Bartleby, a discursive discussion

Last entry, we talked about the river as an example of a supplement or facilitator that then becomes some way — appearing to each of us differently — of materializing our desires, without, of course, consumating them
. The paradox here is that of a “somewhat material” or “somewhat real” … something like a promise
. With Bartleby, the lawyer is this really pragmatic fellow, and it appears that our view of Bartleby — as “noble” — would not really be what so disarms the lawyer
. The lawyer is pragmatic but not, actually, all that loathsome — he represents a kind of ‘critical pragmatism’ which sounds almost oxymoronic
. So that it’s quite remarkable that Bartleby appears even in this context

We said that Bartleby wasn’t the river — though he has seen the river
. The river could be, perhaps, the letters — the post office, like Marlow sitting at the sea-reach of the Thames, is a kind of nexus of traffic
. The dead letters office, which appears in a supplement to the story — the letters themselves, as the physical manifestation of desire, the intersection of desire and action

. Which sort of reminds one of the way in which the aunt of Marlow reaches out and acivates this network, the one that secures Marlow his position
. the dead letters office is interesting, in that it reminds us that the letter is in a sense the “most real we can get”, the closest we can get into reality — the materialization of our desires, the material shell of rigor
. But let’s talk, also, of the law offices
. As pragmatic as the lawyer is, this pragmatism is founded upon the materiality of the written document I guess, really, another sort of letter …
. The letter as something that accomplishes these abstract goals, a facilitator
. We’re not actually making the argument that the means of reaching the desire, the facilitators, determines the desire
. But actually, we are attempting to make an argument here about rigor — I mean, the desires, profit etc., don’t exist
. But nontheless, rigor as a possibility presents itself — and what we call “power-rigor” is simply the obervation that this possibility is not simply an escape from society but rather a reaching out towards, a taking up of, earlier things, of social power even
. And here, with Bartleby, we actually encounter a further thinking of what rigor is —
… or even when Conrad did not entire exclude the tax-collectors (ie those who seek profit) from feeling the call of the river
— well namely, the idea of this ultra-pragmatic, non-romantic lawyer, who nonetheless has this vision of Bartleby

So this lawyer figure is an attempt by Melville to differentiate rigor from, not so much art, as conventional art, romanticism understood conventionally
. Bartleby is sort of like a vision for the lawyer — not that he is imaginary, but certainly, the two shared a bond
, and Bartleby points actually sort of points towards this … river/rigor… rivgor
… the first thing we should consider is the wall — Bartleby is always looking at walls
. sometimes out of the window, but a window that is separated from the adjascent building by maybe 10 feet or so, and so a window which looks out towards a brick wall, black with age
. when Bartleby dies he faces this wall, which Melville described as “Egyptian” …
… to be honest, this figure of the wall is more provocative than conclusive right now

The other thing that is always associated with Bartleby are, of course, the legal documents themselves
— which are, really, just a subclass of letters
. in a sense, it seems as almost all written documents are types of letters, including novels
. even if the novel isn’t addressed to anyone in particular — it still seems a missive sent out to communicate something
… we can probably give a few examples of documents which aren’t letters? Are, for example, checks letters? Or maybe certificates of authenticity? Or legal treaties?
. It is indeed interesting that the lawyer emphasizes how he was of the sort who “never appeared before a jury”, who never wanted to acheive anything “great”, like a Clarence Darrow or something, never wandered outside of his comfort zone, who was content to make a comfortable living drawing up these necessary but watertight legal documents with inheritances, transfers of property, etc.
. Not appearing before a jury is indeed interesting — because it reminds us of Bartleby himself, who refused to read anythng he had written — even if this reading did not, as it would to a jury, communicate anything
. and this cynicism of this lawyer towards his own trade — we perhaps shouldn’t view him as, as he claims, simply an “preimminently safe man” — he seems more cynical than safe, and probably one who was in fact most responsive to Bartleby, his personal demon
(which reminds us of what Kafka said about Don Quixote — something to the effect of, “having imbibed a great number of books of chivalry, Sancho Panza becamed haunted by the demon Don Quixote, who escaped, but because Sancho felt a personal responsibility, followed this demon closely, and with him wandered the countryside, learning a great number of edifying lessons to the end of his days.”)
. I always think that Cervantes would be delighted at hearing this Kafka interpretation
. Also, what would Melville think about Bartleby being Kafka’s demon Don Quixote?

“Prefer” is certainly an interesting word, it is almost always uttered by Bartleby
. it is something that uniquely identifies Bartleby, it is a word that comes to characterize the particular position of Bartleby
. It is, for example, an indication of class even, of the ability to make decisions, of freedom, and so on
. but at the same time it is something that steps beyond this context — it, as a word, is something, like “nobility”, that seems to speak of the specificity of this rigor but at the same time starts appearing everywhere
. This speaks of a more general sort of difficulty as we attempt to understand Bartleby — that he is, in his own words, “not particular”
!! RIgor is something specific, we are not talking about the relationship between form and technics — but rather, about the relationship between rigor and this materialistic “puppetmaster”
. So that, on the one hand, we are really trying to localize Bartleby, and trying to understand the specificity of this appearance — Bartleby as, perhaps, this very figure of rigor
. And when we spoke of power-rigor, our emphasis was that, in rigor, we always discover something that was already there
. I think what happens here is that Bartleby comes to sort of pollute this history, or to pollute this power
. I mean, what does “prefer” really indicate, traditionally? Opinion? Freedom? Individuality? What is it associated with?
. But my point is, I think, that there is a kind of tension here — between understanding the specificity of Bartleby and the way in which Bartleby is actively involved in, at least, taking over certain things, occupying certain places
… the tension here is between the task of reading something specific, the specificity of a rigor that appeals to me
— and isn’t this the beginnings of society, of power, of carrying on, the carrying on of power?
— and the way in which Bartleby is not particular, in which he seeps out, such as via this word “prefer” (ie, in the sense that the other people in the office start using it)
— so that this seeping out seems precisely an attempt to defeat, perhaps, power-rigor?

But we are obviously not happy with this as simply a kind of dead end, I mean, meant to accomplish something precise and understandable
. ie, that’s the problem with saying that something is “ineffable” — that it becomes ineffable in a particular way
. we should really go back to the original problem: the question of the relationship between rigor, tradition, and power — which is really a question about history
. well, not exactly history as it is given, but rather, … TBC


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