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Bartleby the Scribe’s Formula: I Would Prefer Not To…(Design Creativity as a Mode of Resistance)
RMIT University, Melbourne Australia.
2010 (English)Conference paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Once upon a time, prior to the development of mechanical and then electronic copying devices and their ubiquitous colonisation of the corporate world, the figure of the scrivener or copyist would have been a regular fixture in the office. The great American writer Herman Melville tells the story of such a scrivener, a law copyist called Bartleby who perplexes his employer, an attorney, with a singular phrase of resistance: I would prefer not to. Bartleby responds to an advertisement for the position of scrivener and arrives one day in the open doorway of the attorney’s offices, “pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn!” The attorney explains that his chambers at that time were located up the stairs of what is presumably an office block at an undisclosed address on Wall Street, New York. He describes the outlook of his rooms as follows: “At one end, they looked upon the white wall of the interior of a spacious sky-light shaft…from the other end of my chambers…my windows commanded an unobstructed view of a lofty brick wall, black by age and everlasting shade.” The premises are further divided into two halves, one for the employees, and one for the attorney, separated by ground glass folding doors, which the attorney opens and closes depending on his temper. Bartleby will be further cordoned off behind a high green folding screen that not only separates him out from the three other employees, but places him in the closest proximity to his employer, specifically on the attorney’s side of the office. Melville, as can be seen, composes the spatial arrangement of the office and its outlook with specific care. It is within this circumscribed space that Bartleby’s phrase, I would prefer not to, will come to infect the collective enunciation of the employees as well as the attorney himself. Each will unwittingly find themselves using variations of Bartleby’s phrase. This is a phrase that is taken up as an object of study by a number of philosophers, including Gilles Deleuze, Isabelle Stengers, and Giorgio Agamben. What interests all of these thinkers is how the figure of Bartleby troubles the outline of what constitutes a collective voice of enunciation or expression and the cohesive identity of some community of shared practices and beliefs. The passive resistance of Bartleby’s phrase, which Deleuze names a formula, offers a protest that cannot be explicitly named, and at the same time it calls upon a potential creativity the realisation of which may be indefinitely forestalled.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Herman Melville, Bartleby, resistance, Gilles Deleuze, Giorgio Agamben, Isabelle Stengers
National Category
Philosophy, Ethics and Religion Architecture
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-86565OAI: diva2:500848
ARCHITECTURE+PHILOSOPHY. Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, UK. 9 July, 2010
QC 20120328Available from: 2012-02-13 Created: 2012-02-13 Last updated: 2012-03-28Bibliographically approved

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Frichot, Hélène
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