“Come, Come!”: Bartleby and Lily Briscoe as Nietzschean Subjects
In this chapter, I look at two texts that epitomize the Nietzschean subject—and hence misinterpellated subects-- that I examine in chapter 4. In the chapter I argue that Bartleby, far from being passive and a nonagent, is actually the only true agent in the story. Everyone else is following a script, doing what they are told (or interpellated) to do. Bartleby’s famous line “I would prefer not to” is not a form of giving up on life but rather an expression of amor fati, an indication that he follows only his own preferences rather than the projections that normally dictate our lives. In To the Lighthouse, I argue that Virginia Woolf practices a Nietzschean form of textual disappointment by holding out but then negating Mrs. Ramsay as the erstwhile heroine. Mrs. Ramsay, in contrast to her husband, seems to offer a redemptive (and suitably complex) version of subjectivity that any of us would want to be. Yet I argue that the true hero of the novel is Lily Briscoe, the homely artist who lives at the fringe of the Ramsays’ life. Lily exemplifies the misinterpellated subject, the one whom no one would ever want to be. She is the only character in the novel who is in a sense an agent, someone who is not swept up in the seduction and deceit of interpellated forms of subjectivity.