Bartleby in the Occupy Wall Street Library
Here is the link for the Occupy Wall Street library catalog (via thepinakes). While many of the books remain missing, and the library—as it was—has been destroyed, the catalog remains. And, while I still insist libraries are far more than their books, it does gives us one snapshot of the hopes and dreams the library continues to embody.
My favorite holding? Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener (1853). Tagged by the OWS librarians under “resistance history” and “Wall Street,” Bartleby tells a strange story about an obstinate, disruptive, and transformative presence at the heart of capitalism:
In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do—namely, to examine a small paper with me. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”
I sat awhile in perfect silence, rallying my stunned faculties. Immediately it occurred to me that my ears had deceived me, or Bartleby had entirely misunderstood my meaning. I repeated my request in the clearest tone I could assume. But in quite as clear a one came the previous reply, “I would prefer not to.”
“Prefer not to,” echoed I, rising in high excitement, and crossing the room with a stride, “What do you mean? Are you moon-struck? I want you to help me compare this sheet here—take it,” and I thrust it towards him.
“I would prefer not to,” said he.
Bartleby himself fades into nothingness by the end of the story, dying in jail—a fate I certainly hope OWS can avoid. But his disruption, and his insistent, stymieing, “moon-struck” desire—his wanting in ways that surprise, “consternat[e],” and “stun[ ]”—offer a powerful model for rethinking our relationship to the spaces and demands of capitalism as it is currently practiced.