Bartleby & Co.
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A marvelous novel by one of Spain's most important contemporary authors, in which a clerk in a Barcelona office takes us on a romping tour of world literature.
In Bartleby & Co., an enormously enjoyable novel, Enrique Vila-Matas tackles the theme of silence in literature: the writers and non-writers who, like the scrivener Bartleby of the Herman Melville story, in answer to any question or demand, replies: "I would prefer not to." Addressing such "artists of refusal" as Robert Walser, Robert Musil, Arthur Rimbaud, Marcel Duchamp, Herman Melville, and J. D. Salinger, Bartleby & Co. could be described as a meditation: a walking tour through the annals of literature. Written as a series of footnotes (a non-work itself), Bartleby embarks on such questions as why do we write, why do we exist? The answer lies in the novel itself: told from the point of view of a hermetic hunchback who has no luck with women, and is himself unable to write, Bartleby is utterly engaging, a work of profound and philosophical beauty.
chair, a penknife, an inkpot … All of this, in the long run, would end up harming her a great deal. But when she arrived in the district she cannot even have suspected this. As soon as she moved into the rue Bonaparte, she got down to work and began to frequent the district’s two or three cafés and immediately began to write an ambitious novel at the tables of those cafés. The first thing she did, therefore, was accept the burden of continuity. “You cannot be unworthy of those who come before,”
prefer not to make any change,’ says Bartleby. Their affinity reveals the similarity between silence and a certain decorative use of language.” Of the writers of the No, what we might call the scriveners’ section is one of the strangest and the one that perhaps affects me the most. This is because, twenty-five years ago, I personally experienced the sensation of knowing what it is to be a copyist. And I suffered terribly. I was very young at the time and felt very proud to have published a book
eager to talk, and I would listen to their stories, trying to make sense of what were frequently dark, unconnected, angry messages; they were sad stories, most of them, I could tell this quite clearly.” The autumnal equinox arrives amid silent conversations. That day a squall descends over the sea, he hears it moaning from dawn; in the afternoon, a strong force grips his entrails; at nightfall, thick clouds gather along the horizon and communication with the ghosts is broken, perhaps because the
without a centre. I live like an explorer. The more I advance in the search for the labyrinth’s centre, the further away I am from it. I am like the explorer in Kafka’s In the Penal Colony who does not understand the meaning of the designs the officer shows him: “It’s very clever, but I can’t work it out.” I am like an explorer, and my austerity is that of a hermit. In the same way as Monsieur Teste, I feel that I am not made for novels; their great scenes, tirades, passions and tragic moments,
silence. This morning, while leafing through a dictionary of famous Spanish writers, I happened to come across a curious case of rejection of literature, that of the distinguished Gregorio Martinez Sierra. This writer, whom I studied in school and who always struck me as extremely dull, was born in 1881 and died in 1947, founded magazines and publishing houses, wrote terrible poems and awful novels, and was already on the verge of suicide (his failure could not have been more publicised) when