There is no steady unretracting progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations , and at the last one pause:–through infacy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If.
Chapter 114, The Gilder
When first reading Moby-Dick in college I was struck by a fellow student’s visceral distaste for this idea of there being no resolution. She saw nothing redeemable in the unresolved and especially disturbed by the idea that one can never know everything. “What,” she demanded of the professor “was the point of all this education if we were never going to reach a point where we learned it all?”
I can think of no bleaker place to be than at the end of knowledge. Nothing left to learn, nothing left to discover. No room left to grow. I hate tidy conclusions. I think part of what I love so much about Moby-Dick is I can read it time and again, read it piece by piece, I can read it at any random page and every time I find something new. There is a new perspective I bring to the words based on the day, my mood, where I am physically, personally and professionally. Moby-Dick responds as a living body of work. It does not supply answers, but rather offers a framework within which we can experience the ebb and flow of intensity and humor, of horror and peace. As we experience the tension between the tides, the push and pull, we will never land in the same place twice.
Just as in life, we are only in this moment for the now. Within a breath that moment is dissipating behind us, and the next culminating before us. This is growth, and this is the creative. We spend a life time riding these tides, and we live in the midst of them. The past still exists, it is just in a different place, and we are not there. To say there must be a conclusion is akin to saying once I ride the last wave the ocean goes dry. At that point, I am forced to cease moving forward. I am forced into an unnatural death. I do not want to follow a course determined by the overwhelming pull of the whirlpool, nor driven by a blind obsession to annihilate the White Whale. I want to remain in the swells of life’s waves, to keep riding, keep learning, keep changing, and feel it all.
I recently procured a copy of John Bryant’s Melville &Repose, The Rhetoric of Humor in the American Renaissance. Chapter 10 is titled: Ishmael: Sounding the Repose of IF and, as I read it, I felt electrified by my recognition of Bryant’s eloquent phrasing:
The circularity of human consciousness is Ishmael’s salvation but Ahab’s hell. Ahab can desire the eternal mildness of life; he accepts that calms [will be] crossed by storms”; and he even recognizes the” mingled, mingling” of sensibilities that contribute to manhood’s pondering repose of If” What Ahab cannot endure is the cyclicity of mentalities in which this moment of maturity is not as a culmination, but only one of several recurring phases of perpetual development.
Embrace the perpetual. It contains the past, the present and the future. Limitless, this is our eternity.