Why They Prefer Bartleby? Ethics of Theory in Political Critique : 왜 바틀비를 선호하는가: 정치적 비평의 윤리학

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Kang, Woosung

Issue Date
Shanghai Normal University
Forum for World Literature Studies, Vol.11 No.3, pp.480-498
Herman Melville's famous novella "Bartleby" has been circulated and consumed in the terrain of philosophical discourses aptly demonstrating the problematic status of a literary text within the realm of critical theory. Plenty of literary and critical theorists from Agamben to Deleuze like to take the figure of Bartleby as a political symbol supporting their arguments, but they often ignore the way he is represented as a part of a singular literary narrative. They tend to separate Bartleby from "Bartleby," capitalizing exclusively on his peculiar implication as a resistant political subjectivity which is supposed to signify something subversive in the systematic order of global capitalism. As a result, the figure of Bartleby, isolated from the literary context, has been easily reduced to a free signifier representing what the critical theorists desire to prove. But Bartleby in "Bartleby" is constitutively described by the unnamed lawyer to be a pathetic melancholic or a man of mental disorder whose inscrutable commanding presence with enigmatic formula, "I would prefer not to," is thought to configure a certain political potentiality. Reformulating the way Bartleby is co-opted and pathologized by the discourse of the lawyer, I would like to re-situate the figure of Bartleby within the contextual representation, taking the issue with theoretical and philosophical appropriation of a literary text. Taking example of recent critical analyses of Bartleby, I hope to demonstrate how theoretical analysis of a literary text often depends upon the cursory reading of the syuzhet of the text and how it drives the whole argument into its own ethical abyss.
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