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Writers’ invisibility has little or nothing to do with Fame, just as Fame has little or nothing to do with Literature. (Fame merits its capital F for its fickleness, Literature its capital L for its lastingness.) Thespians, celebrities and politicians, whose appetite for bottomless draughts of public acclaim, much of it manufactured, is beyond any normal measure, may feed hotly on Fame – but Fame is always a product of the present culture: topical and variable, hence ephemeral. Writers are made otherwise. What writers prize is simpler, quieter and more enduring than clamorous Fame: it is recognition. Fame, by and large, is an accountant’s category, tallied in Amazonian sales. Recognition, hushed and inherent in the silence of the page, is a reader’s category: its stealth is its wealth.

And recognition itself can be fragile, a light too easily shuttered. Recall Henry James’s lamentation over his culminating New York Edition, with its considered revisions and invaluable prefaces: the mammoth work of a lifetime unheralded, unread, unsold. That all this came to be munificently reversed is of no moment: the denizens of Parnassus are deaf to after-the-fact earthly notice; belatedness does them no good. Nothing is more poisonous to steady recognition than death: how often is a writer – lauded, fêted, bemedalled – plummeted into eclipse no more than a year or two after the final departure? Who nowadays speaks of Bernard Malamud, once a diadem in the grand American trinity of Bellow-Roth-Malamud? Who thinks of Lionel Trilling, except with dismissive commemorative contempt? Already Norman Mailer is a distant unregretted noise and William Styron a mote in the middle distance (a phrase the nearly forgotten Max Beerbohm applied to the fading Henry James). As for poor befuddled mystical Jack Kerouac and declamatory fiddle-strumming mystical Allen Ginsberg, both are diminished to Documents of an Era: the stale turf of social historians and tedious professors of cultural studies.

Yet these eruptions of sudden mufflings and posthumous silences must be ranked entirely apart from the forced muteness of living writers who work in minority languages, away from the klieg lights of the lingua franca, and whose oeuvres linger too often untranslated. The invisibility of recently dead writers is one thing, and can even, in certain cases (I would be pleased to name a few), bring relief; but the invisibility of the living is a different matter altogether, crucial to literary continuity. Political shunning – of writers who are made invisible, and also inaudible, by repressive design – results in what might be called public invisibility, rooted in external circumstance: the thuggish prejudices of gangsters who run rotted regimes, the vengeful prejudices of corrupt academics who propose intellectual boycotts, the shallow prejudices of the publishing lords of the currently dominant languages, and finally (reductio ad absurdum!) the ideologically narrow prejudices of some magazine editors. All these are rampant and scandalous and undermining of free expression. But what of an intrinsic, delicate and far more ubiquitous private invisibility?

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lee johnson
January 14th, 2009
3:01 PM
I was googling around to find out if anyone other than me had written about the relation of the visible to the invisible in Henry James . I have published a book on James structured around two pairs of interlocking terms; language is to silence as the visible is to the invisible. I am trying to show, with close reading and microscopic precision how James is able to render visible silence in words. The book is entitled, "Finding the Figure in the Carpet: Vision and Silence in the Works of Henry James," by Lee McKay Johnson. I am hoping Cynthia Ozick reads this post. Lee Johnson

Janbandhu Sir
October 16th, 2008
2:10 PM
I bow down to the immeasurable eloquence and lofty language employed by Ozick. The bravura article on visibility as well as against invisible nonentity allures me. Simple yet deceptively pregnant lexemes decisively planted throughout this article mesmerize me. The lust and panting for the nostalgic past is wonderful.

October 10th, 2008
4:10 AM
I could hardly understand the implication of this matriarchal article. However, the resonance it reverberates is a laudable matter often steeped into the Jewish Power and eminence. Being one of the most loved authoress', more because of her literary output and less but distinct for her the dimple on her cheek, I have been always eloped into the uncanny shawl of my own attire.

September 23rd, 2008
7:09 PM
Brings to mind Morley Callaghan's "That Summer in Paris," his memoir of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Lewis among others in 1929. One notes that the greater the writer, the less time seems to have been spent among the cafe society.

Jimmy Show
September 12th, 2008
12:09 PM
Thank you, Ms. Ozick. My first first novel lasted five years and nearly 400,000 words. All trashed. From Gao Xingjian's Nobel acceptance speech: "I can say that literature is inherently man's affirmation of the value of his own self and that of the writer's need for self-fulfillment. Whether it has any impact on society comes after the completion of a work and that impact certainly is not determined by the wishes of the writer."

September 9th, 2008
8:09 PM
Writers are made otherwise. Massive vomit on this noisy bit of petulance from Ozick, she who speaks for all Writers, she who mocks Fame but praises Lastingness as if the judgment of Academe -- de facto jury of what lasts and what doesn't -- were somehow free of faddishness and arbitrariness, she who regards a brief span of a couple centuries as, apparently, eternal. What shit. Thankfully fame-hungry writers like the Mailer she scoffs at are a lot more fun and a lot more loved than plaintive elitists like her.

September 8th, 2008
3:09 PM
I have to admit, I found this pretty thick. I read it aloud and wondered if it sounded any better when performed, but it actually got worse. I certainly agree with the sentiment, but I found this overwritten. I mean, look at that second semi colons and colons in the same sentence...enough already! Maybe it's a personal preference, but I'd rather hear Chekhov or Carver on writing. Then again, she's the one who won the award. So she can write whatever she wants!

mike hudson
September 5th, 2008
3:09 PM
a beautiful thing, cynthia.

wabi sabi
September 5th, 2008
7:09 AM
eloquent, elegant, and true.

September 4th, 2008
9:09 PM
Mrs Ozick, you are a great woman. I wish you infinite happiness.

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