Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck

“Vengeance on a dumb brute!” cried Starbuck, “that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous.”

Starbuck begs this, the million dollar question, pretty early in Moby-Dick. Ahab’s answer is simple and engrossing, but not entirely sane. Ahab sees all earthly objects as physical representations of the objects’ creator. Moby-Dick may not be God, but God made Moby-Dick, and the act of creating a being of “outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it,” betrays the strength and malice of the creator. Ahab can’t attack God directly, but he can attack the results of God’s flaws, which bring pain into the world.

Excepting the mates, the entire crew sides with Ahab enthusiastically, with little clue as to why. In fact, the crew themselves seem surprised at the vigor of their own assent. Ahab calls the men together for an excessively dramatized show of passion and suffering, at one point shouting “with a terrific, loud, animal sob, like that of a heart-stricken moose.” He makes a cause of his revenge for all mankind, who “give no reasons for the torrid life they feel.” And then Ahab brings his show to a climax with supposedly ancient custom and ritual that could feel very important unless you remember it’s not.

Giving purpose to the pain of his own loss, Ahab gives the crew a similar diversion. Hard-toiled years alone at sea, away from a wife and children, monotonous horizon in all directions — I can understand the need for a story, an adventure, a secret ceremony. It’s a shame Ahab’s was the only offer.

Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck

All visible things
Are but a sculpted mask
Held before the visage
Of some unspeakable truth,
Nothing known but for our suffering.

I’ll strike at the mask,
Never mind it agent
or principal.

And I’d fight the sun
If it aimed at any pride
In all my Earthly bounty;
Scattering, every ember shared
For eternity.

The knots in my mind
Tighten ’round a critical
Density,
And furrow into my brow
With an irresistible gravity.

Now pass the cup
And we’ll ration out
The victory.

And I’d fight the sun
If it aimed at any pride
In all my Earthly bounty;
Scattering, every ember shared
For eternity.

And I’d fight the sun
If it aimed at any pride
In all my Earthly bounty;
Scattering, every ember shared
For eternity.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 20, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea May 16, 2009
Fiddle track written and performed by Molly Foresta

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