Read Bartleby, the Scrivener by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

“Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” is a short story by the American writer Herman Melville, first serialized anonymously in two parts in the November and December 1853 issues of Putnam’s Magazine and reprinted with minor textual alterations in his The Piazza Tales in 1856. In the story, a Wall Street lawyer hires a new clerk who, after an initial bout of hard work, refuses to make copies or do any other task required of him, refusing with the words “I would prefer not to.”

Bartleby, the Scrivener one of the first text I read at university. There is something strange and frustrating about Bartleby. I think ironically about the way in which he lingers long after the novel finishes, especially the phrase, “I would prefer not to.”

One of the interesting things in re-reading such texts is how memory holds up. I remember the refusal to work, even though there was no practical reason not to. This is summed up in the quote from the story:

Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance.

However, what I had forgotten was that there was more to Bartleby than we can ever quite know.

He never spoke, but to answer

In particular, the death due to starvation, highlighting that there might have been more going on.

Read Moby Dick

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is an 1851 novel by American writer Herman Melville. The book is the sailor Ishmael’s narrative of the maniacal quest of Ahab, captain of the whaling ship Pequod, for vengeance against Moby Dick, the giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg on the ship’s previous voyage. A contribution to the literature of the American Renaissance, Moby-Dick was published to mixed reviews, was a commercial failure, and was out of print at the time of the author’s death in 1891. Its reputation as a Great American Novel was established only in the 20th century, after the 1919 centennial of its author’s birth. William Faulkner said he wished he had written the book himself,[1] and D. H. Lawrence called it “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written”.[2] Its opening sentence, “Call me Ishmael”, is among world literature’s most famous.[3]

I remember reading Michael Gerard Bauer’s Don’t Call Me Ishmael when I was still in the classroom. I therefore thought it might be interesting to dive into the novel where the title came from, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Other than being about a whale, Moby Dick, and including a same-sex marriage, I did not really have much of an idea of what the book was about.

One of the things that was really interesting was the way in which Melville ties together so many differing styles and literary devices ranging from songs, poetry, and catalogs to Shakespearean stage directions, soliloquies, and asides. I can imagine some readers may skip some of the dalliances into all things whaling to instead focus on the chase for the white whale. However, these lengthy descriptions both add context and also add a real fever to the text. I would be intrigued to see Melville’s notebooks collecting together all this research.

Captain Ahab and his manic obsession had me thinking of both The Judge in Blood Meridian and Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. I watched a video where Harold Bloom argued that he liked Captain Ahab, because without him, we would never have had Moby Dick. This is an interesting way of looking at it.

The reference to different countries (Australia, Peru) and the way in which whaling traverses everything had me thinking about how the novel exists outside of society. Interestingly, it predicts its own interpretations throughout. I was left thinking about Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of desire without bodies.

Moby Dick is definitely a writerly text that I can imagine easily rereading.