Bartleby

Before we talk about Bartleby for the Nth time, well, we know that we will eventually reach a dead end, won’t we? That point past our comfort level, when we can no longer drone on about the text. That is our real goal here, isn’t it, getting past that point.

I will talk, in a few moments, about Bartleby and anti-sentimentalism. But first, I want to say that I envision a way past that point — the combination of our Hunt, Wild, Event structure and (and this is the new development) absolute negation. Our impasse was unavoidable, particularly pernicious because knowledge and insight brings us closer and then further away from an object. The most important thing of all, perhaps, is rather to reach a stopping point or a border from which we can understand the relationship between the event and the absolute negation.

Well — anti-sentimentalism is an interesting thing all by itself. What’s wrong with sentimentalism? We are always on the verge of being touched by Bartleby (“touched” in the converstational sense, “moved”, “respond emotionally”) which is really our perrenial mistake isn’t it? This may sound merely pedantic, or perhaps like sophistry, but the very paradox of Bartleby is a sympathetic figure with which we (and the lawyer / narrator is a figure for the reader) cannot sympathize with. I read another blogger write something about Bartleby, a single line along the lines of, “I don’t get the who fuss about Bartleby, he was always completely comprehensible to me”, but this is certainly something that is, as they say, either very wrong or very profound.

— but yes, our objection does sound “pedantic” because, after all, one must make the effort to understand Bartleby. If Bartleby is merely someone who cannot be understood, well, that is simply a logical trickery (like the Cretan’s paradox) — and this is certainly not what we want to say. And so here we must think about the problem which, I believe, is manageable at this point: the relationship between (1) the event (2) the absolute negation and (3) the origins of history (ie, that which gives our enterprise some stake, some seriousness, the attempt to write “the history of love”.)

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… the very idea of an absolute negative suggests a position that is not ideological. If there does exist such a position, nontrivially, then it can only do so by thinking about the path of knowledge as an “orbit” or an approach and then a receding: this receding being sentimentalism. Does there exist such a point of attraction, that would be a historical force, that draws us near it — we hunters, hounded by the wild, pursuing the event, the event which ensures our very survival against the dissolution of the wild — and yet which we can never reach because we are always tempted into sentimentalism?

… if there is such a point, then, as a side note, we would have to insist on the difference between knowledge and effect, where history is no longer, in a twisted feedback loop, determined by the knowledge of history. But rather, the knowledge of this absolute negative would be, well, almost of merely theoretical interest.

… there is a darkness to Bartleby, but if history is not influenced fundamentally by knowledge, than there is no real difference between light and darkness.

… the event is difficult to discern in Bartleby, first of all because it is so socially embedded. There are countless motivations that we could attribute to Bartleby, each of which would certainly have a radical effect on the work. However, we must nonetheless continue to read.

… the negation is linked to — is the same as — the event. The former provides a compact, thinkable, and approachable form, of something already happening, the latter thinks about some hazy point of fascination in the future. Of course, our effort has always been, regarding the event, to stabilize it somehow — the event must be considered as almost a dream, ie, some strange sphere at once precise and inapproachable, something that we or someone else could or once did understand. The event blurs the distinction between the actual and the possible. The negation, on the other hand, grounds this event socially, it is related to that Nietzschean phrase, “if truth were a woman”.

… The negation and the event rather provide two ways of looking at a single occurence, which must be reconciled. The event of Bartleby is his entire incomprehensible life, which  seems to speak to us somehow, or which at least seems to fascinate us. There are various elements here that remain mysterious, for example, the refusal of Bartleby to associate his writings with speech.

… the house of Bartleby is of course quite interesting …

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