Bartleby, the Scrivener: 'A House Like Me'
New England Law | Boston
September 10, 2010
New England Law Review, Vol. 44, p. 819, 2010
This Article revisits Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the enigmatic copyist who “prefers not to copy.” The story is a favorite in Law and Literature courses for reasons that defy complete explanation. It is, of course, a “law story” in that it takes place in a mid-nineteenth century law office where the principal character is the lawyer-narrator who runs the office and engages Bartleby. And then there is Bartleby himself, a law copyist who is hired to copy documents in the time-honored fashion in which legal instruments were duplicated in the centuries before our own age of endless duplication. This may help to explain why yet another discussion of Bartleby, the Scrivener belongs in a law journal. The story is part of the law school curriculum and, as such, it is open to interpretation just like any other legal or quasi-legal text that law students may come across in a course of study and that lawyers may encounter in practice.
The interpretation advanced in this Article points to yet another way to think about Bartleby. It suggests that we do so from an architectural perspective. After all, the subtitle of Melville’s classic is “A Story of Wall Street” and, if Wall Street is about anything, surely it is about “walls.” Bartleby is surrounded by and embedded in walls and screens to such an extent that he can be heard but hardly ever seen. “The green screen that isolates his desk traces the borders of an experimental laboratory in which potentiality... frees itself of the principle of reason.”4 He is manifested more by the sound of his words - “I would prefer not to” - and the fact of his presence rather than how or when he appears. Accordingly, the Article asks that we think about Bartleby the way an architect might think about him.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 15
Keywords: Bartleby, Law and Literature, Law and Architecture, Interdisciplinary, Wall Street, ArchitectureAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: September 12, 2010
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