[FOUNTAIN]Creative drive often spurred by vanity

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[FOUNTAIN]Creative drive often spurred by vanity

The desire to show off is just human nature. We all want to confirm the value of our existence by being recognized. So, you will even bet your life to save yourself from disgrace or insult. Recently, two prominent American families whose enmity goes back two centuries made peace. Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. secretary of the treasury, and Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson’s vice president, fought a duel that ended in Hamilton’s death. The vice president had challenged Hamilton to a duel after Hamilton called him untrustworthy. Like all other human beings, Aaron Burr wished to be respected and recognized. After all, the worlds of politics, economics, academia and arts are competitive grounds for those who wish to be famous and recognized.
But in the world of competition and display, there still are people who want to remain unknown and forgotten. One of the finalists for this year’s Akutagawa Award for Fiction, one of the most prestigious literary awards in Japan, refused to disclose his identity and personal information.
He used a pen name because he wants his works to be read without prejudice. Instead of his personal profile, the hermit writer only wants to speak with his writing.
One of the most famous writers living in seclusion is J.D.Salinger, the author of “Catcher in the Rye.” The 85-year-old writer retired from public life in the 1960s and has since been keeping a low profile. The filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who died in 1999, only spoke though his work all his life. Salinger and Kubrick were perfectionists.
Salinger requires his book cover designs to be approved, and Kubrick used to personally oversee his films’ advertising phrases and poster designs.
In fact, the roots of literature and arts belong to the unknown. As an individual, each writer or artist is a product of the period. Every art work and writing is about the world made up of countless anonymous people. If anyone puts all his talents and courage in his work, he deserves to be called a master.
Vanity is not necessarily a bad thing. The desire to be distinguished can act as a driving force for a creative mind. But in a world full of fame-chasers selling their personal lives and wasting their talent and creativity, the Japanese writer’s determined anonymity might be something truly noble.


by Lee Young-ki

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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