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Idle ThreatsMen and the Limits of Productivity in Nineteenth Century America$
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Andrew Lyndon Knighton

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780814748909

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814748909.001.0001

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The Bartleby Industry and Bartleby’s Idleness

The Bartleby Industry and Bartleby’s Idleness

(p.25) 1 The Bartleby Industry and Bartleby’s Idleness
Idle Threats

Andrew Lyndon Knighton

NYU Press

This chapter offers a reading of Herman Melville's short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener” in order to highlight its ruminations about idleness. “Bartleby” focuses on the problem of unproductive activity and how it constitutes a limit for the imperatives of the work ethic, the jurisdiction of Enlightenment certainty, and how the economic intangibility of idleness demystifies the autonomy of the modern subject. The chapter first considers the proliferation of criticism that Dan McCall has termed the “Bartleby Industry” and its relevance to the encounter between nineteenth-century American culture and the powers of unproductivity. It then examines the themes of law and laziness in “Bartleby” and Bartleby's comparable dedication to both productivity and unproductivity. It also discusses consumption and individualism in “Bartleby,” along with method vs. prudence and spatial vs. temporal unworking.

Keywords:   idleness, Herman Melville, short story, Bartleby, work ethic, Bartleby Industry, American culture, unproductivity, laziness, productivity

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