Bartleby prefers not to write this recap, but instead to stand with his hat bunched in fist, staring at the light shaft the window looks out upon. His passion for copywriting is heightened at the beginning, he pours everything into it. And then, he is asked to help review someone’s work, and he prefers not to, then prefers not to do much of anything, especially leave the premises.
Supporting characters are Turkey (placid in the morning, drunk in afternoon), Nippers (irritable in the morning, mild in the afternoon), and Ginger Nut the errand boy sent out for cakes. And of course, the narrator, a 60ish old lawyer who is captivated by Bartleby, then attempts eviction, then moves his offices to be rid of him, then visits him in jail only to find him dead. The narrator is also pretty pompous:
I do not speak it in vanity, but simply record the fact, that I was not unemployed in my profession by the late John Jacob Astor; a name which, I admit, I love to repeat, for it hath a rounded and orbicular sound to it, and rings like unto bullion. I will freely add, that I was not insensible to the late John Jacob Astor’s good opinion.
Second read, but the first via paper, this is a great edition.
This both gives me hope (that DFW wrote a few sub-par lines) and makes me sad (that America made a movie out of this, although I am slightly gladdened by their $28k total gross receipts = bombed). Glorious stuff for the most part, but there was a bit of force that I needed to propel myself to the end. The interviews with the “hideous” men were probably my least favorite. The Depressed Person was amusing in the detailed footnotes taking up 90% of the page. On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, The Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright’s Father Begs a Boon was spectacular in anti-child rant. It was a full tour of DFW’s cavernous brain, exploring topics varied and sundry.
First “story” is 2 paragraphs long:
A RADICALLY CONDENSED HISTORY OF POSTINDUSTRIAL LIFE
When they were introduced, he made a witticism, hoping to be liked. She laughed extremely hard, hoping to be liked. Then each drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces.
The man who’d introduced them didn’t much like either of them, though he acted as if he did, anxious as he was to preserve good relations at all times. One never know, after all, did one now did one now did one.
Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut
Arigata-meiwaku (Japanese): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude
Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist
Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl… as long as she’s being viewed from behind
Desenrascanco (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it)
Duende (Spanish): a climactic show of spirit in a performance or work of art, which might be fulfilled in flamenco dancing, or bull-fighting, etc.
Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love
Gigil (pronounced Gheegle; Filipino): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute
Guanxi (Mandarin): in traditional Chinese society, you would build up good guanxi by giving gifts to people, taking them to dinner, or doing them a favor, but you can also use up your gianxi by asking for a favor to be repaid
Ilunga (Tshiluba, Congo): A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time
L’esprit de l’escalier (French): usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it
Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery
Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan): A look between two people that suggests an unspoken, shared desire
Manja (Malay): “to pamper”, it describes gooey, childlike and coquettish behavior by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men. “His girlfriend is a damn manja. Hearing her speak can cause diabetes.”
Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee; Greek): Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing
Nunchi (Korean): the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood. In Western culture, nunchi could be described as the concept of emotional intelligence. Knowing what to say or do, or what not to say or do, in a given situation. A socially clumsy person can be described as ‘nunchi eoptta’, meaning “absent of nunchi”
Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation
Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions
Schadenfreude (German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain
Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky
Taarradhin (Arabic): implies a happy solution for everyone, or “I win. You win.” It’s a way of reconciling without anyone losing face. Arabic has no word for “compromise,” in the sense of reaching an arrangement via struggle and disagreement
Tatemae and Honne (Japanese): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively
Tingo (Pascuense language of Easter Island): to borrow objects one by one from a neighbor’s house until there is nothing left
Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods
Yoko meshi (Japanese): literally ‘a meal eaten sideways,’ referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language
I fell in love with Walser when I read The Tanners, a wonderfully dreamy work about siblings’ trials and tribulations. I was happy to be reminded of him again at the bookstore when I saw The Assistant, which I gobbled up over the past week, again dog-earring pages that capture the moody tranquility of the Swiss/German landscape through the passing seasons.
Joseph Marti arrives in the lake-side villa as the assistant to the inventor/engineer Tobler, taking up residence in the house but not collecting a salary since money was tight. His understatedness, taut and poised like a panther ready to pounce, his questioning of own abilities, his delight in household chores and the physical movement of labor. Money continues to be a problem; he meets his predecessor Wirsich who was fired for continued drunkenness, he travels back to the city and is told by an old friend that he never changes. He is fearless in swimming out to the middle of the lake in the autumn and bouncing around placing the storm windows on, but desperately fears his boss’ anger. The townspeople gradually realize Tobler will not repay his debts, stop visiting him and begin to openly harass him and his family. Tobler begs for money from family, taking journeys by train to pass the hat around. In the end, Joseph walks away arm-in-arm with Wirsich, looking for real employment.
“How strangely she laughs,” the subordinate mused and went on thinking: “one might, if one was set on it, take this way of laughing as the basis for a geographical study. This laugh precisely designates the region from which this woman comes. It is a handicapped laugh, it comes out of her mouth in a slightly unnatural way, as if it had always been held a little in check in early years by an all-too-strict upbringing. But it is a lovely feminine laugh, even a tiny bit frivolous.”
Trash. I skimmed through this once I realized that BEE is not an amazing writer but had to figure out why people think he is. Christian Bale haunted me as I read, dapper psychotic dandy obsessed with details of men’s fashion and killing people. It’s what can happen to you when you are given everything, you must chase the dragon of edge over the top. Taking a job just to fit in, not because you need to. Doing minimal work at that job, but obsessing over certain accounts (the Fisher account holds a mysterious attraction for him). Not paying attention to his friends and their inattention to him as well, as he admits to wanting to smash people’s faces with bricks, or decapitate things.