Melville's Celibatory Machines -- Bartleby, Pierre, and The Paradise of Bachelors

Diacritics 35 (4):81-100 (2005)
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Branka Arsić's essay analyzes the complex relations among law, writing, and marriage described by Melville in Pierre, "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids," and Bartleby, the Scrivener. The major argument of the essay is that Melville conceives of both writing and marriage as "celibatory machines," cut in two by the power of the law, which explains the obsessive return to the question of the law in his writing. The celibatory machine functions to divide the same in two such that any future fusion of, or even encounter between, the parts becomes impossible. The law in Melville is also such a severing blade that hollows the subject within itself, making it, as it were, empty and so rendering it inoperative. That accounts for the overwhelming presence of "passive" characters in Melville's work. However, since the law also imposes its power upon itself, it is emptied of its own lawfulness and thus deactivated. Hence everything in Melville happens within the space of the law, yet nothing ever functions lawfully



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Active habits and passive events or bartleby.Branka Arsić - 2003 - In Paul Patton & John Protevi (eds.), Between Deleuze and Derrida. Continuum. pp. 135--57.
Moby Dick; or, the Whale.Herman Melville - 1851 - Harper & Brothers.


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Branka Arsic
Columbia University

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