The Bartleby Syndrome

A term coined by Enrique Vila-Matas and used in his book, Bartleby and co., inspired by one of Herman Melville’s characters, the Bartlebly Syndrome is used to describe authors who hate their works. Vila-Matas believes that the rejection of one’s own work is similar to an epidemic these days, some writer’s dream of perfection inhibiting them from writing, or only conjure up the will-power to write one or two books and then quit, or maybe even start working on a book and then they get stuck.

Because of this, one might face the dreaded writer’s block, he might become emotionally detached from his story. One lacks the inspiration required to finish anything.

This is different from the idea that there’s beauty in imperfection, the way Michelangelo would often let a small surface of his sculptures unfinished ( for instance David’s top of the head is not polished). This is not some kind of post-modern irony, or the inherent disapproval of classicism inherent in today’s artists.

For instance, Nikolai Gogol, the famous Russian writer, who was told by a priest to burn the manuscript for the second part of Dead Souls.

Another one, Kafka, who told his friend Max Brod to burn his manuscripts. Or Rimbaud, who stopped writing after the age of twenty, or Stendhal, who threw away multiple of his manuscripts.

Why this profound hatred towards your own work? Why this sense of feeling inadequate about oneself and one’s work? After all, nothing is perfect in this world. Nothing will ever be, contrary to our manner of seeing things in black and white. You don’t find a solution to a problem, but rather a less worse problem.

And art can be beautiful, but never perfect.

Most writers, whether aware of it or not, write because they hope their works might some day come true. Those stories will never, ever come true. They’re just words on paper, bits and bytes on a computer drive. There’s magic in that, of course, and some words are known to have changed the world, but the stories never quite become true.

Life and fiction are so close to one another, it’s almost as if they touch each other. But they are never, ever the same thing.

That’s it. We life in an imperfect world, and we have to get used to that. We have to create and keep creating, for they will come a time when we won’t be able to do so anymore. Good or bad or simply awful, who cares? Really? If people don’t like it, fine. If people like it, it’s just the same. It’s important that you let go of the idea of perfection, of pleasing everyone, of creating something that is as beautiful in real life as it is inside your head.

This shouldn’t stop us, but rather inspire us. Nothing lasts forever, but we can hope it might.

6 thoughts on “The Bartleby Syndrome

  1. To knitters and quilters, leaving a mistake in a piece symbolizes the imperfection of the artist and the belief that only the creator is perfect.
    In my writing, I only know that I have done my best, even though no piece is ever perfect. I may go back more than once to correct typos or grammar, perhaps to add a clarifying sentence or paragraph, but when I hit publish I am satisfied that I have completed my task to the best of my ability, Then I let go of it. It is no longer up to me whether my words touch someone or not. I am gratified when they do, but I don’t stress when they don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

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