Melville’s Thinking in Bartleby

This sounds like simply the shuffling of identities, but consider: that Melville is represented by Bartleby rather than the lawyer. This means basically that Bartleby is not about rigor, that Melville isn’t writing about, say, something other, in the way that people write about a saintly woman or something. (I always think of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.) Yes — Bartleby is the author figure: what does this mean?

I wrote yesterday on facebook that my brilliant insight of the day was that Bartleby and The Sixth Sense tell the same story — the idea being — spoiler alert if you’ve been in a coma and don’t know the twist ending — that we are the dead. He has no respect for property because he doesn’t regard us — err, the occupants of Wall Street — as the rightful or original owners. Bartleby is like a traveler from the future — our society has nothing really to offer him, but at the same time, he is fascinated with the dead.

The biggest implication of all this is that Bartleby is not about a particular rigor. If the lawyer were a standin for the author then indeed the book would, apparently, be about rigor, be about some difficult to place sense of responsibity or reflective insight. But since Bartleby is the author figure here the story is a thinking of rigor, about a rigor that has passed. The last line sort of expresses this: “Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!” — well… actually it’s quite confusing in the context of this essay if we were to analyze it too closely. But the idea is that one seems to have a comprehensive view of humanity and its struggles, and the way that it relies on these facilitators — such as the letter — in the course of their lives.

The project, then, concerns Bartleby’s thinking, which is also Melville’s thinking. Bartleby comes to occupy the law offices like a museum… the rest of this essay will be much more unplanned as we think about the strange motivations of the author figure.

Bartleby is a visitor, he wanders a strange land, or rather an uncanny land — foreign yet not foreign. Bartleby is like that figure at the second paragraph of Wordsworth’s Boy of Winander poem. He is cut off entirely from the bustle, which means he is dull and insensate, but he at the same time also regards Wall Street as dead. So he is sort of a privileged observer. Of course, his observations are actually thinkings which can only be decoded via his actinos — not only Bartleby, but Melville, whose actions in writing in fact parallel those of Bartleby.

A few days ago I hypothesized that Bartleby’s attitude towards “us” is primarily one of “unification”… TBC


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