“Bartleby, the Scrivener”: the pure text, and the annotated versions

I will address the two annotated versions of “Bartleby, the Scrivener” separately.

Genius:

I don’t mean to be too harsh or cynical, but this annotated version of the story was almost unreadable for me. First of all, I was constantly taken out of the story due to the constant annotations. If this was the first and only time I had read this story, then I am pretty sure I would have walked away from my computer with no understanding of this great short story. The most infuriating parts were the “memes” and videos. The whole story seemed like it was being annotated by a bunch of stoned teenagers in the ninth grade. I also didn’t care for the “upvote” system. Voting up or down is often very useful on the internet, but in this case, the annotations with the most upvotes were basically the ones with references to the television show “The Office” (a good show by the way). There may have been a few decent annotations in this version. However, I was utterly distracted.¬†Luckily I read this version last.

Now that my rant is concluded I will move on to the next annotation.

Slate:

This was far superior to the Genius version of the story. Upon reflection, I believe there were two main reasons. First, it was annotated by one author. Second, the annotations were less frequent. I will address these two points individually.

Having one person annotate the story made it a succinct experience. It seemed that the annotator, Andrew Kahn, was engaged with the text, and he had a strong understanding of it. The other side of the coin is the “Genius” annotation. This version seemed like I had the whole internet shouting at me while I was trying to read the story. Having one person do the annotations also comes with some problems, but I will address that a bit later.

The second reason why I prefer this version is that Khan used the annotations sparingly. Spices are important for making a delicious meal, but one ruins the whole dish if they throw too much of every spice in there. The primary focus should always be “Bartleby, the Scrivener”. Furthermore, Khan used scholarly articles to show his train of thought (as opposed to the Genius version where people just Googled images they thought were funny). Whether or not I agreed with some of the essays he referenced, at least they were written by more trusted sources.

As I mentioned before, I have a few criticisms as well. These are more general¬†and could be said about literature criticism overall. When I read a text, especially for the first time, I think it is important to go in there without any preconceptions about the story. As soon as a critic says what they think something “means”, that will always be somewhere in my mind. It taints the purity of the text. This does not mean I think that no one should ever read into what people write about texts. There is certainly a place for this, and discussion is important to shed light on points that I could never have thought of. I suppose I think that it is more important to read the “pure” text the first time. Afterwards, it can be useful to see annotations and read essays on the text.

I think everyone should read the unforgettable short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener”. Just never, ever, the Genius’ annotated version for the first time.