Captain Ahab was not the only madman on the irrational quest in Moby Dick. There was Bulkington for example, another member of the crew. He arrived at home in winter after a four-year voyage in search of whales and then immediately set off again for still another tempestuous term. As Ishmael said, “The land seemed scorching to his feet.” To stay in port to be safe was pitiful he thought. Ahab would have agreed. In Ahab’s case the day after he got married, he left on a voyage and for 40 years of voyaging he never spent more than 3 years with his wife and child.
Ishmael speaking perhaps for Melville then makes the crucial point that this bravery applies not just to sailors. It is just as important for thinkers. They too must be brave. Ishmael asks Bulkington:
“Glimpses do we happen so see of mortally intolerable truth; that all deep earnest thinking; that all deep earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of the sea; while wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore.
But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God—so better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety. For worm-like, then, on who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! Is all this agony to vain? Take heart, take heart. O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of the ocean perishing—straight up, leaps thy apotheosis.”
Thinkers too must be independent and not afraid of the open ocean. There is treachery for them on shore where things are safe.
Such voyagers were not afraid to help the Pequod “to thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves.” They were scornful of the safety of port:
“The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in doing so fights ‘gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea’s landless again; for refuge’s sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend and her bitterest foe.”
This quest is not for the faint of heart. None but the brave are welcome. Those who go on this quest do not flee danger, they embrace it. And that applies to thinkers as well as doers!
This reminds me of what my great Uncle Peter Vogt told me after he asked me where I was going that evening. When I told him I was going to Labroquerie to the bar, he said, “If you had been in the Russian Revolution, like me, you wouldn’t bother going to Labroquerie with friends for a beer.” That would be too shallow. That’s not what thinkers should do with their time.
They should be prepared to think dangerously!