Bartleby and the Wall

The question that will help us think or focus here will be, what does Bartleby see in the wall, or, why does Bartleby stare at the wall?

In Descartes’s ‘I think therefore I am’ formula, there are two I’s: the I of thinking and the I that sees the I think. But this is actually wrong: because there is no I that thinks, only the I that sees. Well, there are no I’s at all, but we can selectively see one or the other I, I mean, behaviorally, as though there were I’s. To insist that there is only the thinking I would mean that to see is also to think, that observation in an action. Conversely, to see only the observing I would be to emphasize that thinking is an illusion. This latter attitude is the one we want to take here.

Bartleby has a kind of ‘gaydar’, I want to call it. I mean, I am not homophobic, I actually hate gay people slightly less than heterosexuals, simply because they are usually less obnoxious. The expression ‘that’s so gay’ says something I understand, it’s sort of like ‘nerdy’: someone occupying a fleeting, self-aware, celebratory world. There are no straight-pride day parades: why? Because being straight is not worth celebrating. So that’s what ‘gay’ means: someone self-absorbed, provicincial, sentimental, etc. So Bartleby’s gaydar is so sensitive that the entire world is ‘gay’ — this is why he says, ‘I’d prefer not to’.

Bartleby doesn’t take part in the gay-pride parade that is the world as such. I imagine, in my mind, not a categorical, immediate, universal response but an intuition, thus, radar, where each incident is detected in turn. Thus, not the *principle*, but rather a kind of intuition. The narrator says as much — something to the effect of, ‘he seemed to weigh what I said very carefully in his mind, all its pros and cons, before inevitably responsing, “I’d prefer not to”‘. This gaydar is simply a realization, I think, of where things are headed, a community, a promise, etc.. We said, earlier, ‘bitterness’, the bitterness of having these promises melt away before us, of having them turn into metaphor, or life lessons, etc.. Like the Wizard of Oz lesson, where the wizard reveals at the end several ‘all alongs’ (I think??) — something like, you know, tinman, you were actually intelligent all along. Or something? But this sort of loophole, the God is love loophole say, is … just that, a loophole — ‘gay’.

But Bartleby is no longer bitter, instead, the big idea I have before me is this notion of ‘transport between’. This is a concept or rather distinction I’ve been wrestling with since the distinction is never clear… Let’s think back to the ‘I think therefore I am’. The I that thinks is gay, Bartleby can see where thinking leads and he avoids it. Instead, he sees the I that sees — he sees the act of seeing, which is, actually, *before* thinking. The I that sees is someone on the way to thinking, on the outside of thinking.

He stands before the I that sees, which may not exist. Well, none of the I’s exist — what is thinking, anyways? It’s happens ‘first’, yes, we can say that, but not because it is intuitive or subconscious, but rather because it is but a heap of memory activation, a giant mess. And only afterwards do we call it ‘thinking’. But there is yet another I, which is the I on the way to thinking,and which thinks about the thinking yet to come.

The key concept here is ‘introducer’, or medium of transport. Again, there is a similar distinction here between ‘within’ and ‘between’, transport within — the tool, the hypomnemata — and thinking between. Now, note that the latter is not *potentiality* — in other words, the wall that Bartleby stares at is not the unwritten letter, the sum of all possible letters. That is too teleologic, that is still within. But the introducer is actually far more prosaic, it is merely that which will bring us towards something, it is familiar.

In other words, *language is never mystical*. To say mystical we are already saying, ‘potentiality’, and the mystical never had all that great an influence on us. But rather, it is the prosaic uses of the prelinguistic that is interesting — as introducer.

This is still a bit unclear, but let’s talk about the wall, let me foward a reading of Bartleby before the wall. Bartleby is, on the one hand, someone ‘after’, I mean, living with or beyond bitterness, in the ruins, a modern man, but someone who also holds some animosity towards modernity. … bitterness is still something I’m trying to get over. For example, when Kurtz (in a perhaps similar moment) seems to see the entirety of the world before him — and proclaims, the horror, the horror — does he view it with bitterness or betrayal? No — it is a mixture, I think, of bitterness and pity — pity for those, like him, which is perhaps everyone, forever on the way to, or stuck between.

So Bartleby before the wall is a kind of coming to terms with the world and all its people. He does not want to (would prefer not to) to step foward, because to do so would be to step into ‘potentiality’, something headed in a definite direction. It is not the blankness of the letter, but rather, the attempt to conjure up, in his mind, all who have stood before this wall or portal. This ‘before’ is in fact at once prehistoric and contemporary —

TBC: the introducer


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