Bartleby by Herman Melville.

“I would prefer not to.”

This text is open to a wide variety of interpretations. Some readers may find it poignant, while others could deconstruct it from a psychological perspective. However, it can be seen as an existential drama about choice and movement.

The main character opts to stay still. This life strategy has disastrous personal consequences. Nevertheless, the individual gains a degree of dignity and freedom via this choice. Under capitalism, movement, circulation and growth are seen as valuable, while reflection is not perceived as important. Refusing to participate in the race is viewed by authority as a crime.

If we say yes too often, we are open to excessive exploitation. By preferring no, we can draw some of the lines we want. Flexibility, agility and contentment can only be maintained if we have the kind of courage embodied by the character depicted by Melville.

 

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