How not to Occupy Bartleby

Patricia Sequeira Bras


This article aims to discuss how Bartleby, the character from Herman Melville’s homonymous story, Bartleby, The Scrivener re-emerged in the Occupy Movement in Wall Street. Here, I intend to argue that Bartleby has been wrongly appropriated, which in turn, may explain the shortcomings of the movement. The Occupy Wall Street took possession of Bartleby because in Melville’s story, he occupies the premises of a lawyer’s office in Wall Street. However, this appropriation has dismissed the political 'inefficacy' of Bartleby’s formula, 'I would prefer not to'. As I shall argue, the formula exposes instead a residual political emancipation, generating a contingency. Rather than attempting to find some political agency within Melville’s figure, we should recognise the capacity of his formula for political insurgency. With this perspective in mind, I shall revise this appropriation to suggest that despite the political contingency of Bartleby’s formula, this should not be regarded as a means to a political outcome.

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