In the age of Instagram, Google Earth, and suspect Facebook privacy settings, anonymity is the new luxury. If you’re operating any sort of side hustle or trying to build a following for that other “thing” you do (in our case, writing), you’ve probably been told that sharing old photographs and documenting (or appearing to document) every inch of your life on social media will help you create a connection with people who may be more likely to buy whatever it is you’re selling. And even if you’re not selling anything, we’re being taught to maintain a record of our lives anyway, because we’re projecting ourselves, and, well, the NSA can only do so much.
But anonymity, even invisibility, is also a strategy that some employ to: 1)avoid the hyper-scrutiny and judgment that comes in our over-share culture (see songwriter Sia Furler); 2)see what readers/reviewers think of their work outside of the brand they have built (see J.K. Rowling’s reasons for writing as Robert Galbraith); 3)not distract the reader with facts about themselves that may seem incongruent with the material they write (see the white couple who were revealed as the authors of popular vegan food blog and forthcoming book Thug Kitchen).
In a recent post on New York Magazine‘s blog “The Cut”, writer Kat Stoeffel endearingly laments novelist Elena Ferrante’s fastidious commitment to her anonymity. Stoeffel writes breathlessly about her desire to know more about this writer who seems to know her, and women, so well. “What does she wear when she writes? Who looked after her children? Does she drink? Does she smoke?” She adds, “the surface-level trappings of the literary girl-crush represent something more than lifestyle inspiration: They’re an auxiliary point of access to the author.”
But Ferrante asserts that the access Stoeffel craves is already there–in the words that have so moved her. Stoeffel quotes a 2003 interview in which Ferrante writes (convincingly): “The true reader… searches not for the brittle face of the author in flesh and blood, who makes herself beautiful for the occasion, but the naked physiognomy that remains in every effective word.”