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Bollas, C. (1974). Melville's Lost Self: Bartleby. Am. Imago, 31(4):401-411.

(1974). American Imago, 31(4):401-411

Melville's Lost Self: Bartleby

Christopher Bollas

Herman Melville's short novel Bartleby is, a tale about a “pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn “ (p. 10) young man who answers an advertisement for a position as a scrivener. He is accepted for employment, disrupts the routine of his new environment when he “prefers not to” engage in certain assigned tasks, forces the employer to feel a resourcelessness that compels him to move his office. It ends in Bartleby's pathetic death after he has been hustled off to prison.

I believe that Bartleby's arrival at the office and his subsequent breakdown into negativity is a mimetic representation of a need to find a nurturant space where he can regress toward the healing of a “basic fault “ in the self. I want to focus on Bartleby as a transitional moment in Melville's fiction when his central heroic type (Ahab, Ishmael, Taji, Pierre) shifts from searching to being found, where Bartleby's search for the employer becomes a move toward discovery, his existential ambience that of throwing out a deeply dissociated self state. Bartleby provides us with an opportunity to study a subject's expression of his autism, where relinquishing of the self's executant ego functions becomes a lingual invitation to the other to fill the absence of function with the nurture of


1 All references to Bartleby are from Herman Melville,

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