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Power, Prose, and PurseLaw, Literature, and Economic Transformations$
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Alison LaCroix, Saul Levmore, and Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190873455

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190873455.001.0001

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Bartleby’s Consensual Dysphoria

Bartleby’s Consensual Dysphoria

(p.191) 8 Bartleby’s Consensual Dysphoria
Power, Prose, and Purse

Robin West

Oxford University Press

In this essay I seek to understand why many of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protestors embraced Bartleby, the dysfunctional scrivener of Melville’s Story of Wall Street, as a fellow traveler in their movement. I first situate Bartleby the Scrivener in the context of classical legal thought, expanding on some claims put forward in a seminal article on Bartleby by Brook Thomas in the 1980s. I then argue that Melville’s scrivener suffered from a psychic and political condition I call “consensual dysphoria.” Bartleby suffered from consensual dysphoria in extremis. The OWSers recognized this—thus their otherwise inexplicable empathic bond with him. Consensual dysphoria, as depicted by Melville and as suffered by Bartleby, I will urge, is a part of the debilitating legacy of classical legal thought that persists today, and in an even more developed and exaggerated form.

Keywords:   Herman Melville, Bartleby, Occupy, Wall Street, law, economics

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