Melville's Counterpane


"The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-colored squares and triangles; and this arm of [Queequeg's] tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were of one precise shade---owing I suppose to his keeping his arm at sea unmethodically in sun and shade, his shirt sleeves irregularly rolled up at various times---this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt. Indeed, partly lying on it as the arm did when I first awoke, I could hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together; and it was only by the sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was hugging me."

---Chapter 4, Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville

"Counterpane": an archaic word for the quilt or blanket on a bed.

As a meditation on counterpane designs and also designs of all kinds, including identity, race, culture, and friendship,

this passage by Ishmael moves ---

from either/or, inside/outside, one-space vs. another space, binary opposition constructions (friend or enemy?)

to interwoven and multicolored patternings --- describing both the quilt, the Queequegian designs, and new intersplicings `twining I. and Q.

Kitagawa Utamaro, "Shells On and Around a Conical Rock,"

from Shioi no tsuto (Treasures of the Ebb Tide), c. 1790

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