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The Ship of State

I’m Moby Dick, and we’ve got three or four members of Congress who are trying to cast themselves in the part of Captain Ahab—so, they’re going to keep coming.
Karl Rove

From Moby-Dick: Or, The Whale, Chapter 135, “The Chase—The Third Day”:

And now marking that the vane or flag was gone from the main-mast-head, he shouted to Tashtego, who had just gained that perch, to descend again for another flag, and a hammer and nails, and so nail it to the mast….

Meantime, for that one beholding instant, Tashtego’s mast-head hammer remained suspended in his hand; and the red flag, half-wrapping him as with a plaid, then streamed itself straight out from him, as his own forward-flowing heart; while Starbuck and Stubb, standing upon the bowsprit beneath, caught sight of the down-coming monster just as soon as he….

From the ship’s bows, nearly all the seamen now hung inactive; hammers, bits of plank, lances, and harpoons, mechanically retained in their hands, just as they had darted from their various employments; all their enchanted eyes intent upon the whale, which from side to side strangely vibrating his predestinating head, sent a broad band of overspreading semicircular foam before him as he rushed. Retribution, swift vengeance, eternal malice were in his whole aspect, and spite of all that mortal man could do, the solid white buttress of his forehead smote the ship’s starboard bow, till men and timbers reeled. Some fell flat upon their faces. Like dislodged trucks, the heads of the harpooneers aloft shook on their bull-like necks. Through the breach, they heard the waters pour, as mountain torrents down a flume.

“The ship! The hearse!—the second hearse!” cried Ahab from the boat; “its wood could only be American!”

Diving beneath the settling ship, the whale ran quivering along its keel; but turning under water, swiftly shot to the surface again, far off the other bow, but within a few yards of Ahab’s boat, where, for a time, he lay quiescent.

Gregory Peck, as Ahab “I turn my body from the sun. What ho, Tashtego! Let me hear thy hammer. Oh! ye three unsurrendered spires of mine; thou uncracked keel; and only god-bullied hull; thou firm deck, and haughty helm, and Pole-pointed prow, – death-glorious ship! must ye then perish, and without me? Am I cut off from the last fond pride of meanest shipwrecked captains? Oh, lonely death on lonely life! Oh, now I feel my topmost greatness lies in my topmost grief. Ho, ho! from all your furthest bounds, pour ye now in, ye bold billows of my whole foregone life, and top this one piled comber of my death! Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!”

The harpoon was darted; the stricken whale flew forward; with igniting velocity the line ran through the groove;—ran foul. Ahab stooped to clear it; he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone. Next instant, the heavy eye-splice in the rope’s final end flew out of the stark-empty tub, knocked down an oarsman, and smiting the sea, disappeared in its depths.

For an instant, the tranced boat’s crew stood still; then turned. “The ship? Great God, where is the ship?” Soon they through dim, bewildering mediums saw her sidelong fading phantom, as in the gaseous Fata Morgana; only the uppermost masts out of water; while fixed by infatuation, or fidelity, or fate, to their once lofty perches, the pagan harpooneers still maintained their sinking lookouts on the sea. And now, concentric circles seized the lone boat itself, and all its crew, and each floating oar, and every lance-pole, and spinning, animate and inanimate, all round and round in one vortex, carried the smallest chip of the Pequod out of sight.

But as the last whelmings intermixingly poured themselves over the sunken head of the Indian at the mainmast, leaving a few inches of the erect spar yet visible, together with long streaming yards of the flag, which calmly undulated, with ironical coincidings, over the destroying billows they almost touched; – at that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act of nailing the flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.

With the whale the Pequod is swallowed by the sea, but not without the symbolically grandiose show of an Indian’s nailing an eagle to the flag: I’d say Rove’s allusion fits, wouldn’t you?

 

Comments

So who is the Pequod?

Ahab’s whaling ship; symbolically, the U.S. itself.

So congressional Democrats (Ahab), in their futile obsession with nabbing Rove (MD), will bring about their own death and the destruction of the US (the Pequot) as well?

Yeah, I’d say that’s a really good allusion if you’re looking at things from Rove’s concocted world.

Is that what you meant? I can’t tell.

Rather, that Rove himself would bring about the destruction of the country—it’s the whale, after all, that buries the ship.

Ah, I see. Sorry. I took the analogies too far. Always. taking. things. too. far!

It’s not a bad interpretation of the novel, really. I cut Starbuck’s final missive to Ahab to turn back from his quest, which has all the characteristics of saying, “You’ll destroy us all.” But it’s always a problem with allusions. I very much doubt Rove was referring to this particular scene in his comment, but rather to a general affirmation that congressional Democrats are on a monomaniacal hunt for him. In a certain sense, it’s true enough, and there’s probably some political blowback going on that doesn’t really have much to do with a search for the truth. But when you happen to have installed yourself as a puppetmaster, you can’t very well be surprised when the puppets break free and suspect your complicity in their puppetness despite the fact that you’re whistling nonchalantly and staring off in another direction.