Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Sunday 26 May - Bartleby

Sunday 26 May | 7pm | Free | Hackney, London

Directed by Anthony Friedman

Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street is a short story written by Herman Melville. It first appeared anonymously in two parts in the November and December 1853 editions of Putnam's Magazine.

There have been three or more film versions, two English (1972 and 2001) and one French (1976).

The figure of Bartleby has been influential upon post-war political philosophy, particularly in a post-workerist (post-operaismo) and refusal of work tendencies, Melville's story is discussed by Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Giorgio Agamben, Antonio Negri and Franco 'Bifo' Berardi.

Full Unemployment Cinema will be showing the 1972 English film version directed by Anthony Friedman and starring Paul Scofield. We'll also be showing the final 3 shorts which make up Nicholas Rey's Anders, Moulussien

Download the pamphlet which accompanies this screening:

Bartleby, (1972) trailer:

Herman Melville's short story, Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, at Project Gutenburg:

Timothy J. Deine's essay on the legacy of Bartleby, 'Bartleby the Scrivener, Immanence and the Resistance of Community',
Short text on Anders, Molussien by Michael Sicinski

Bartleby: ecstatic feminist

1) The home, where we do the majority of the [domestic labor] is atomized into thousands of sets of four walls, but it’s present everywhere, in the country, the city, the mountain, etc.

2) We are monitored and controlled by thousands of little bosses and inspectors: these are our husbands, fathers, brothers, etc., but still we have only one master: the State.

3) Our comrades in work and in the struggle, who are our women neighbors at home, are not physically in contact with us at work as is the case in a factory; but we can meet each other in agreed upon places that we all go to by using a few famous little periods of time that we cut out of our day. And none of us are separate from the other by virtue of any stratifications of qualifications and categories. We all do fundamentally the same work.

…If we go on strike, we won’t be leaving products incomplete or raw materials untransformed, etc.; by interrupting our work we won’t paralyze production, but we will paralyze the everyday reproduction of the working class. That will strike at the heart of Capital, because it will effectively become a strike even for those who normally would have gone on strike without us; but as soon as we no longer guarantee the survival of those to whom we are emotionally attached, we will also have difficulties to face in continuing our resistance.

Emilian Wages for Domestic Labor Coordination, Bologna, 1976

They call it Love: we call it unpaid labor. They call it frigidity. We call it absenteeism.

Every time we get pregnant against our will, it’s a workplace accident.

Homosexuality and heterosexuality are both conditions of labor…

But homosexuality is control over production by workers, not the end of work.

More smiles? More money. Nothing would be more effective in destroying the virtues of a smile.

Neuroses, suicide, desexualization: professional diseases of the housewife.

Silvia Federici, The Right to Hate, 1974

The worker has resources available to him to unionize, to go on strike; mothers are isolated from one another, in their houses, tied down to their children by merciful bonds. Our wildcat strikes manifest themselves most often in the form of physical or mental breakdowns.

Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born, 1980

It is not too clear how it was that Bartleby decided one day to spend the night in his office. His gray existence as a petty employee fades into leisure time, which suddenly appears impossible; his inertia one day just brings an end to his weak will to compartmentalize his work and his life: they are for him two incompatible possibilities, two impossibilities following each other in sequence. Bartleby doesn’t play the game; he lives his life as an employee and conducts himself at his post as if he could calmly just live there. Surely he has no home, no family, no love, no wife. So? In this desolate universe, peopled by tasks to accomplish and abstract relationships between worker-men, Bartleby prefers not to. Bartleby goes on a totally new kind of strike, which wears down his boss like no luddism could. “Indeed,” affirms his boss, resigned, “it was his wonderful mildness chiefly, which not only disarmed me, but unmanned me, as it were.” Bartleby is surprised hanging around at the office on Wall Street on a Sunday, half undressed, but no one finds the firmness of mind to kick him out: everyone just assumes that that must be where he belongs. “For I consider that one, for the time, is sort of unmanned,” continues his boss, “when he tranquilly permits his hired clerk to dictate to him, and order him away from his own premises.”

The master’s authority is here deposed by a generic act of refusal: it’s not violence, just the pale solitude of someone who “prefers not to,” who haunts the consciousness of the office boss, just like it has haunted the lives of so many husbands pushed away with the same firm, unjustified determination of a negative preference, harder than any unappealable refusal.

