A Portrait of The Author as a Young Person
Samuél L. Barrantes
232

This schizoid fact of writing is a problem with a long history. The need to be seen before being read emerged somewhere in the eighteenth century, where the new public sphere required recognizable faces. Hence the explosion of the genre of caricature, which deformed faces but at the same time brought them into the public sphere; it made them recognizable. Newspapers, published first time in the eighteenth century in England, were similar to what we are calling today Facebook, twitter, Instagram etc: they offered, in short versions, summaries of events that had topical importance and that were on everybody’s mind. That’s when the author-who-needs-to-be-seen was born. On the other hand, writers have never lived by their own means. Look back at Renaissance Italy. All artists depended on patronage. Without wealthy patrons capable of sponsoring artistic exercises very few of the Renaissance artists would have survived.

This class of patrons disappeared precisely at the dawn of the Enlightenment (C18th), although not entirely. And it was precisely this diappearance that made it necessary for those public faces to become visible. Without a patron to back them up, artists had to take the step forward and become their own promoters. That’s the example of Samuel Richardson, a publisher turned novelist because he saw the potential of the new social and cultural conditions. He promoted himself to an extent that would put Facebook users of nowadays to shame. He commissioned pirated copies of his novels (like, say, Scribd), wrote fake reviews (Amazon?), funded gossip (twitter), wrote sequels to sequels to sequels to Pamela and Clarissa, his most famous novels. He did that with the consciousness of an entrepreneur (a species that also emerged in the eighteenth century).

But of course, patronage did not disappear for good. They just shape-shifted. No longer wealthy individuals but money-making institutions are the holders of artistic funds. Artists still depend on patronage these days. And with patronage, as we can easily imagine, comes limitation. But limitations are visible in many other aspects of the writing business. A writer is bound by his allegiance to a particular genre, to a particular literary tradition, to a particular language, to a particular ideology. No writer is as free as we like to think. As you mentioned it above, in order to survive you need to sell. And since there already is a market for these sales, it makes sense to adhere to it. If you chose to exist outside of this market you chose, in essence, to remain invisible.