Identity and privacy, by Eve Lockett

What do Elena Ferrante and Banksy have in common? They both decided to keep their true identity a secret, and yet both have successful international reputations, one as a writer and the other an artist.
The efforts to find out who they are have been extraordinary. Maths, criminology and geographic profiling have been used to ‘out’ Banksy, whose name is now apparently known. Elena Ferrante explains via her publisher:
“If the book is worth something, it should be enough. I will not participate in debates and conferences, if I am invited. I will not go to accept prizes, if I am given any. I will never promote the book, above all on television, in Italy or, should the need arise, abroad. I will only participate through writing, but I will also try to keep this to the bare minimum.”
The question is, if we did know their names, what would it give us that we want so badly? Would it bring us closer to them? Would their genius rub off on us? Would we discover the secret of their success? Or is this the forbidden fruit that we can’t keep our hands off?
Nineteenth-century female novelists sometimes kept their names secret for reasons of discretion, and at a practical level to keep their relatives from interfering. Some gave themselves a male pseudonym, which helped them compete in a male-dominated world by allowing their work to be judged on merit.
How did Jesus maintain a public ministry and yet a sense of private self? In John Chapter 7, his brothers tried to persuade him it would be good for his ministry to showcase his miraculous powers in Jerusalem. ‘No-one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret,’ they said to him. But Jesus went to Jerusalem in his own time and on his own terms. He was following his agenda not theirs. He did not wear a ‘Me…ssiah!’ t-shirt, but carefully guarded his identity because he knew it would be easily misinterpreted. Who he was and why he was there were revealed in his actions and his teaching. Even these he tried at times to keep secret.
This can also be seen in his personal life. He maintained a strong intimate relationship with his heavenly Father in prayer. He had a few close friends with whom he shared more than with the others. He did not always answer questions, and he kept some things to himself. It seems that privacy was an essential part of his identity and for keeping on course in his ministry.
In our age of social media, this becomes a live issue. If publicity is going to work in our favour, of course we have to give something away of ourselves. But where do we draw the line? What bits of our lives should we shout from the rooftops and what bit is the precious pearl we should keep safe from being trampled underfoot? Discuss!


  1. Thank you for those thoughts, Eve. As someone who is so self-conscious about her writing that she can't even share it with her family, I sympathise with both Banksy and Elena Ferrante. But how do they explain away their artistic activities?

    Mrs Banksy: Buying spray paint again, dear? It's getting very expensive.

    Signor Ferrante: As you're just sitting in front of the computer, chiara, could you just... make me a cup of coffee... hold the ladder while I paint the shutters on the villa... take my Armani jacket to the dry cleaners... etc etc.


  2. Interesting post. I remember once someone thinking they had a right to know whatever they asked me as I had already written an autobiographical book. If I had disclosed that much they figured they had the right to know whatever else they wanted. I disagreed and declined to answer the question asked. Things were not exactly left amicably on their part.

    It is a hard line to walk. What to share and what not to share.

    Sorry if you end up with loads of comments from me. Had trouble commenting.

  3. Everyone has a public and a private dimension. They are like drawers in a chest. It's up to us what we put in each drawer. But, beware! Once we've moved something from the private drawer to the public drawer, it can't be retrieved, especially in these days of social media and computerised storage. There can be leakage the other way too. A facet of ourselves that we have invented or exaggerated in the public drawer (e.g. for PR and marketing purposes) can start to become part of our private drawer - we start believing our own hype! Tinkling cymbals and sounding brass . . .


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