Ahab (Sequels) (excerpt) — Pierre Senges (Jacob Seifring and Tegan Raleigh trans.)

Back on dry land Ahab rids himself of salt and of his wooden leg

He gets his wooden leg replaced for a ridiculously low price: he learns to accept his hobble, it suits his character, and his unsteady humors, and it inspires commentaries, including his own — but to hop is a more awkward maneuver: a few yards if he has to, if he ever has the talent to choreograph it all, striking a kind of balance between comedy and Nosferatu-style terror, but after a few steps there’s no contest, clownishness gets the better of dread. Another leg, for three dollars, in the shop of a furniture dealer who, while he wait- ed, was nice enough to saw off the foot of an imitation Louis XVI side table made in Oregon, too short by a third of an inch, oh well, perfection can always wait till tomorrow. Rid of salt, he ventures into the city,[1] that of New York, New York, due west, turning his back on the ocean (let it sink into oblivion: let it storm, let it lap, let it foam and crest to amuse itself in the middle of nowhere, let it swallow up ocean liners whole, little does he care, the captain leaves it behind for fields of rye, “there he’ll sow the seeds of the epic”). More realistically, he heads north up Broadway, having a banana for each of his three meals, then a pretzel or a bagel bought at the corner of such-and-such street and avenue; with every step, more a landsman, not a plowman exactly, but in any case a pedestrian on the sidewalks; back in the city, he relearns the mysterious rules that govern it, those of traffic, those of politeness.

His first years back on land are years of reintegration and adaptation (he should have known that was coming), in other words, years of humiliations, accompanied by instruction, followed by obedience, strategies of effacement, of mimicry, of extreme caution, then cunning, the progressive use of codes, of all those tacit rules assembled in a city at the same place and time like a legion of three thousand citizens waiting for the theater doors to open the night of a premiere, in the rain, between the light of the marquees and the cars’ headlights.

The work-day week: odd jobs: no way he’s going to pre- pare fish filets or crack open oysters and lay them out on a carpet of seaweed and ice: he would sooner be a black- smith, or perhaps even a puller of teeth, if there’s still a mar- ket for that, if that kind of trade still exists at the time of the first pneumatics. After forging horseshoes he becomes a shoeshiner, an iconic position, so close to shoesoles the whole livelong day, with an unrestricted view of details that might otherwise go unnoticed, which would have been a shame; he learns to wax the entirety of the leather surface without touching the laces, he acquires the abili ty to distinguish with a quick glance brown from maroon, maroon from chestnut, and six or seven nuances of black, bloody black never completely black (cherry black, prune black, petroleum black, sepia, old inkblot black, burnt paper, stump black, charcoal): in twelve months of shining shoes, he might have acquired the vocabulary of a minor master in the Academy of Fine Arts. (That’s what he tells himself over and over again to maintain his dignity: the most wretch- ed jobs all have their respective savoir-faires, and competence in the back of a greasy spoon can also be a trap, as one calls upon it when one needs a reason to feel proud — even swinging a bag of garbage into a dump truck with the poise of a golfer demands careful attention to one’s stance, to balance, elasticity, looseness, and strength: to the swing of a golf champion we could happily add the precision of the basketball player.) After that, a deliveryman for blocks of ice, plodding up staircases to the top floor, the ice block on his shoulder wrapped in a towel (at every door people greet him not like the Messiah nor as one of the Magi, but with the exact recognition that’s due to him, no more, no less; his customers greet him as their equal, for those buyers of blocks of ice are likely deliverymen, too). After that, hotel porter: this being a form of social climbing, the proof of free enterprise and the freedom to succeed: shaved twice daily, dressed in red and yellow with a hat shaped like a hat box, and dissimulating the captain’s age under, what’s that ? an air of adolescent jest. He opens and shuts the hotel door before and after families, then remains standing there like one of the hotel decorations, as he blindly counts the quarters in his pocket with his fingers — when he’s not opening and closing, he sets the revolving doors spinning, which is so much more fun: practically the beginnings of an artist’s (a musician’s) life.

Later, he becomes a kitchen hand, a saucier, peeler, and prepper in a French restaurant — every morning, he has that real or unreal nightmare of braids of garlic being unload- ed by the ton by the service door, and on the other side of the door, the Léons and Raymonds relaxedly chopping and chatting and singing old Batignolles tunes as if they were stuffing bales full of cotton: the same gesture repeated over and over, till they die. Braids or not, Ahab stays in the kitchen, savoring the steam from the hot oil, hearing the exotic names consommé and blanquette, knowing or thinking that he knows the different stages a cheese goes through, all those Gallic hierarchies, from blanc, frais, and mou on up through noir, sec, and solide like a hockey puck on ice: he sees the milk curds giving way to mold, and the chef would like to bask in that mold, he associates it with the smack of the

tongue against the palate to make his sip of wine the more exultant (so he says). He also dreams that he had to raise frogs, and then chase after them, late nights when ten snobs came to play at being Old World artists seated around a table, lovers of the persillade they came to love in Paris; truth be told, most of the time he doesn’t do anything but pour pots of boiled vegetables into a cone-shaped colander: the French call that a chinois, and they retain their seriousness (in truth their humor dates back to Louis XIV).

Gentleness and inertia of water: Moby Dick’s soft grudge

The adventures of Scarface and of Little Cæsar are frenzied on terra firma, they are fatal after high-speed pursuits: since they don’t take place in the ocean, they don’t bene- fit from the gentleness of its waters, which makes the most impulsive gestures seem to have the slowness of a dance long premeditated: there can be no haste there, nor any just as deplorable premature fervors, and no irritation, apart from the rage of the squid, and even then, its ink cloud still floats, by its essence — it is aggressive, but in undergoing dilution it proves the indeterminacy of its causes, which renders it almost elegant. At the bottom of the ocean, you must know, many months separate the intention from the blow dealt, and seeing as this whale is slow, a defeat takes years before it becomes an occasion for rancor: a little hesitation suffices to let long months elapse, some seasons chock-full of expectancy: two or three times round the planet through the warm seas and through the icy seas under a bluish ceil- ing, and one more year, more bated breath (we had better call that circumspection), before deciding to pass definitively from hypothesis to combat.

[1] 40° 42′ 28″ North, 74° 01′ 43″ West (Trinity Church, near Wall Street).

Pierre Senges’ Ahab (Sequels) (tr. Jacob Siefring & Tegan Raleigh) will be published by Contra Mundum Press at the end of the month. Other of his translated works include: The Major Refutation (tr. Jacob Siefring), also with Contra Mundum, Fragments of Lichtenburg (tr. Gregory Flanders), Dalkey Archive Press, Geometry in the Dust (tr. Jacob Siefring, with illustrations by Killoffer), Inside the Castle, and both Falstaff: Apotheosis and Studies of Silhouettes (tr. Jacob Siefring) from Sublunary Editions, who will also publish Rabelais’s Doughnuts: Selected Short Writings in 2022.