Hiroki Yoshikuni, “Kant with Bartleby: A Fate of Freedom” (pp. 37–63)

This essay explores the problem of the “unaccountable” in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” (1856) in light of the Kantian idea of freedom. The lawyer-narrator declares his own inability to tell a story of Bartleby, but by doing so he also emphasizes the scrivener’s accountableness, by which Bartleby is presented as a character of exceptional originality. Bartleby might thus appear free in the Kantian sense, because his unaccountableness suggests that the determining ground of his will is not determined by inclinations in nature but is independent from it. But, pointing out that this construction of Bartleby is based on unaccountableness that ends up in nothing but the modern notion of individualism or subjectivity, which is not freedom as such but a fantasy of freedom, I argue that Bartleby destroys precisely such subjectivity by his thing-like immobility. The lawyer cannot decide at last whether Bartleby is a human subject or a piece of furniture fixed in his office.

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