Bartleby’s Tautology

I do find it interesting that interpretation is often a great way to develop some more general ideas. So basically, Bartleby stands before the wall. This is a scene where he reflects back to, at once, (1) others who have stood before the same wall, so, others in history, and (2) the possibility of a non-teleologic way of understanding the langauge. There is a kind strange paradox here: on the one hand, (1) above is likely a genuine historical understanding — to understand other humans or other thinkers who have pondered the same thing. (2) however, which is the postulation of an absolute, non-teleologic existence, can in fact only come afterwards, I mean, after we have experienced some isolation. In other words, there are two elements of Bartleby: (1) Bartleby the historian, who looks back on the world, looks back on either other historians or other people (“slaves” I have written here in my notes, as people who can truely experience language non-teleologically) and at the same time, (2) himself a slave, at least partly, in some sense. And although the latter may appear to be more “primitive” (more subconscious, for example, or narratively primitive), it is in fact something that comes to manifest itself only after what I call “isolation”, only after the detachment from the world.

I think another way to look at this is to ask: is the subconscious historical? Yes, if we mean that the subconscious links us back to other historical eras, if ther are other eras that have experienced the same sort of subconscious. But no if we mean that the subconscious is itself a real, historical, primitive part of our brain, that there was a time in the world where the subconscous roamed the earth, naked, without the added layer of consciousness. It in fact comes after this period of isolation.

… the whole argument here seems almost stupidly simple, I mean, stupidly obvious. We are basically saying that Bartleby the story is about someone who, fed up with life but without a great deal of bitterness, comes to imagine something (“a slave”, I will go on to argue) that can experience language or writing non-teleologically — and we stop there. Before we had always gone on to try to ask what the slave is, we had tried to wonder whether the slave (let’s just call it that, without justification, for now) in fact existed in history. The answer is stupidly simple — no, it didn’t. What is the slave? It is someone who can experience the mark non-teleologically. We have, in other words, answered our own question tautologically. Our earlier error, I feel, was trying to go too far. For example, with Plato: what is the faculty? It is the ability to experience the world purely, without further teleologic justification and elaboration. It is tautological — well, almost entirely tautological. This “almost” comes from the fact that it comes to form the subconsciousness of an era (and by this word, I mean it as a shorthand for, what we believe to be the subconsciousness of an era), it comes to have some real historical significance.


[[[ Next time:

1) objective thinking

2) The subconscous as organizer of history

3) thinking as observing, from the last entry of Descartes

4) the *social* evolution of language]]]



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