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.
© 2018 Kyriakos Chalkopoulos