The New York Review of Books just doxxed Elena Ferrante using financial journalism. What the hell, guys?
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.
Folks are rightfully disappointed in NYRB for publicizing details of Ferrante’s alleged identity in their article, published Sunday:
If you’d like to know the probable identity of the cherished author, you can read all about it here.
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.
Ferrante explained what keeping her identity concealed has meant to her in a brilliant 2015 Paris Review interview:
“[T]here 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 last two and a half decades, is the creative space that absence opened up.”
Agree or not, Ferrante illuminates an instructive distinction here between one who has something to say, and one who merely wants to be the person to say it.