bit more bravery than Italian mainstream publications will typically be willing to deploy.

There is also an odd silence on this from the Ordine dei Giornalisti, the order of journalists. If as it seems privacy laws are involved, they’d be the first to say something. And oh, il Garante della Privacy, the Italian Privacy Authority, no word from them either. Sorry if this too sounds like a derail, but within the Italian context alone this is all such a portrait of dysfunctional systems, it’s almost amusing, the multiplicity of issues it raises from that point of view.
posted by bitteschoen at 12:39 PM on October 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


the influence and reputation of a publication like Il Sole 24 Ore is huge

Coincidence (or not?): the day before it published the article, the news broke that the paper is so deep in the red, it's on the brink of banruptcy. (The finance-factional manoeuvring has begun.. will this heavyweight of Italian publishing be found too big to fail, brushing over the failings of the captains (literally!) of industry, as usual?)
posted by progosk at 4:21 AM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Great image for the cover photo of the US edition of Frantumaglia: it's a veritable exemplification of smarginatura - and an inspired choice also given the story of the photographer, Francesca Woodman. (Double link HuffPo, sorry..)
posted by progosk at 6:02 AM on October 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


John Lanchester writes about what Gatti did in The London Review of Books, comparing it to the media's treatment of Salinger and Pynchon.
posted by Kattullus at 2:22 PM on October 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


John Lanchester writes about what Gatti did

That last paragraph is spot on. Thanks.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:09 PM on October 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


Some hindsight: Adam Kirsch opined in the NYT that there were "good reasons to welcome the revelations about Ms. Ferrante", citing it as a "a sterling example of the power of appropriation" (which he argues in favour of), something we'd only know thanks to her supposed outing.

Yet Kirsch subtly double-standards, when he recently holds high Bob Dylan's right to remain silent vis-à-vis the Nobel committee as "a wonderful demonstration of what real artistic and philosophical freedom looks like", the author owing neither public nor critics anything more than their works.

Ironically, Dylan - unlike Ferrante - has since caved.
posted by progosk at 5:25 AM on October 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


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