Today’s chapter is “Nightgown,” and it’s read by Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys fame.
This brief chapter (under five minutes) brings us Ishmael and Queequeg lying in bed together, chatting. Ishmael has occasion to muse about why to feel truly warm, a part of you needs to feel cold:
We felt very nice and snug, the more so since it was so chilly out of doors; indeed out of bed-clothes too, seeing that there was no fire in the room. The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. But if, like Queequeg and me in the bed, the tip of your nose or the crown of your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general consciousness you feel most delightfully and unmistakably warm. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.
This is one of those seemingly innocuous, even disposable, moments that nonetheless presents a profound truth that will become one of the novel’s major ideas: “Nothing exists in itself.” The novel is full of moments like these.
The chapter ends with Ishmael listening as Queequeg begins to tell his life story. Apparently, Ishmael didn’t get it all at the time and the account that follows in the next chapter is something of a reconstruction: “Though at the time I but ill comprehended not a few of his words, yet subsequent disclosures, when I had become more familiar with his broken phraseology, now enable me to present the whole story such as it may prove in the mere skeleton I give.”
The illustration that accompanies the chapter (shown above) is a photograph of the London Aquatic Centre (2005-2011), designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Hadid is a winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, whose work is a prominent part of the Abu Dhabi Cityscape. She designed the already iconic Sheikh Zayed Bridge (shown below).
With luck there will be more of her work on display before too long: her firm was awarded the contract to design the Abu Dhabi Performing Arts Centre, scheduled to be built on Saadiyat Island not too far from the new NYU Abu Dhabi campus. Here’s an artist’s rendering of the design:
As usual, you can visit the Moby-Dick Big Read site to see a high-res version of the day’s illustration, and you can visit Zaha Hadid’s site to see the other pictures shown here and further examples of her firm’s work.
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[Cross-posted with Patell and Waterman’s History of New York]
Hi Cyrus! It’s so interesting to read your notes about this ‘seemingly innocuous’ moment in chapter 11 actually presenting a major idea in the novel, that of ‘Nothing exists in itself’. I really appreciate this tool in thinking about the book in the coming weeks.
That particular moment also made me think back to chapter two, when Ishmael seems rather negative about how the Spouter-Inn looks like the sort of place that will let in the cold. Seems that his love for Queequeg is transforming him!
Here in Glasgow, Zaha Hadid is best known for her design of our city’s Riverside Museum (it opened in 2011 and was previously known by locals as ‘the transport museum’ when the collection was held in a different city building). The arts centre representation you have posted above is remarkable.