Delving Into the Sagacities

In the Eleventh Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, June 3rd, I turn the Saga of the Dark Tower into something else.

In our array of three blogs, this one now calls itself the Stalking Blog. It used to be called the Dark Tower Blog, but since we have now arrived at the Dark Tower and have discovered it to be something quite different from your conventional notion of a Dark Tower, even perhaps from Robert Browning’s (“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” as blown upon a Slug-Horn), the time seems propitious to re-name it. Further, because we are now entering the second quarter of the Leacock Anniversaries (each quarter being ten weeks long) the time seems equally propitious to re-constitute the entire Saga. So here goes.

Stephen Leacock’s ghost, called Olde Stephen, and I have been walking through the wilderness of this world, trying to find the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, thought to reside in, or be, a Dark Tower. The exigencies of this quest made it expedient for us to assume the aspect of star-nosed moles. The explanation is now irrelevant, and I don’t recommend that you hunt for it.

We have now ascertained that the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice lives in, or is, not a Dark Tower, but a Charged Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain, for brevity called a Charged Ooze, or Chooze, the idea owing much to the recent writings of B.W. Powe (The Charge in the Global Membrane), whose ideas owe much to the teachings and writings of Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye, along with a whole raft of other people. In other words, the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice is not, or does not live in, a place out there, but a place in here. We have seen the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and it is us, or at least a hefty part of us. Since we are now for the most part inhabitants of cities, or otherwise dependent on them, and since I am taking a narrative approach to exploration, by means of metaphorical, even poetical, reasoning, I am going to call that place “the Sagacities”.

Incidentally, if Stephen Leacock had called his book Sunshine Sketches of Little Towns, people might have paid attention when he told them it was seventy or eighty real towns. As it was, some people got the idea that it was only one,—Orillia, Ontario,—thus unleashing such waves of misinterpretation as to constitute a major literary scandal. I don’t want to provoke another. Therefore, “the Sagacities” it is, or rather, they are.

So, setting the scene, we have the Sagacities, their dire streets running with Chooze. Just how dire they are remains to be seen. If we were to use Evidence and Reason to make the assessment, we might conclude they are pretty dire. If we use a Leacockian tissage of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour, perhaps not so much. We shall see. In the meantime, it will assist our endeavours if we transpose from another saga, the Wednesday one, a creature sighted there, who might also be, or house, the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, who is called the Yottapede, on account of the number of its feet. I will also transpose Mnemochiron, the feminequine centaur from that saga, because she has proved she can move around in and explore the interior of the Yottapede without being sucked in. I will allow her to so circulate without the burden of her Uneasy Rider, who will remain uneasy but not ride her any more. I am also going to release Olde Stephen from his molecular confinement in order to preserve him from possible molestation by the Yottapede. I will keep one star-nosed mole, however, for its capacities (a) to burrow through the Chooze and sense what is going on there, and (b) to blow slug-horn-wise through the foveated tendrils of its star.

Furthermore, I am going to place above the Sagacities a floating island, similar to Jonathan Swift’s Laputa. That will be Mariposa, labyrinth and all, with walkers, as in the Tuesday saga. Around the outer edge of this island, I am going to cut a walking trail (a hobby of mine), placed for simultaneous observation of what is happening both on the floating island itself, and below in the Sagacities.

To summarize, therefore, during the second quarter of the Leacock Anniversaries this year we will have:

In the Monday Blog the Stalking Saga, in which mole and centaur stalk the Yottapede both inside and out through the dire streets of the Sagacities, burrowing and prancing through the Chooze, taking careful observations leading to a full understanding, enabling the capture and putting to work of the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice;

In the Tuesday Blog the Walking Saga, unfolding on the floating island of Mariposa, wherein the Labyrinth Walkers will continue their pilgrimage in proper Cretan order, taking their own time in their own way for the same purpose.

In the Wednesday Blog the Talking Saga, in which Olde Stephen, you, and I will stroll around the perimeter of Mariposa, closely watching both stalkers and walkers, learning what we can from their adventures, building our own interpretation, and conversing about it.

In order to clear our minds for the rigours of this multifarious enterprise, I declare a week of silence for meditation. The Stalking Saga will resume on Monday, June 17th.

On behalf of myself and all members of the cast I thank you for reading and bearing with us so far. I sincerely hope that the enterprise will become more intelligible from now on.

Posted by Paul W Conway

Membrane and Medium: Are They the Message?

The Dark Tower escapade dives deep in the Seventh Week on Monday, May 6th.

We were left last week with the question whether the Charged Global Membrane now being explored by B.W. Powe is a true membrane or a mem-brain, one being “any pliable sheet-like structure acting as a boundary, lining, or partition in an organism”, the other a construct of intellect, memory, and imagination. Perhaps the Charged Global Membrane is both.

