The SFFaudio Podcast #660 – Bartleby, The Scrivener by Herman Melville; read by Bob Neufeld
This unabridged reading of the story (1 hour 53 minutes) is followed by a discussion of it.
Participants in the discussion include Jesse, Paul Weimer, Evan Lampe, Marissa VU, and Will Emmmons
Talked about on today’s show:
A Story Of Wall Street, Putnam’s Monthly, November and December 1853, college and high school, fucking great, so funny, very humorous, no joke, Seinfeld style, sad and existential, struggles with depression, is Bartleby depressed?, what was Melville trying to say, different ways of reading, a moment of silence for all the poor kids in school, 4 minute explainers on youtube, hard to classify, a weird tale like you would get in Weird Tales, cadaverous, Fitz-James O’Brien, Franz Kafka, kafkaesque, William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe, its a piece of science fiction, Bartleby is an android, Star Trek’s Data, radioactive suitcase, the ghost story angle, the most important way of reading it, its all about the lawyer, the other clerks, Ginger Nut, John Jacob Astor, I prefer not to pay, other people are inscrutable, master of chancery, work ethic, real estate law, Turkey is drunk by noon, Nippers, low wages, allowed to listen to music, ginger cakes, useless in the afternoons, Nippers is a criminal, capitalism, before the clock took over, working on Saturday, time and motion studies, a copyist pretending to be an attorney, the Roman patron system, seedy coats, great language, McTeague by Frank Norris, practicing dentistry without a license, The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville, a lot to glean, I am a rather elderly man, writing for an audience, other biographies, the law copyists, physical xerox machines, monk work, reading aloud, take student texts with punctuation, perfection in sentences, a creative work vs. copying from one document to another, divers histories, other law copyists, an irreparable loss to literature, the original sources aka him, the second part of the serialization of the story, this kind of artifact, serialized over two months, Bartleby’s previous career, most lawyers want to be writers, imprimus, the easiest way of life is the best, unambitious lawyers, a snug retreat, a snug business among rich men’s bonds, keeping track of rich people’s money, an eminently safe man, a nice pun, the late John Jacob Astor, all the negatives, prudence, method, not unemployed in my profession, a rounded and orbicular sound to into it, rings like unto bullion, complimenting himself, John Jacob Astor the first, how old this story is, the story is set way earlier, an interesting pacific connection, trans-continental, 1848, Astoria, the incensed landlord, a metaphor for the United States, fugitive visits, Bartleby like an Indian who refuses to leave to go to the reservation, named after an act of enclosure, walls, the dead letter office metaphor, Touched By An Angel, a Christian show, the science fiction equivalent is Quantum Leap, The A-Team, solving problems with guns, the Hallmark Channel, Christian niceness, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Dear John I miss you, items, your job is to open up the letter, any objects in the mail, a ring or money or tires is then auctioned off, unrequited letters, instead of reading and deleting letters you copy letters, reading the contents, contracts between billionaires, what debt is owned to whom, reading Bartleby as a dead letter, he has no place to go, there is no dead letter office for humans, taken to the prison, the grub man, he’s a person not a letter, the focus on Bartleby as the main character is not as interesting, he’s the one with the problem: Bartleby, he’s a weird employer because he cares about his employees a lot, fighting the system, stalkers, roses and letter, not leaving someone alone and being outside their place, playing with social norms, interest becomes stalker, no women in this story, Ginger Nut as a woman, Bartleby (2001), a zombie apocalypse done through sound, Pontypool (2008), Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess, when you hear certain words on the television, earworms, things are going to change, a bit of visual or auditory information can change the world, what makes it existential, he’ll just stand there, won’t do anything, embarrassment, amazingly passive, as a strategy of work resistance, Office Space (1999), most employers, The Last Article by Harry Turtledove, he tolerates him vs. he escapes, rather move himself than move Bartleby, prefer, the way his hands are, behind the screen, so handy to me, I had in hand, my right hand sideways, nervously extended, in this very attitude did I sit, imagine my surprise, rallying my stunned faculties, prefer not to?, are you moonstruck?, Žižek, backwards grammar, ending with a preposition, plaster of paris Cicero, this is very strange, had his face been any different he would have fired him, what do you think about what this guy’s doing?, our narrator is allowing this to happen, ah Bartleby, ah humanity!, Bartleby is in such a horrible position, this is our situation, the main character wants to be fired, this guy’s got spunk!, I’m going to need you to go ahead and…, upper management hears you’re an up and comer, the other authority figures in the story, King Of The Hill, Dale Gribble likes firing people, maybe Evan understands American history, the institutions aren’t there, SWAT the employees, dump the vagrants, when the cops hung up on Jesse, wrote a stern email to the chief constable, the busybody was just making trouble, a local crime gang, not SWATing people as much, the normal response is to give up, if you invent the post office, some items are undeliverables, setting up policies, an Indian with no band, mentally ill but not causing a disturbance, just not going home, he has no home, you can’t do that with people, what makes our unnamed lawyer protagonist so strange is that he cares about Bartleby, we put ourselves into capitalism, feeling spicy at work, ginger