The World in Time

Richard J. King

Friday, February 14, 2020

A Fisherman on the Back of a Whale, c. 1277. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

“I, like so many other readers of Moby-Dick,” scholar and sailor Richard J. King writes in Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick, “perceive the world’s oceans to be vulnerable, fragile, and in need of our stewardship. We have overfished the water, overdeveloped coastal habitats, and rocketed the rate of the introduction of marine invasive species. We have polluted the sea with oil spills, chemical runoff, and pervasive plastics. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by over 70 percent since Melville’s years at sea, and is still rising…We hurl harpoons at a faceless ocean, slowly killing ourselves as we drag down entire ecosystems of life along with us. Because of sea level rise and the ungraspable phantom of melting polar and glacial ice, Melville sailed over a Pacific Ocean in the 1840s that was likely at least eight inches lower than it is today.”

 

And yet, he adds, we still “continue to revere our twenty-first-century ocean in a similar way as did Noah, Jonah, and Ahab. We still envision the sea, even with all our technological advancements and scientific knowledge, as relentless and indifferent and immortal and sublime and eager to lure us in with a trace of sympathy and kindness then kick our ass and not even look back.”

 

In this episode of The World in Time, Lewis H. Lapham and Richard J. King discuss Melville’s ocean, and how its waves continue to crash into ours.

 

Lewis H. Lapham speaks with Richard J. King, author of Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick.

 

Thanks to our generous donors. Lead support for this podcast has been provided by Elizabeth “Lisette” Prince. Additional support was provided by James J. “Jimmy” Coleman Jr.

Discussed in this episode

More Podcasts

June 15, 2011

The World in Time:

To End All Wars

Lewis Lapham talks with author Adam Hochschild about the struggles of the antiwar movement in World War I–era Britain. More

May 17, 2019

The World in Time:

Nigel Hamilton

Lewis H. Lapham talks with the author of War and Peace: FDR’s Final Odyssey: D-Day to Yalta, 1943–1945. More

September 27, 2019

The World in Time:

William Dalrymple

Lewis H. Lapham speaks with the author of The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company. More

November 22, 2019

The World in Time:

Matt Stoller

Lewis H. Lapham speaks with the author of Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy. More

April 17, 2017

The World in Time:

Andrew Bacevich

Lewis Lapham talks to Andrew J. Bacevich about America’s shift from the Cold War to war in the Middle East. More

July 27, 2018

The World in Time:

Steven Ujifusa

Lewis H. Lapham talks with Steven Ujifusa, author of Barons of the Sea: And Their Race to Build the World’s Fastest Clipper Ship. More