Decline Celebrity

On a recent Alitalia flight from Milan to New York, a woman in a neighboring seat said, in Italian, to my girlfriend, “I didn’t want to disturb your privacy, but I couldn’t help notice you were reading Elena Ferrante. Isn’t it amazing?” Carol agreed and politely tried to resume her reading, but the woman needed her moment of ritual speculation about the reclusive author’s identity. “Everyone knows Ferrante is really a man,” she began.

When Italian columnists set themselves to the Ferrante mystery, they assume she must be famous for something else. For what other reason would one possibly decline celebrity? As Ferrante once said in a written interview, “It would not occur to any newspaper to fill a page with the hypothesis that my books were written by an old retired archivist or by a young, newly hired bank clerk.” Part of the point of her withdrawal is to show her country, with its reality shows and cult-of-personality politics, that celebrity — the universal, wrathful demand of the public for complete disclosure — might be graciously declined.

The books themselves are about, among other things, keeping things hidden, and how the partitions we erect permit us the comfort of multiple identities…

Elena Ferrante

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