2016-05-31

Ferrante: Writing is an act of pride

I have read the Neapolitan-quartet by Elena Ferrante recently and it's like nothing I have ever read. What shook me to my core is what Ferrante does with language. How she is at the same time exactingly precise, her words sharp as the edge of a knife, and at the same time her prose is juicy, plump, opulent. Even in the recent New Yorker-interview she sounds just like her novels. What she says about writing, at the end of the article, struck a deep chord with me.

Ferrante: Writing is an act of pride. I’ve always known that, and so for a long time I hid the fact that I was writing, especially from the people I loved. I was afraid of exposing myself and of others’ disapproval. Jane Austen organized herself so that she could immediately hide her pages if someone came into the room where she had taken refuge. It’s a reaction I’m familiar with: you’re ashamed of your presumptuousness, because there is nothing that can justify it, not even success. However I state it, the fact remains that I have assumed the right to imprison others in what I seem to see, feel, think, imagine, and know. (...) And I cannot soothe myself by saying: it’s a job. When did I ever consider writing a job? I’ve never written to earn a living. I write to bear witness to the fact that I have lived and have sought a yardstick for myself and for others, since those others couldn’t or didn’t know how or didn’t want to do it. What is this if not pride? And what does it imply if not “You don’t know how to see me and see yourselves, but I see myself and I see you”? No, there is no way around it. The only possibility is to learn to put the “I” into perspective, to pour it into the work and then go away, to consider writing something that separates from us the moment it’s complete: one of the many collateral effects of an active life.

I think this is the reason I hid my writing from the world for so very long: it felt hugely presumptuous. But after reading the above, I can put other words on it, too: It is an act of pride. And revealing your writing to the world becomes an act of extreme pridefulness. I had to find my inner pride before I could do it, before I could say to the world: I think I deserve to write.

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