“…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 blankets 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.”
— from Moby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville, Ch. 11, “Nightgown”
“All sorts of torturers, dictators, fanatics, and demagogues struggling for power by way of a few loudly shouted slogans also enjoy their jobs, and they too perform their duties with inventive fervor. Well, yes, but they ‘know.’ They know, and whatever they know is enough for them once and for all. They don’t want to find out about anything else, since that might diminish their arguments’ force. And any knowledge that doesn’t lead to new questions quickly dies out: it fails to maintain the temperature required for sustaining life. In the most extreme cases, cases well known from ancient and modern history, it even poses a lethal threat to society.
This is why I value that little phrase ‘I don’t know’ so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings.
The last paragraph of Things Fall Apart always shakes me. It takes the story of Okonkwo and distills a legacy of generations that is tragically lost. How often is someone allowed to take up the task of telling a story when they merely glide over the surface or edit the story to suit their own values and priorities? How often are such stories flattened out and diminished so the rich, multi-faceted stories are obscured?