Among the conversations taking place about the Occupy movement over at Stanford University’s Arcade blogs, devoted to discussing literature and the humanities in the context of current events, two scholars consider the resonance and relevance of literary texts and criticism.
Commenting on the reading event of “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street,” staged in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street, Lauren Klein examines the renewed interest in Herman Melville’s short story:
But what can be learned from “Bartleby” today, as OWS enters its third month, and as its founding principle of passive resistance is increasingly challenged by violent means, is not simply the importance (and obligation) of an active interrogation of social and political life; it’s that an inscrutable phrase– “We are the 99%,” or “I would prefer not to”– can enter into daily conversation, can itself be replicated, and in this way effect fundamental change.
Meanwhile, Christopher Warley provocatively asks, “Can the upper class speak?” What, he wonders, does the 1% look like?
A prime difficulty faced by both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street (the two movements have a lot in common), then, is identifying those whom they wish to denounce. Tea drinkers? A street? Wouldn’t it be nicer if you could point to an actual person, or an actual group of people, or—and here is the opening for literary criticism—the image or representation of an upper class? If “tea party” is supposed to mean 99%, and “Wall Street” is supposed to mean 1%, I think there is a problem. The inability to put a face on the paradoxical new elite suggests that a tax bracket is not a very good indicator of class. Numbers and percentages (1%, 99%) only end up repeating the problem: numbers don’t really tell you who the 1% are, because they don’t even begin to address what, exactly, upper class means.
Read his piece in full to see why he thinks Caddyshack, a Chevy Chase movie about golf, provides some answers and what that portends for literary criticism.