The White Whale

I love these sorts of articles, where a writer uses a book you haven’t read in a few years to explain the world.

Melville feverishly scribbled a diagnosis, prognosis and prescription for the human condition. We are all Ishmael the ingénue and Starbuck the pragmatist and Ahab the maniac, stuck on a ship driven by winds we cannot predict, helmed by a mind not fully comprehensible, whose compulsions we don’t control. The world is an elusive whale; we might choose coexistence or destruction. And though we do not decide the outcome, the hands on those oars are ours; each stroke invites consequences. And lest we overlook the obvious: The men went equipped to do harm in their quest for — oil. If we are all Ishmael and Starbuck and Ahab, caught in our collective addiction, the whales exemplify a counterculture, a way of living weightlessly, of not draining the world that floats them.

Carl Safina, “Melville’s Whale Was a Warning We Failed to Heed,” The New York Times, May 2, 2020, sec. Books, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/02/books/review/herman-melville-moby-dick.html.