An arrow, and so a harpoon, is stopped while it is moving. Sprung from bow, or hurled from hand, the weapon speeding through the air is frozen “in the Now.” Aristotle solves the problem pragmatically. Time, like space, is infinite in two ways: infinite in extremity and infinite in division. Though nothing finite can approach an infinite extreme, contact is possible for that which is infinite in division. So it is, one could argue, the Pequod chases the Whale.
But Moby-Dick is not a pragmatic novel, nor is Ahab a philosopher of common-sense. We must risk some other explanation of how Ahab accomplishes his pursuit of the White Whale whose most menacing qualities have nothing to do with his ferocity, but rather lurk more hauntingly in his attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and immortality. Ahab is the emblem of the finite in pursuit of the infinite; his harpoon is emblematic of himself. Ahab does not doubt his capacity to pierce through either the infinitesimal distance that remains always between us and the things we pursue, nor does he doubt that when he throws his harpoon the moment of throwing it will not still it in the air.
Time, Kant says, is intuitive grasp of our inner reality. Space is the intuitive realization of an outer one. One cannot intuit time in another object; one cannot guess at the truth of time for that which is not one’s self. Perhaps the nature of the “arrow stopped while it is moving” results from breaching an outer reality with an inner one. The impossibility is not merely the paradox that time arrests motion in any given instant of time, but is the result of deeper, more inherent paradox, in which the interior world cannot trespass into the exterior one without itself becoming exterior, and hence, no longer of time, or in time, as its fundamental reality. The arrow stops in time because it no longer is in time.
The arrow may stop, unable even to pierce the air it travels through, but the harpoon speeds forth and wounds. The harpoon does so by virtue of the arm that cast it. Others blades, we know, remain in Moby Dick still—rusting, perhaps, away. More to the point, other harpoons seem embedded in the White Whale because the honed edge is infinitesimally close to wounding the skin it would pierce. Other harpoons are Zeno’s arrows—but not Ahab’s. Ahab’s blood-forged blade can wound the White Whale because he is a man removed from Zeno’s Paradox by virtue of his immersion in a deeper one.
Ahab is wounded man who in return would wound. It is by virtue of his wound that Ahab is capable of wounding. For Ahab’s damage is unique. His wound has undone the limit between his inner world and the outer one. Time leaks into space, and likewise, space fills time. The division between inner and outer experience has ceased to limit either, but all unfolds unto a single map whose blank spaces speak both of time and space uncharted. Ahab’s brain is a volume and so traversable. Ahab’s world is temporal and so fated