Beware of the rush to get back to normal business amid Covid-19

Epic novel Moby Dick offers us a lesson in dealing with the coronavirus maelstrom

Whale of a time: Customers drink at the Somewhere bar in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, earlier this month, after the state’s supreme court struck down governor Tony Evers’s stay-at-home order. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

Whale of a time: Customers drink at the Somewhere bar in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, earlier this month, after the state’s supreme court struck down governor Tony Evers’s stay-at-home order. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

The writer and philosopher John Moriarty regarded Moby Dick by Herman Melville as “the best diagnosis and prognosis we have of the Western adventure in culture”. Moriarty called it the Pequod culture, the name suggesting it would be doomed. Captain Ahab, who called himself Old Thunder, defied “the omnipotent God-in-the-Typhoon when the Pequod sailed straight into a typhoon, its end-of-the-world tempestuous blackness lit only by lightning”.

Moriarty contrasted Ahab’s Old Thunder rebellion against the natural world to the contemporaneous leader Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux in the western prairies. Black Elk reverently climbed Harney Peak in the Black Hills in South Dakota to contemplate the Thunder God for divine intervention for his people.

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