We all know the Bartleybys, they are the beings inhabited by a profound denial of the world. They are named after the scrivener Bartleby, a clerk in a story by Herman Melville, who has never been seen reading, not even a newspaper; who for long periods stands looking out at a pale window behind a folding screen, upon a brick wall in Wall Street; who has never been anywhere, living as he does in the office, spending even his Sundays there; who has never said who he is, or where he comes from, or whether he has any relatives in this world; who, when he is asked where he was born or given a job to do or asked to reveal himself, responds always by saying,"I would prefer not to."
I read "Bartleby the Scrivener" myself back in college, and maybe before that as well. It's stuck with me, because Bartlby just is. His malady, if you want to call it that, has no real explanation, be it physical, mental, or social. And for a lot of cases that feels true-to-life.
The above quote is actually from Enrique Vila-Matas' Bartleyby & Co. It's a novel that's also an essay on what the narrator calls "the authors of the No." Those who for whatever reason stopped writing or never started. (Arguably David Bowie has been in this club for almost a decade now.) As a character, the narrator is somewhat interesting in himself, obviously feeling some kinship with his subjects. He's also more than a little off, psychologically speaking, although this builds subtly. It's a more low-key version of what Nabokov did with Charles Kinbote in Pale Fire
A lot of the essays are worth reading on their own, certainly. A lot of the Bartlebys are interesting people, in a way that productive authors rarely are. One particular instance is Swiss writer Robert Walser. Walser did sidle his way into publishing fiction, and there are a couple of volumes of his short stories, as well as the novel Jakob von Gunten. Eventually, though, he had himself committed at his sister's urging. Thereafter he only wrote incomprehensible and microscopic lettering. This is the man Kafka wanted to emulate, and in some sense did.