The Bartleby Syndrome

Jan 6, 2022 4 min read
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.

This so-called Bartleby Syndrome 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, this is a rather nefarious aftermath of crippling self-doubt, listening to an inner voice that becomes a tyrant.

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

Another one, Kafka, told his longtime friend 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 one's 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 desire to perceive everything around us in black and white.

And art can be beautiful, but never perfect. To paraphrase Leonardo da Vinci, art is never finished, it is only abandoned. We let go, knowing full well that nothing can ever be perfect. We let go, for the sake of our own mental health.

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