A literary reflection to my students…
The lowering for whales, the appearance of Fedallah’s crew, the vivid descriptions of the first chase in a sudden and unrelenting gale, the fatalistic joy of resigning oneself to fate, the awesome poetic intensity of Melville’s prose—the intermixing of the mundane with the profound and metaphysical, balancing historical accuracies with inner musings on motives and aspirations all make for a compelling read in chapters 42-51.
There is nothing to get but the sublimity of the experience. These are words that must be read–and perhaps reread many times–to appreciate the accumulating power. To become lost by and in the words of Moby Dick is to be lost in the briny mix of our own lives. I read and my mind wanders and seeps into my own life with its mix of romantic dreams lost in the colder harshness of everyday reality.
I have to let myself be pulled and borne by the power of the sea and the maniacal focus on desire, for somewhere in us is the monomania of Ahab equally balanced by the stoic sense of purpose of Starbuck, the self-abnegating and joyful acceptance of fate in Flask and Stubbs, the sheer wonderment and astonishment of Ishmael to simply be there, the visceral and primal wisdom of Queequeg, and the crazy interplay and intermixing of the crew in their universal worldliness and embrace of a common vision—and Moby Dick, the ubiquitous beast, dream, nightmare, and reality that courses through the pulsing aorta of the narrative.
This reading is not and should not be a chore. It is the adventure itself, and a hard and tasking adventure it is that you are tackling day and day out, no less than the crew itself, for the Pequod is, through better and worse, our classroom and our teacher, and we must all stand watch on the mastheads and scan for distant spouts on a vast horizon even, like the mysterious Fedullah, on nights lit only by the sliver of a moon–framed against the vastness of a cold and unforgiving sea and one man’s usurpation of a collective odyssey.