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Is Ahab Ahab

In Melville's Moby-Dick, or The Whale, Ahab calls himself "madness maddened" and across the oceans he unleashes his madness in an unerring quest to wreak his hate upon the white whale, that agent or principal of the "inscrutable malignancy" lurking behind the phenomenal world. Milder asserts that by making Ahab mad, Melville found the means to present an apocalyptic act of a hero, free of the constraints of realism, that might express the disillusionment of the cultural moment that had witnessed the end of religion, the frustration of the Romantic quest, and the end of the possibility for spiritual meaning in the universe. Thus, Ahab is rendered believable. But by making Ahab mad, he risked rendering him irrelevant. For Ahab to remain important for the reader, he must not be reduced to mere madness. Once he speaks only for the aberrant, one need no longer grapple with him, need not account for Ahab. We dismiss Calibans, Pucks, even Iagos, but we cannot easily dismiss Lear and McBeth and Hamlet or Ahab. The madman and the possessed can be exiled from our affinities as wholly "other," such that one inscribes their behavior in a circle of experience separate from our own, for unless by some event beyond our control we ourselves become monsters or madmen, the madman's reality remains sufficiently and safely different from our own. To attempt to account for Ahab, one must acknowledge his reality as a possible reality and admit the potential for the Ahabian in one's own possible reality. While Milder's identification of the demonic adds another significant resonance and heuristic lens, an interpretation based upon the demonic risks reducing Ahab to one possessed, which like Ahab's "madness," can reduce Ahab to the wholly aberrant or mechanical. Like a Romantic visionary or transcendentalist, like a Whitman, Ahab seeks to match the universe, to see through the veil of Maya to the Absolute behind it. But unlike Whitman, Ahab's expan...

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