E67: re:read - Bartleby, the Scrivener


Manage episode 324096115 series 2460300
By re:verb, Calvin Pollak, and Alex Helberg. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

We would prefer not to write a description for this episode… but here’s one anyway!

Today’s episode is a re:vival of our re:read series, where we create dramatic interpretive readings of short fiction with contemporary political and cultural relevance. In this installment, inspired by our recent conversation with Dr. Kendall Phillips on “rhetorics of refusal,” Calvin, Ben, and Alex bring to life the classic Herman Melville story “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” originally published in Putnam’s Monthly magazine in 1853. This story documents the tribulations of a Wall Street lawyer who hires a morose figure named Bartleby to work for him as a scrivener. Bartleby quickly turns from an industrious copy-writer to a passively resisting automaton, whose only response to any request is simply: “I would prefer not to.” As the fallout from Bartleby’s absurdly principled behavior continues to unfold, the narrator finds himself questioning everything he thought he knew about social life, language, and labor.

Join our crew of voice actors - Calvin as the narrator, Ben taking the role of the eponymous Bartleby, and Alex playing various minor characters - as we traverse this darkly comic tale of 19th-century alienation and absurdism, scored with period-specific music to accentuate the drama. Our dramatic reading is followed by a reflection on some of the story’s themes and implications: the literary works and political actors that “Bartleby” presaged, its critique of alienated (and alienating) labor, the co-optation of refusal rhetorics under neoliberal capitalism, and the affordances of individual vs. collective resistance in social and political movements.

Accessible transcript of “Bartleby, the Scrivener” from Project Gutenberg:


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