Twenty-five years ago, when I was very young, I published a short novel on the impossibility of love. Since then, on account of a trauma that I shall go into later, I had not written again, I stopped altogether, I became a Bartleby, and that is why I have been interested in them for some time.
We all know the Bartlebys, they are beings inhabited by a profound denial of the world. They are named after the scrivener Bartleby, a clerk in a story by Herman Melville, who has never been seen reading, not even a newspaper; who for long periods stands looking out at a pale window behind a folding screen, upon a brick wall in Wall Street; who never drinks beer, or tea and coffee, like other men; who has never been anywhere, living as he does in the office, spending even his Sundays there; who has never said who he is, or where he comes from, or whether he has any relatives in this world; who, when he is asked where he was born or given a job to do or asked to reveal something about himself, responds always by saying,
“I would prefer not to.”
For some time now I have been investigating the frequent examples of Bartleby’s syndrome in literature, for some time I have studied the illness, the disease, endemic to contemporary letters, the negative impulse or attraction towards nothingness that means that certain creators, while possessing a very demanding literary conscience (or perhaps precisely because of this), never manage to write: either they write one or two books and then stop altogether or, working on a project, seemingly without problems, one day they become literally paralysed for good.
The idea of investigating the literature of the No, that of Bartleby & Co., came about last Tuesday in the office when I thought I heard my boss’s secretary say to somebody on the phone,
“Mr Bartleby is in a meeting.” …
Only from the negative impulse, from the labyrinth of the No, can the writing of the future appear. But what will this literature be like? Not long ago a work colleague, somewhat maliciously, put this question to me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “If I knew, I’d write it myself.”
I wonder if I can do this. I am convinced that only by tracking down the labyrinth of the No can the paths still open to the writing of the future appear. I wonder if I can evoke them. I shall write footnotes commenting on a text that is invisible, which does not mean it does not exist, since this phantom text could very well end up held in suspension in the literature of the next millennium.1
1. Vila-Matas, Enrique (2007-05-23). Bartleby & Co. (p. 2). New Directions. Kindle Edition.