is a hot spice, he whom it would relieve, charity, pallid hopelessness, continually handling these dead letters, the finger it was meant for moulders in the grave, hope for those who died un-hoping, these letters speed to death, hopelessness and misfortune, one of Melville’s kids killed himself with a gun at home, Melville worked at the customs house, what we know of Melville’s going to sea, he needs to get to sea because the land is not for him, Typee, malingering or mutiny or deserting, Evan’s YouTube video: Herman Melville Wants You To Quit Your Job, Mardi, failing to find paradise, screw all this, Whitejacket, Redburn, Moby-Dick, bored from his normal life, disappearing from the novel, just there to tell the story, what are you doing here, sitting on the banister, the cause of great tribulation, a clerkship in a drygoods store, too much confinement, a bartender’s business, Nippers is always adjusting his work table, Joe Piscopo, no standing desk like Rumsfeld, trying time trying to entertain, I like to be stationary (stationery), I am bound to quit the premises myself, not wholly indulged before, go home with his boss, like a force of nature, he’s like a letter that’s a human, he can’t say where he needs to go, Melville’s first attempt to write a short story, I prefer not to, the driving thesis of Paul’s professor, here we are, when Paul was young and callow, confronted by reality, I know I’m talented I know I have the goods, some time goes by people catch up to what he’s doing, why his story is being taught in school, appreciating it at as piece of art, The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, I Have Placed My Sickness Upon You by Karin Tidbeck, Frritt-Flacc aka The Ordeal Of Doctor Trifulgas aka Dr Trifulgas by Jules Verne, volcanic France, what the fuck is this?, there’s a document involved, it means something, The Lost Room by Fitz-James O’Brien, about our mental condition, metaness, what does Wall Street have to do with it?, balancing out his other employees, its wrong to read it from its wrong, it must happen daily, he’s his own doctor and he’s having a heart-attack, have we exhausted Bartleby?, religious stuff, the lawyer is a messed up guy, this uncanny guy, he stopped working because his eyesight was bad, this earworm of I prefer not to, they’re making fun of him, they’re making fun of the lawyer, they’re bullying him, the drunk is funny, their solidarity is with their boss, false solidarity, the boss’ neuroses, in the Tombs, I know who you are, I know what this place is, Bartleby gets it, the antagonist, not a good place, the military angle, he’s been drafted into the army, we’d like you to go shoot that man, he’s seen the Lovecraftian document, the horror behind the veil, being like a cadaver, weird trick, Ginger Nut, Bartleby only eats ginger nut and cheese, he’s called to go get them, Coffee Boy, why is Turkey called Turkey?, dies of starvation, Nippers is the eating of food, the religious aspect, moral suasion, act like a Christian, charity, governed by paternalism, as resistance strategy, the reform era, 1830s-1840s, the Second Great Awakening, reforming American sins, perfecting American society, the anti-flogging campaign, vagrancy, part of the that culture, are your eyes recovered?, in word will you do anything at all?, behind a blind, the tragedy of the unfortunate Adams the unfortunate Colt, his fatal act, had that altercation taken place in the public street, doubtless of dusty haggard of appearance, a murder, A kills C, Bartleby (B), I grappled him and threw him, recalling the divine inter-junction, ye love one another, a great safeguard to its possessor, a murder for charity’s sake, drowning my exasperated feelings, benevolently construing his conduct, he has seen hard times and ought to be indulged, charity is the answer, if I focus on charity I won’t kill him, a servant to John Jacob Astor, Upstairs, Downstairs , Highclere Castle, servants and rich people in a period setting, Downton Abbey, know her place, they need to know their place, but there’s dignity in working for good people above us, in doing our jobs well we become elevated, you know its fucking evil, she’s lying to herself, ground up by the music hall industry, wenching, seeing the household from both POVs, the head butler, a lot like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, we are meant to be outraged by it, I feel unplaced in the world, I feel unmoored, Bartleby is moored, the judgement of history, Edgar Allan Poe’s life, “no, no, no, guys, I’m great”, we don’t have infinite time, made to punish children, a deflection, another form of property ownership, northern firms involved in slavery, what this person’s business is, he’s not an abolitionist, when the suing comes, they’re not copying out literature or love poetry, their literal job is photocopier, why he likes copying at first, gaining information, read back what you’ve already written, as a re-reader, checking someone else’s work, One Hour Photo (2002), a kind of stalker, so late in the lifecycle of the film camera, taking your work to seriously, too solitary in your work, what were you thinking when the lawyer finds the door locked, I’m not ready yet, what was he doing in there?, in public records, pretending he’s a music producer, this is an impropriety on his part, is our lawyer married?, I’m bringing a strange Bartleby home, the first moment of aggression, he’s not aggressive at all, he’s very ethereal, maybe he’s playing VR or something, Bliss (2021), Paul got baited and switched, Owen Wilson as Bartleby, Crispin Glover, David Paymer, Glen Headley, Maury Chaykin, there’s no audience for this really good movie, made for schools, some menace there, Dickensian, Dickens isn’t philosophical enough for this, the names, the sense of humour, very much like a weird tale, the uncanny, The Paradise Of Bachelors And the Tartarus Of Maids, pale women in a paper factory, put together a new issue of Weird Tales just out of Herman Melville stories.
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