Law in Contemporary Society

Strength in numbers? Quite the opposite.

Bartleby's great strength is his unity of character. On the strength of consistency alone—whatever multiplicity lies beneath the surface— he turns the employment relationship on its head. The narrator may try to explain his failure to budge Bartleby as pity for the poor guy, but that sounds like a rationalization for his own weakness to me. Why else would he actually walk around the block as Bartleby suggests when Bartleby doesn't let him come in the office? Nope, Bartleby is just stronger than the narrator, in spite of everything the narrator has going for him.

The Therapist
If unity of character is Bartleby's strength, multiplicity may be the therapist's weakness in “Something Split.” This guy made a ton of money; let's imagine that, prior to his work with Jack, he had been the consummate professional. But Suddenly, with Jack, something split. Jack's intense whisper and stare triggered an old self, a little kid with a lawyer father who wasn't a very good therapist. The split introduced multiplicity where there previously had been none, and that multiplicity compromised the therapist's effort to effectively play his chosen role.

Our selves and the roles they play

If these stories ring true, then I think it's worth thinking about how to be more like Bartleby and less like Jack's therapist. To the extent that multiple selves are a fact of life, how can we keep them from being a liability? Here are some ideas, which may not even be consistent with one another:

1. Trigger the right self for the role. When you are in court, do whatever you have to do to make sure your best lawyer self is up there. Same thing when you are on the field, or studying, or out at a bar. I think one obvious way of doing this is dressing the part. Listening to certain music would be another way to do it.

2. Get rid of the selves that we don't like. Is this a matter of will? Could the therapist have willed himself to stay professional when Jack got in his face? I don't know. At the very least, we should try not to nourish selves that we don't like by avoiding people, situations, stimuli, etc. that play into those selves.

Do we want one self?

It's fine to talk about trying to bring the right self to the roles we've put ourselves into, but don't we want to do more than play our chosen roles well? Don't we want to define them, rather than be defined by them? For this purpose, a single self seems useful. Maybe achieving this goal is a matter of playing only one role (like Stevens in The Remains of the Day) or maybe it's a matter of redefining the roles we do play, as we play them. Either way, it's worth questioning whether multiple personalities are ideal, even if they are real.

-- MichaelDreibelbis - 08 Apr 2009

(Greg Orr's response.)

I thought this was an interesting essay, and have a couple reactions to it.

It's interesting that after identifying a particular process, the next step you take is to examine not only its consequences, but what it means for the individual. Bartleby, with his singular self (if we can make that assumption), is 'better' than Jack's therapist. I read your essay to say that the difference here is categorical and instructive - Bartleby doesn't have a multiple self, and this is something to work for. The therapist, unable to deal with a certain stimuli has a fractured self, and we need to guard against becoming like him.

Bartleby, for what it's worth, is a fictional character in a way that the therapist isn't. It's absurdist literature to some degree, and he is a caricature more than a person. Perhaps, for this reason, I see some trouble in your ideas. We exist as a multiplicity, changed by certain stimuli no matter how well we guard against such stimuli. We are not (or so I'd like to think) able to control outside stimuli, and 'triggering the right self' is as much fiction as Bartleby - it sounds nice, but isn't as easy as written. Perhaps through repetition a lawyer, to take your example, can become better - but what impact this has on the self is up for debate (does this allow someone to 'control' their multiplicity, or does it merely make a particular response more able?).

I see this same problem in your second idea - or at least any positive answer to it. 'Getting rid of the selves we don't like' isn't even the goal in treating dissociative identity disorder, which is the most explicit form that this problem takes (perhaps this is an assumption that I shouldn't make, but I think it remains true, assumption or not, that a cohesion, not an elimination, is the better/ more realistic goal).

I'm also not sure that the answer is to merely avoid stimuli that you determine as 'negative'. Again, looking a bit at psychology, the best way to treat a phobia is to overexpose. Simply avoiding stimuli is an impossible solution, given the number of unknown interactions that occur throughout life. Although I don't think this means the opposite (simply seeking out stimuli that moves a person towards a self that is 'negative') is necessarily an answer, simply ignoring a 'problem' doesn't fix it.

Lastly, I'm not sure if I see eye to eye with you on exactly what multiplicity of self indicates. In your last paragraph you talk of taking on a 'role', which sounds like a character or costumed form of self. I see it more as a particular response by an individual, still very much a 'me' and not a 'pretend me' dealing with certain stimuli. In that context, it isn't a question of 'playing a role' versus 'defining a role' but more a question of how I respond to a particular context (and how, then, the interaction of my certain self interacts with other certain selves).

  • I have fixed the last paragraph to better reflect the point I was trying to make--that stuff about roles wasn't clear.

Bartleby is a character, and can, I think, afford to be one dimensional in self. I'm not so sure that we can, nor should.

Quick Side Note: I enjoyed your essay, even though my response seems to debate every point. I think most of this comes from a difference in how we're interpreting exactly what a multiple self means for an individual. My comments are a reflection of this, and I apologize if this comes off as harsh at all (it certainly isn't meant that way).


Webs Webs

r5 - 07 Jan 2010 - 22:40:03 - IanSullivan
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