The Ideal Author As Anti-Celebrity

In reading the works of various authors, one can get a sense of how they related to the context of their works.  Today I would like to write about writers, something that is generally only of interest to other writers.  In particular, I would like to tease apart the ideal state of invisibility that Italo Calvino held for an author and explain the author as an anti-celebrity, and that the contemporary world and its focus on celebrity is less than ideal when it comes to the integrity and creativity of the author.  In many ways, it is worth comparing Calvino to a writer of similar age and time period but one who was in many ways his opposite, Elie Wiesel, a writer whose courting of celebrity was something of an uneven blessing.  As someone whose approach to celebrity status and attention is far closer to Calvino’s than it is to Wiesel’s, it is worth examining why this is the case.

Perhaps teasingly, the collection The Hermit In Paris discusses Calvino’s perspective that invisibility should be an author’s ideal state, with his presence in the work limited to the name on the cover [1].  In one sense, this is impossible.  After all, an author cannot help but reveal aspects of his mentality and perspective in the writing that is on the page.  Even where an author does not beat one over the head with his (or her) perspective or background or religious or philosophical or political worldviews, some aspect of those matters will be present in those works.  People write the way that they do and the content that they do for their own reasons.  A writer like Calvino (or myself) who has a day job that pays the bills and who does not write for money or with an aim for popularity writes for internal reasons.  Some of those reasons may be obvious, and some of them may be deeply private and personal, and quite often a writer may not know or may not want others to know the sort of personal and idiosyncratic reasons that pen has been put to paper or keyboard to monitor.  Sometimes an author wants words to be taken as they are and interpreted how the reader will without being given the full map to understanding the emotional or imaginative terrain of the author.

The relationship between the author and a text is ambiguous for several reasons.  For one, the text is fixed and the author is not, being in a constant state of change, be it advance or decay.  Likewise, the fixed nature of a text does not always take into account the proper context of the writing which gives it meaning and shows what interpretations of the text are permissible or not, which are meant by the author and which are positively forbidden when looking at the author’s perspective and intents, which may not be readily evident to the reader.  All too often people read too much into texts, and just as often and just as tragically read too little from them, missing the layers, the ironies, and the struggle to put the fleeting thoughts and passionate longings to communicate into a form that fulfills the intents of the author.  In many cases authors write because they do not always communicate well face to face.  It is the burden of what cannot be said that drives some people to write, and yet that desire to make oneself understood does not include a desire to make all of oneself understood, because even if that was possible most of us do not want to be completely known but wish to preserve an aspect of ourselves that remains obscure and private.

In general, writers make poor celebrities for a variety of reasons.  For one, as has already been mentioned, the causes of their writings are internal and the nature of their writing often springs from a struggle to make oneself properly understood by others.  For another, writing is a very intensely solitary task.  Very often one writes by oneself without knowing if there is anyone who even cares about what is being written at all, and even when one is around other people, the writer is very often in his (or her) own private world thinking of what to say and imagining conversations and responses and trying to catch the fleeting nature of a particular facet of what is often a very complicated matter.  This nuance and complexity and ephemerality is not something that is easy to make into a celebrity.  Here we can see where Elie Wiesel plays into the situation.  As a writer, Elie Wiesel was able to powerfully portray the damage done to a soul by the violence of the concentration camps and the experience of having one’s neighbors turn into betrayers and enemies, and cast into exile because one could not go home again to such wicked scoundrels.  Yet as as celebrity Wiesel’s political thoughts and prescriptions were at best simplistic mainstream liberal platitudes, and certainly did not have the insights of his own deep self-knowledge.  Like many people, he had a lot to say when it came to talking about himself and his own thought process, but when it came to talking about how others should live and behave, he didn’t really have anything noteworthy or worthwhile to say.

And that is not an isolated experience.  Even when, perchance, a celebrity of some kind could say something that was not cribbed from some sort of obvious and socially acceptable propaganda source of fake news, what they are saying is either something that comes from their own personal insight or is something so blindingly obvious as a truth that one would not need it to be told by a celebrity.  The insights a writer has comes from good reading and the critical and imaginative eye that comes from being a shrewd observer of one’s world (although often from a perspective of distance and alienation to it) as well as a dedicated ruminant of one’s own personal experiences.  Writers write about what they know and have experienced, and it should be of little surprise that those who know them find themselves as grist for the mill of imaginative and creative portrayal, however little people may like to be portrayed as characters in the writings of those who turn their own quirks and behaviors into accessible writings.  By making the private sphere of feelings, perspectives, and interactions into literature that can at least conceivably be read by a large and public audience, it is best for an author to be sufficiently invisible that his writings and reflections and imaginations do not become the subject of angry libel suits and broken relationships that cannot handle the harsh light of public scrutiny.  Given that a writer feeds off of conversation and implication and either the presence or absence of communication, it is best for the writer to avoid celebrity so that some semblance of privacy may survive, and some level of dignity to the unfortunate souls that a writer writes about, who must always be remembered and pitied for the way that they inspire what often brings them so little enjoyment in knowing that others can read about their embarrassing behaviors and awkward communications and less than admirable characters.

[1] Dani Cavallaro.  The Mind Of Italo Calvino:  A Critical Exploration Of His Thought And Writings (Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Company, 2010).  9

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to The Ideal Author As Anti-Celebrity

  1. Thank you for this insight. It has been a great encouragement to me as a writer. I have found myself pushed by the calling into somewhat of a solitary life of study and withnthat a strong desire to share with others the truths that have inspired me.

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