By examining the repeated appearances of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby” at Occupy Wall Street protests, this essay examines public modes of literary criticism. In calling upon “Bartleby,” how does Occupy Wall Street interpret and make use of American literature? If the demonstrators who invoked “Bartleby” were not interpreting or analyzing the short story in ways that were immediately recognizable, what then were they doing with it? The essay’s aim is not to read the protests but rather to read how Occupy reads. It is an endeavor that also entails some reflection about how professionally trained readers read. Taken together, these inquires can illuminate some important differences between activist citations of “Bartleby” and the protocols of professional literary criticism, which are often seen as proximate to political activity, if not political activity themselves.


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pp. 253-272
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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