I would prefer not to (Commentary on “Bartleby” by Herman Melville)

 

I would prefer not to keep on writing and repeating the same commentaries that others have already written and repeated before. I read “Bartleby” last night and I found myself in front of a very complicated story to decipher. I usually don’t read a lot of critics about what I’m reading, so to have the possibility of deconstructing the story by my own and later constructing a commentary by myself. With “Bartleby” I couldn’t get very far with that method: I don’t know if it was because I was exhausted when I read the half of the story; or because my brain doesn’t work the way it used to do; or simply because it’s a very complex text. After analyzing for a while, I realized that probably the last three statements are all true, and each of them provided the materials for the erection of a wall that didn’t let me see clearly what was on the other side of Melville’s story.

I didn’t search for a lot of critics; I simply looked around a little bit from here and there trying to revive my synapses and be able to develop my own ideas based on what seemed to be the “basic themes” perceived by critics. I checked the introduction of the edition I was reading (Frederick Busch, Penguin classics, 1986) but it was based too much on Melville’s biography and I didn’t prefer that; I don’t care about Melville, I care for Bartleby. So I looked up in internet (obviously without any great expectations) and I didn’t find but critics that talked about what other critics had already said about the story. And I didn’t prefer that either.

So it was when I decided that I would prefer not to rewrite other people’s critics that I found the small junction between forlorn Bartleby and Nicolás, the scrivener. In small words, I would prefer not to and he would prefer not to. I found in Bartleby the same gap that had me absolutely separated from society; there was a wall that blocked all possibility of communicating what was in his/my mind. The inner ideals of self accomplishment go against the basic idea of copying, be it any kind of “copying”: literally copying a legal text (Bartleby’s case); literally copying old critics (Nicolás’ case); or simply copying the way of life that society has put upon us; copying that way of life that precisely expects that we should simply copy what everybody has been doing for the last hundreds of years without looking for our own solutions to our own personal problems. There’s no place for an independent individual any longer because everything said and done, that doesn’t go with the flow of modern society’s flock of sheep, will crash against a wall of concrete that would prefer not to let the independent individual’s message arrive to its addressees. It will be a letter or a marriage-ring that arrived to Bartleby’s working place in the “Dead-Letter office” and that will make him realize that him and his personal conception of life (from which we don’t know absolutely anything because the narrator doesn’t have a clue of what’s happening inside Bartleby’s mind since the latter “would prefer not to talk about it”) are like that letter or that ring that never arrived to the dying father or waiting loved one, and will rot or burn without ever accomplishing they’re simple ideal of communicating something.

Bartleby is surrounded by thick walls that frustrate all his aims of communication. He is doomed because he knows that all his words will go directly to the “Dead-Letter office” and he’ll never be able to perform a complete communication with another human being, so what’s the use of trying to talk if the words will never arrive to the recipient’s ear? And what’s the use if even if they arrive they’ll be misunderstood and the marriage-ring will be thought as a good-bye present and the good-bye letter as a marriage proposal? I would really prefer not to communicate anything, since the effort and the message will undeniably starve to death between four walls of concrete and a box-office with all the letters that will never be read. And I would really prefer not to.

 

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