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read this week

‘Literary suicide’ – a death both in and of literature. He’ll empty himself into a vessel, shattering that vessel: ‘I thought of this project as a kind of experiment in realistic prose. How far is it possible to go into detail before the novel cracks and becomes unreadable?’ Knausgaard presents his suicide attempt as anti-literary – I’m going to break the well-wrought urn of aesthetic form by filling it with more description than it can hold – but it’s also an attempt to take the problem of closure into one’s own hands. Suicide is, after all, one way ‘to bring order into the sum of experience’. … I mean to emphasise the way the childishness of Knausgaard – the radical inclusiveness, the style-less style, the apparently equal fascination with everything – places a tremendous pressure on the end of the book, on closure as a moment when form is achieved and retrospectively organises the work. Because the book makes a bid to be radically co-extensive with a life – ‘there is nothing left,’ everything gets put down – closure has to present itself as a kind of death (unless the book is simply to break off, surrendering to formlessness, to unreadability). The problem of how My Struggle will end is both evoked and deferred across volumes – an effect amplified by the fact that English readers have to wait for each new translation – and that drama of the deferral of form is part of what keeps us reading.

  • When Women Signify Too Much

What is staggering and infuriating about all of this is that Elena Ferrante has not only explained, carefully, why her she needed this privacy, she wrote four books and 1700 words about it. By the time she wrote (what I think of as) The Napoliad, that gesture of refusal had become central to her artistic project. What began as a defensive screen became a creative project, and her imagined, created persona was an important part of it. It’s why her protagonist is a writer name Elena. To be as blunt as possible: her greatest work is literally a novel about the persona she created to write it, and why. The Neopolitan novels are literally and directly and magnificently about female self-making, the importance of names, and the meaning of being a woman in public. They are about control over your identity, and about the specific hostility of the patriarchy for that project. They are about the men who will say things like this and write articles like this. They are about why not to do this.It is, obviously, this that this journalist—and the four newspapers that enabled him—have attacked. To radically, violently transform the context in which her work is created—to insist that, NO, HER REAL NAME IS—is to attack her creation, her art, and her standing as a creative artist. To strip away her privacy is to destroy the fictional persona she created, and to attack the fictions of these books themselves. This is why it was done.For these people, who believe themselves to traffic in truth, Ferrante’s identity is a “secret.” But it is not. It is a fiction.

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