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 -


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