Click to Subscribe
▶  More from Fiction Under a Troubled Master-Eye
‘Khan of the Plank’
Under a Troubled Master-Eye #4: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Chapter 30
The Pipe
Ahab sends a sailor for his stool and his pipe:
“Lighting the pipe from the binnacle lamp and planting the stool on the weather-side of the deck, he sat and smoked.”
“In old Norse times, the thrones of the sea-loving Danish kings were fabricated, saith tradition, of the tusks of the narwhale. How could one look at Ahab then, seated on that tripod or bones, without bethinking of the royalty he symbolized? For a khan of the plank and a king of the sea, and a great lord of leviathans was Ahab.”
Such insights were largely lost on the readers of Melville’s time, as the illiterate were pressed into industry as cogs in the industrial wheel—or more apt, its grease. But three generations after its writing, the story of Ahab and his sterile plight even as he savagely quested to avenge the maiming occasioned by his pursuit of modern wealth, would resonate with readers long denatured by the industrial process which Melville had glimpsed in prosaic form aboard a whaling ship seeking oil to keep nature’s night at bay. One might even say that Times Square, Manhattan and the Las Vegas Strip lit by night are all reflected down through the years in Ahab’s brooding upon his cannibal of a stool.
Before the page is turned, the chapter is done, and Ahab casts away the quest for serenity embodied in the no longer soothing pipe and began “lurchingly” pacing the planks, symbolizing our every maimed soul on the hamster wheel of HOLY ECONOMY.
A Well of Heroes
prev:  ‘The Night-Cloaked Deck’     ‹  fiction  ›     next:  ‘Kicked by a Great Man’
eBook
pillagers of time
eBook
den of the ender
eBook
the lesser angels of our nature
eBook
the greatest lie ever sold
eBook
broken dance
Add Comment
JJ PrzybylskiAugust 15, 2019 5:40 PM UTC

I read Moby Dick while seated in Riverside Park in Jacksonville, watching freighters in the distance as they entered and left the harbor.

Being all alone in the world, doing a kind of undercover work for an old Military School pal of my dad's who had a car-importing business that was being internally destroyed by illiterate workers and indifferent management, I was grasping. I grasped onto the more or less orphaned narrator and Melville's humors. Plus, as an amateur spy on the Atlantic Coast, I internalized the shapeshifting nature of the ocean.

Being from Detroit, I was outta my element. But I recognized Ahab's ship as a floating factory and I recognized Ahab on a base level at grandiose prick. Like an arch-foreman who'd made an existential decision to always be a hard-ass, come rain or come shine, and was proud of it.

The historical depth of Moby Dick escaped me, but not the sexual metaphysics. I knew that shapeshifting, which the ocean exemplified, was a female characteristic. And I knew that holding one's ground, especially at sea in defiance of pitch and roll, was a male characteristic. Ultimately I knew that Ahab was an anti-hero who was making a heroic effort all the same. A tragic male figure with a dark quest. But, at 20 years old, I relished seeing him as a simple overbearing bossman and prick.

Thanks for your deeper look into the novel. I enjoy the real-life references of your commentators, so forgive me for blabbing about myself. My intent is to verify your value and the value of your readers' contributions.
responds:August 18, 2019 2:53 PM UTC

JJ,

I have been avoiding doing this out of laziness, and you just made me glad that another reader goading me into doing this.

A few years ago I was training a lawyer, who had been a cop, who told me about the one college class he loved, which was an exegesis of Moby Dick. His relations to me in the locker room just came to mind as I read your relation here.

Thanks.