The bad conscience of classical virility, personified by the Master in Chancery, Bartleby’s superior, prevents it from freeing itself of this mute specter that doesn’t demand anything anymore, refuses everything, and by its simple obstinate presence alludes to a different kind of world, where the offices would no longer be places where accountants undergo their tiresome slavery, and where the bosses would take orders. “I seldom lose my temper; much more seldom indulge in dangerous indignation at wrongs and outrages,” clarifies his boss. This gentleman is a calm, balanced person, and nonetheless he loses all agency faced with Bartleby. His mild-mannered non-submission seduces him; his strike action contaminates him; he wants to let go and abandon an authority that becomes suddenly burdensome to him, and at the height of his unexplainable sympathy for his do-nothing employee, he resolves to opt for the least logical of solutions: “Yes, Bartleby, stay there behind your screen, thought I; I shall persecute you no more; you are harmless and noiseless as any of these old chairs; in short, I never feel so private as when I know you are here. At least I see it, I feel it; I penetrate to the predestinated purpose of my life. I am content. Others may have loftier parts to enact; but my mission in this world, Bartleby, is to furnish you with office-room for such period as you may see fit to remain.” No strike in history has won such favorable conditions as these: the boss comes to be convinced of the essentially abusive character of his role, and the refusal of work gives rise to its remunerated abolition. Bartleby’s strike, which in this sense is similar to that of the feminists, is a human strike, a strike of gestures, dialogue, a radical skepticism in the face of all forms of oppression that are taken for granted, including the most unquestioned of emotional blackmail or social conventions, such as the need to get up and go to work and then come home from the office once it’s closed. But it’s a strike that doesn’t extend itself out, that doesn’t contaminate the other workers with its negative preference syndrome, because Bartleby explains nothing (that’s his great strength), and has no legitimacy; he’s not threatening to not do anything anymore, so he’s still upholding his contractual relationship with the boss, he simply reminds him that he has no more duty than he has desire, and that his preference happens to be for the abolition of work. “But thus it often is,” continues the boss of the office, “that the constant friction of illiberal minds wears out at last the best resolves of the more generous.” A human strike without a communization of morals ends up as a private tragedy, and is considered a personal problem, a mental illness. His colleagues, circulating in the office during the day, demand obedience from Bartleby, that employee that walks along with his hands in his pockets; they give him orders, and faced with his categorical refusal to carry them out and his absolute impunity, they are perplexed and feel that they have somehow become the victims of some sort of unspeakable injustice. The metaphor is even too clear; one can all too easily imagine the threat of ‘unmanning’ felt by lawyers and magistrates when their authority is ignored and scorned by a simple accountant. “And what could I say? At last I was made aware that all through the circle of my professional acquaintance, a whisper of wonder was running round, having reference to the strange creature I kept at my office. This worried me very much. And as the idea came upon me of his possibly turning out a long-lived man, and keep occupying my chambers, and denying my authority; and perplexing my visitors; and scandalizing my professional reputation; and casting a general gloom over the premises. … I resolved to gather all my faculties together, and for ever rid me of this intolerable incubus.”

Bartleby – does it even need to be said? – dies in prison, because his solitary de/occupation did not spread. 

In the same way as he never believed himself to be an accountant, he did not later believe himself to be a prisoner. His radical skepticism never found the comfort of any belonging, but in this disturbing short story, which stages a master-slave dialectic much more perverse and corrosive than that of the Hegelian paradigm, there is also the promise of a coming practice. The below-market work of women, in light of its congruence with life, can only be ground to a halt by a wildcat strike of behaviors, a human strike, which comes out of the kitchens and beds, speaks up at assemblies. The human strike puts forth no demands; rather it deterritorializes the agora, reveals the “non-political” to be the implicit place for the distribution of non-remunerable responsibilities and labor. Some women from the Italian movement explained this: “We find no criteria for, and have no interest in, separating politics from culture, love, and work. A separate politics like that displeases us and we would never be able to carry it out.” (L. Cigarini, L. Muraro, Politics and Political Practice, in Marxist Critique, 1992)

What happened with the transition to post-fordism, which integrated women into the productive sphere better than any prior mode of production, was a growing indifferentiation of the space-time of work and the space-time of life. More and more, workers find themselves in Bartleby’s situation, which was exclusively the female situation until the end of the twentieth century in the West, but they ‘prefer not to’ refuse, for the time being. Work and life are tangled up to what is perhaps an unprecedented extent, for both sexes; what once was only females’ economic oppression is now unisex, and the human strike appears to be the only solvent possible for the situation. Because ‘preferring not to’ is now equal to preferring not to be an accountant, a telecommuter, a worman, and that’s something that has to be done by a number of people together. Negative preference is above all a political act: “I am not what you see here” gives rise to “Let’s be another possible now.” By no longer believing what other people say about you, by opposing the political intensity of your existence to the mundanities of recognition, above all not wanting any power, because power mutilates, power demands, power makes you mute and then other people will talk for you, will speak within you without you even perceiving it; that’s how we escape, that’s how we go on human strike. But already, schizophrenia is watching over all the detached ones, all the dupes of power, all the scabs of the human strike.

from: /http://caringlabor.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/tiqqun-2-sonogram-of-a-potential/