Johan the Scrivener: Jiyoon Lee on the Pathologies of Johan Jönson

by on May.10, 2012

I have read Collobert Orbital (too bad I don’t have the book with me at this moment; I have to rely on my memory) & I am re-reading Bartleby the Scrivener by Melville. This post prompts me to think about the oppressive presence of operative system(s) in these two works: the power of Conveyor’s Belt/Production Line.
In Collobert Orbital, there are production lines that cannot be disobeyed, despite the fact that bodies are piling up in its production, filling up the space of the book. The production lines also embody themselves through the dash “—” which prompts the readers’ eyes to move along(along with the bodies, becoming part of the line-up); you can’t stop. you have to keep moving. to the future. to the production. What was really interesting about the dashes is that not only they are embodiment of the Conveyor’s Belt, the all-too-powerful production logic, they also seem to be NOISE that disrupts the smoothness of the poetry and language. (at this moment I also think of Juan Gelman’s slashes “/”, its physical presence on the page and the disruptive nature; Is it trauma that produces these un-readable, grammatical-system-defying-use of physical lines?)
It is surreal how the rhetoric of Future and Progress is now very thinly veiled Logic of Production and Utility/usefulness, and that doesn’t bother many people! As the language of “acting out of line” reveals, it is unacceptable to reject the line-up. Many would prefer staying in “line”. The Conveyor’s belt. The Production Line.
If Collobert Oribital can be read as resistance, conjuring of the Line, the System in the space of art and the voice of “the working class speaks back”, Bartleby can be read to be doing the similar thing– embodiment of the System (the narrative voice)–yet in the voice of the Conveyor/ the Operator, the voice of Liljestrand or Upperclass that condemns the “hatred” of working class.
In Bartleby, Bartleby’s willful voice of “I prefer not to” — not to become useful, not to become part of the production line of which all the other characters(only referred by their nickname) take part– baffles the narrator. In his logic, Bartleby should at least cease to exist in the sphere of production line that is his office. Like Liljestrand the narrator (whose name is never disclosed. he is the lawyer, the operator of the office system, his position is his only identity) first uses the rhetoric of pathology: he tries to understand Bartleby’s unwillingness to be useful to be coming from sickness. When the pathology fails the narrator in identifying just what Bartleby is, he tries the rhetoric of “Oh Humanity!”, the safely assumed commonground,middle-ground morality; with this rhetorics he gets to keep his position as the controller, conveyor by being the one who bestows sympathy. Yet, being entrenched in the logic of the Production Line, the narrator is overwhelmed just by Bartleby’s presence. His physical presence in the office itself becomes a pose, unnecessary, un-useful glitch which disrupts the conveyor’s belt of his.
It seems to me this anxiety of the narrator is similar to the anxiety of Liljestrand: the worker isn’t ceasing himself to become part of the Production line. Jönson isn’t just folding the towels obediently and invisibly like he should; Larsson isn’t obediently going to work and become part of the machine like he should. The extinguishment of the voice/presence is necessary in the system of Production. Like the dash of Jönson, Gelman’s /, Bartleby’s body,their art won’t extinguish itsel

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Shelley

    It’s stunning that one man wrote both Bartleby and Moby Dick.

    I wish Melville could have had more success in his lifetime….