From the cover of My Brilliant Friend.
- It’s possible you survived the whole weekend without hearing about the unmasking of Elena Ferrante, whose “true identity” (like those exist!) was revealed yesterday by some Italian guy behaving Italianly in The New York Review of Books. If you missed this story, reader—lucky you! I won’t harsh your buzz. You can keep on not knowing Ferrante’s “identity,” as she would’ve wanted it, and I can keep on thinking about which soup I’ll get for lunch today, as I can only assume she would want, too. Deal? Instead, read her Art of Fiction review from our Spring 2015 issue, where she discusses at some length the reasons behind her pseudonym. Or read Dayna Tortorici: “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.”
- Now, let’s divert our attention to a much less controversial story from the NYRB: Nathaniel Rich on George Plimpton. “The quintessential Plimptonian anecdote comes near the end of Paper Lion when, a year after leaving the team, he wistfully follows his old squad from afar. We find him in Bellagio, on Lake Como, chasing down a box score in a Paris Herald he has found at a waterside café. ‘When I read that the Lions had lost a game,’ he writes, ‘I rose in anguish out of my chair, absolutely stiff with grief, my knee catching the edge of the table as I came up, and toppling it over in a fine cascade of Perrier bottles’ … Philip Roth, in the extended appreciation of Plimpton that appears in Exit Ghost, identified the issue of social class as ‘the deepest inspiration for his writing so singularly about sports’ … But the technique only works because Plimpton hides this knowing quality from his readers. There is never a wink or nod in the direction of the premise’s artifice. A consummate straight man, he emphasizes how seriously he is taking matters.”
- Michael Hofmann has some advice for translators: just don’t think about it. If you’re one of those “thinking” types, put a sock in it, he writes: “Translation offers great potential for over-thinking. Most of this is not done by translators—we don’t have the time, or the aptitude, most of us. I had what felt to me like exquisitely interesting thoughts about English and German and the author while I was translating Kafka, but I couldn’t capture any of them—I would have ground to a halt. I was briefly in a fascinating position, but, thankfully, it passed. I like thinking; but as a translator, it’s not what I’m paid for. What I do is to strike the two stones of English and German against each other, for as brief a time as possible. Most of my time is spent, and almost all my enjoyment comes from, blowing on the tiny flames.”
- If the aftermath of Lionel Shriver’s controversial speech—i.e. the scandal we couldn’t forget about before this unforgettable Elena Ferrante scandal came along to help us forget it—Jess Row has a few ideas about what a white writer of fiction might reasonably do: “We still live in a culture in which white people are very seldom stopped from doing anything they want to do, and when they are stopped or challenged, get extraordinarily upset about it … My term for it is ‘white dreamtime.’ And waking up in the middle of a dream, as we all know, is an unpleasant experience … The white writer, in this Shriver/Franzen formulation, is entitled to a zone of absolute privacy and limitless artistic autonomy; if a critic makes an observation about their work on the order of, ‘this person is depicted stereotypically,’ or ‘this wide-ranging, ambitious urban American social novel lacks a single nonwhite character,’ that critic is attacking their private imaginative process, their dream-life, rather than simply reading the work itself.”
- When René Magritte wasn’t stoking the flames of his surreal obsession with men in bowler hats, he was writing art criticism: and now some of it is finally available in English. E.g.: “People do not want a diamond for its intrinsic properties—its authentic qualities alone—but because, as it costs a great deal, it gives the man who possesses it a kind of superiority over his fellow men, and is a concrete expression of social inequality. Besides, things have reached such an absurd point that if you buy a fake diamond unawares, you will be just as satisfied, because you have paid the price of the genuine article. It is no different with art.”