I read Tyler Cowen religiously. And he, among others, has turned me on to Elena Ferrante, and so I am reading the Neapolitan Saga. See below for the Tyler Cowen link to some review.
The author has shunned fame, and publishes under a pseudonym. The vanity fair interview with her is actually one of the most interesting things I have read in a while. Particularly the parts about feminism. So that’s what I’m here to talk about.
Go read the vanity fair bit about how she talks about being accused of being a man, it’s absurd, and she simply transcends the criticism…a theme in the interview, actually. She has an amazing mind, I found myself absorbed. Where do people like her come from? Naples…duh. Ok. But, I mean, she has presence, you feel wisdom, and not overreaching wisdom. She has comfort in her words, she knows her origination, her own story, in a depth that, perhaps, only a writer can accomplish, and a writer that has just finished a (likely–at least partially) autobiographical masterpiece. So when she is handed labels of feminism or masculinity, she can play with them and set them aside, they don’t distract her, they don’t cause anxiety. I wish I could say the same, I lack the depth or the confidence.
I have loved and I love feminism because in America, in Italy, and in many other parts of the world, it managed to provoke complex thinking.
On her feminism, I can’t thank her enough for her lack of anger, militarism, and her celebration of the complex. This is a topic you can’t enter without getting it wrong. What are feminists? You have to master a history slammed by wave after wave, and a guilt for being on the wrong side or whatever (as a man), and then you have to deal with the strife within the ranks of feminists.
There isn’t any credible authority in gender, but I always feel that, as a man, there is a subtle guilt-ridden assignment of power to women on this topic. How could it be any other way? But it isn’t an honest dialect if there is a community of only feminine and opponent camps. And I’m just woefully ignorant to start defining where I belong in the mix. I just hope to convey some sensitivity to the lack of being la femme, but still have a working appreciation for the feminist movement, or the topic, or whatever the hell feminism actually is.
I can say that the Vanity Fair caricaturization of the masculine critics (we don’t know who they are, could be women) trying to suggest Ferrante is a man is handled in a humorous/absurdist way, the way Jon Stewart would render certain political positions ridiculous, but it probably isn’t an honest, or not a completely honest, account of the people asserting the masculinity of Ferrante. But the reaction is what is worth pause. Ferrante sees the ridiculous, and the masculine critics are completely clueless.
Are they clueless? Do Ferrante and the Vanity Fair reporter get that right? Not likely. But the point is taken, nonetheless, certain speculation is offensive and revealing all on its own. Why do the critics need to explore narratives beyond the one presented? Is there any credible reason to question the gender of the author?
I didn’t even think to question it, but I am taking the work in as an audiobook with a female voice reading it to me, it was natural to just assume she was a woman. And I wont pretend to think I understand any significant differences between men and women when it comes to perception. Largely I find the topic a quagmire. So I am content to just watch the show, and have my laughs when someone points out a silly line of thought. But I can’t help feel deeply insecure knowing that there is a huge debate that a bunch of really smart people seem to be savvy to while I maintain ignorance. But I just really distrust the feminists and their opponents.
Ferrante is, here, like I said, making it absurd. Which is in line with how I feel about the topic. But if people are accusing her of being masculine, I run into the whole paradoxical line of question: Is my comfort in her approach a product of her masculine appeal? Shit. Are women actually so alien that we need some sort of brilliant translator? I don’t believe that, but maybe it isn’t totally crazy to think so.
Anyway, the greater point of comment here is that Ferrante is worth following, she isn’t a polarizing figure, she is a diplomat. She offers enlightenment and perspective, and everyone would benefit from reading her works. It took to the end of the first book for me to start being amazed. The topics wouldn’t normally interest men, I don’t think, they centre around female friendship. I think it’s still a distraction to focus on that aspect, though, this is a story of people, and your a person, and you can take all sorts of perspective away from it.
What I found also interesting in the interview were Ferrante’s beliefs that male friendships, and the rules they adhere to, were somehow better defined, and that since there is much more masculine literature, she can be somehow more confident in that assertion than any man could be about female relationships. All I could do was smirk, what does she know anyway? Men are just as neurotic and self-hating as women. They foil themselves on others, all the same. These are human stories. I don’t know if gender should get all that much attention.