And so we reach the climactic confrontation between Ahab and the white whale, Moby Dick.
It’s a beautiful morning, which prompts Ahab to meditate on the way that feeling often overrules thinking:
“What a lovely day again! Were it a new-made world, and made for a summer-house to the angels, and this morning the first of its throwing over to them, a fairer day could not dawn upon the world. Here’s food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that’s tingling enough for mortal man! to think’s audacity. God only has that right and privilege.”
Ahab once again touches, with bitterness, on the incommensurability between the divine and the human, and with it, implicitly, the idea of the fall of man. History (in the Judeo-Christian conception) begins with man’s disobedience, which is why the “summer-house” is for the angels and not for man. The world that Ahab surveys is far from new-made: a lot of time has passed and for human beings time has brought pain, suffering, and all-too-often the desire for revenge, as if revenge could somehow provide relief for the human condition. Ahab meditates on the passing of time and then on the wind, another manifestation of the non-human, in what sounds to me like another reference to Lear: “Were I the wind, I’d blow no more on such a wicked, miserable world. I’d crawl somewhere to a cave, and slink there.”
I won’t comment, today, on what happens on the third day of the chase, in deference to anyone who is reading or listening to the novel for the first time, though I will be writing about it in the near future. Suffice it to say, for now, that Fedallah’s prophecies are indeed fulfilled in prose that is vivid and often riveting.
Here is one of my favorite passages not only from the novel but from the annals of literature written in English:
“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, i give-up the spear!”
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[Cross-posted with Patell and Waterman’s History of New York]