Ishmael and Ahab

By Jeffrey Goldberg

I was poking around The Atlantic's archives the other day and came across a wonderful essay by Alfred Kazin on Moby Dick, which is the official favorite American novel of at least one other blogger here. For whatever reason, I couldn't find the piece, which was published in 1956,  on on the Atlantic's website archive. Anyway, here's Kazin on one of the many reasons Melville was, to borrow from Ta-Nehisi, such a bad-ass:

"The book is not only a great skin of language stretched to fit the world of man's philosophic wandering; it is also a world of moral tyranny and violent action, in which the principal actor is Ahab. With the entry of Ahab a harsh new rhythm enters the book, and from now on two rhythms -- one reflective, the other forceful -- alternate to show us the world in which man's thinking and man's doing follow each its own law. Ishmael's thought consciously extends itself to get behind the world of appearances; he wants to see and to understand everything. Ahab's drive is to prove, not to discover; the world that tortures Ishmael by its horrid vacancy has tempted Ahab into thinking that he can take it over. He seeks to dominate nature, to impose and to inflict his will on the outside world -- whether it be the crew that must jump to his orders or the great white whale that is essentially indifferent to him. As Ishmael is all rumination, so Ahab is all will. Both are thinkers, the difference being that Ishmael thinks as a bystander, has identified his own state with man's utter unimportance in nature. Ahab, by contrast, actively seeks the whale in order to assert man's supremacy over what swims before him as the 'monomaniac incarnation' of a superior power."

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/03/ishmael-and-ahab/37269/