In Defense of Those Reclusive Authors

Notable Authors of the 20th Cen­tury Who Were Introverted

Writ­ing fic­tion is usu­ally a soli­tary pro­fes­sion. Among those in­di­vi­d­u­als who end up pro­duc­ing art to ex­press them­selves, one can log­i­cally as­sume that there will be many who like to keep their dis­tance from so­ciety. While there have always been writ­ers who are so­cia­ble, a few of the greats were largely soli­tary and lonely, so­cially awk­ward, or even reclu­sive in­di­vi­d­u­als.

Apart from the 20th cen­tury’s very fa­mous cases of this type of cre­ator—the Ar­gen­ti­nian writer J.L. Borges, the Por­tuguese au­thor Fer­nando Pes­soa and the Czech-Jewish alle­gorist Franz Kafka—reclu­sive at­ti­tudes and highly in­tro­verted in­ter­ests can be eas­ily iden­ti­fied in a num­ber of no­table artists who merely hap­pen to have earned less renown. H.P. Love­craft, with his imag­in­ing of a world pop­u­lated by pri­mor­dial mon­strosi­ties, or Robert Walzer, who de­spite hav­ing been one of Kafka’s liter­ary heroes, re­mains vir­tu­ally un­known to this day. Yet he penned hun­dreds of short sto­ries as well as a few large nov­els which were all about the sense of aliena­tion and lack of be­long­ing to the world. And Henry James (with his nom­i­nally se­cured po­si­tion in the liter­ary canon of 20th cen­tury English liter­a­ture notwith­stand­ing) who is by now only in­fre­quently refer­enced as an in­sight­ful anatomist of in­tro­ver­sion and co-mor­bid in­differ­ence to the ex­ter­nal world.

Re­gard­ing the De­gree of Introversion

Pro­nounced, ev­i­dent lack of in­ter­est – or at least pro­fessed such lack of in­ter­est – about the ex­ter­nal world, can be ob­served in a num­ber of quotes by the afore­men­tioned writ­ers. Dur­ing the First World War, Franz Kafka wrote in his di­ary that he was then be­ing re­warded for never have been in­volved in wor­ldly af­fairs… Borges – far more reclu­sive than Kafka – had penned silent cries, in which he ac­cused his con­tem­po­rary so­ciety of be­ing even un­wor­thy of suffer­ing in Hell; he ar­gues, that is, that hu­man mal­ice is just too crude to de­serve a meta­phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment! Pes­soa, who spent his days as a shadow in the busy streets of down­town Lis­bon, work­ing as a trans­la­tor for var­i­ous trad­ing firms, claimed, in one of his most fa­mous po­ems, that he put on clothes which didn’t suit him, and was taken for some­one else, and was sub­se­quently lost…

Then and Now

While in more re­cent years – pri­mar­ily, per­haps, due to the ubiquity of tele­vi­sion – writ­ers have at times been pre­sented – some of them will­ingly – as an­other type of me­dia celebrity, in the not so dis­tant past it was still quite difficult to reach an au­thor from out­side the cir­cuit of the pub­lish­ing world. Writ­ers used to mostly be iden­ti­fied through their writ­ten work, and it was the norm for a reader to be aware of an au­thor, to like or even love their work, and yet be fully ig­no­rant of their phys­i­cal like­ness – and also un­aware of most of the bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion that by now is rou­tinely ac­cessed; from the open­ing pages of the book it­self, or from ex­ter­nal sources. This isn’t of sec­ondary im­por­tance in our ex­am­i­na­tion, given one would scarcely imag­ine Pes­soa, Love­craft, or even Kafka, giv­ing a TV in­ter­view; and per­haps many would ques­tion even if in­di­vi­d­u­als with so reclu­sive per­son­al­ities would, had they lived now, be offered a pub­lish­ing deal at all.

Are Highly In­tro­verted Writ­ers Ac­tu­ally Needed?

Pub­lish­ing is a busi­ness, and a pub­lish­ing house is not likely to in­vest on a writer’s work if it stands to lose money… And yet an au­thor is ar­guably differ­ent to a performer of pop­u­lar art; the lat­ter is mostly tied to en­ter­tain­ment, while the former – at least in the­ory – in­cor­po­rates a cere­bral qual­ity, and as­pires to other heights of artistry. In prac­tice, of course, not all au­thors differ that sig­nifi­cantly from perfor­mance artists; but to – whether ac­tively or un­wit­tingly – bring about an in­crease in links be­tween the two pro­fes­sions, will cer­tainly re­sult in fewer pub­lished au­thors who are char­ac­ter­ized by acute in­tro­ver­sion.

Even as­sum­ing that the above is true, would it be nec­es­sar­ily a nega­tive out­come? Does the reader ac­tu­ally stand to gain some­thing speci­fi­cally out of read­ing the fic­tional work of an in­tro­vert, or even a recluse?

An Alle­gory as the Epilogue

A brief an­swer may be pro­vided, in the form of an alle­gory: In a group of trav­el­ers, shar­ing sto­ries, the more origi­nal ones would tend to come from those who ven­tured fur­ther away. One shouldn’t lose pa­tience with the more es­tranged story-tel­lers, for jour­neys to the most dis­tant lands can make the trav­eler lose in­ter­est in the home­land; where ev­ery­one is fa­mil­iar with the ge­og­ra­phy, the cus­toms and the peo­ple’s faces. And such jour­neys also can make the per­son feel that the ties to his coun­try­men have been prac­ti­cally sev­ered, and the won­drous in­for­ma­tion con­tained within him, from those dis­tant lands he vis­ited, can’t ac­tu­ally in­ter­est this crowd...

Shouldn’t we, there­fore, ex­pect that if such a fel­low de­cides, at some point, to ac­tu­ally speak, the words we might then listen to could in­deed pre­sent us with ma­te­rial that we hadn’t yet the chance to re­flect upon?

After all, a book we take in­ter­est in is always go­ing to func­tion as a map to our own, mostly un­ex­plored in­ner world.

by Kyr­i­akos Chalkopoulos—https://​​­​​posts/​​in-defense-of-27095565

No comments.