"Subtraction from Supply and Demand:
Herman Melville’s “Story of Wall Street” (1853), in which a lawyer gives an account of the life of the scrivener Bartleby, has been extensively commented on by scholars from a variety of disciplines. Many have found his enigmatic formula “I would prefer not to” to be the embodiment of a long sought-after remedy for seemingly fruitless revolts against oppressive capitalist mechanisms. In order to examine the potential of Bartleby’s challenge to power, I will read it against the representational authority of economic theory, and, more specifically, the supply and demand model. The close reading of Melville’s short story reveals that Bartleby’s resistance to productivity and consumption indeed “opens up a new space outside the hegemonic position and its negation” (Žižek 393). In addition, I will provide a reading regarding representational power in relation to the narrator and the (de)stabilization of systems of meaning production, in which I will draw mostly on works by Agamben and Deleuze. Bringing together these three readings, however, renders doubtful the potential of such challenges to power. In fact, Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to” might end up reaffirming already existing power structures.