Experience is not what you thought, it is what you can remember. All other Experience defeats itself. I am paraphrasing Sellar and Yeatman. Of course, the word “remember” may have to be carefully understood with all possibilities in mind. I am about to recount an Experience, the marvellous adventure of Olde Stephen and myself, what happened after we charged the plant, which turned out not to be the Global Membrane itself, but simply a gateway into it. “CHARGE ME” it said, and charge it we did, with memorable results.

We immediately found ourselves burrowing in a membranous medium, if I may thus describe both our method of propulsion and the environment through which we were propelling ourselves. The latter wasn’t exactly granular, like earth, and it wasn’t exactly liquid, and it wasn’t exactly gaseous, but rather some mixture of all three. Imagine a surrounding of layered viscosities, and you will be close. We weren’t exactly walking, and we weren’t exactly swimming. We certainly weren’t flying. We quickly found that the secret of propulsion was to assume the aspect of star-nosed moles, those intriguing blind burrower-swimmers with the powerful clawed front flippers and nose-surrounding sensors that function like sight. We needed them, because the medium was as foggy as the air had been, if not more so. When I say we assumed the aspect of star-nosed moles, I mean exactly what I say, no more, and no less.

We could detect right away that this medium was fraught with charged membranes, and we were charged both to make our way through it (to the Dark Tower, we hoped, otherwise to wherever it took us), to understand both it and the nature of its charge, and to communicate our findings to the outside world. We instinctively knew that however mole-like in aspect we may have become, we had a considerably higher purpose than your average mole, whose charge is limited only to the finding of food, the avoidance of enemies, the location of mates, and the care of young if any. Olde Stephen, of course, had put all those behind him by the simple act of dying, whilst I, not there yet, was reasonably confident that I would be able to cope with whatever came along. We thus both met the minimum requirements for our membranous, mem-brainy mission. Whether we were up to the rest of it remains to be seen.

I want to emphasize how difficult and unusual was the charge laid upon us. Imagine a fish whose life is dedicated not only to swimming through water, but to explaining to the outside world, which knows water only as something that makes you wet, what water is to a creature for whom it is the vital medium. Water does not make a fish wet, except in our terms. Water, to a fish, literally makes life liveable. I am not by any means sure yet how this analogy translates to twenty-first century humanity making its way perceptually through the surrounding medium, or how that is affected by the Charged Global Membrane. If a fish in its vital medium runs into a membrane, which they often do, the result, with one type, is to be hauled out of the medium as the first of a series of stages ending up on people’s plates. Is that how the Charged Global Membrane works on us?

The medium,—may I call it the Charged Perceptual Medium?,—in which Olde Stephen and I found ourselves burrowing was in fact riddled with charged membranes, like a lake set with myriad different nets, and the question would be whether we would be able to burrow through it without getting caught. And yet we were charged to understand and communicate not only the medium itself, which is easy enough and often done from a variety of perspectives, but the nature of the networks and the various kinds of entrapment they threaten. Or perhaps they do not threaten entrapment at all, but rather hold the promise of freedom, or even the actuality. Or what happens if they do both? Would not that then make the Charged Global Membrane, or network of charged membranes spanning the perceptual globe, simply the Mother of All Unsolved Riddles? If what frees us perceptually also entraps us then our medium indeed puts us in a pretty pickle!

“Olde Stephen,” I asked as we began the experience of burrowing in the experience of the Membranous Medium, “was that what you meant when you said that Socialism, as understood in 1919, was a good idea but wouldn’t work? Did you mean that its way of thinking was liberation but its way of acting entrapment? Liberation from selfish individualism into collective altruism, at the same time entrapment under authoritarian brutality?”

“I think I was pretty explicit about that.”

“And could something similar also be said of its polar antagonist, Capitalism, being liberation from pervasive conformity into individual choice, at the same time entrapment under capitalistic greed?”

“I hope I was clear enough about that too.”

“Does every Utopia make inevitable its own Dystopia?

“I seem to recall that I did think so.”

“Then perhaps we have uncovered the real Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. Perhaps the riddle of which you wrote is merely one facet. If so, would that mean we have already found the Dark Tower?”

“No. What you suggest is not the real Unsolved Riddle, only the root one. The real one lies in the cast of mind of people who think they know the answer, whoever they are, on whichever side. I think we will find them in multitudes housed in the Dark Tower.”

“Or maybe they are the voices on the hillsides, chortling their cacophony.”

“Or maybe both.”

“Onward, then, Slug-Horn at the ready, through the Charged Perceptual Medium riven with infusions of Charged Global Membrane. By the way, how do we keep the medium from plugging the Slug-Horn?”

“By constantly dauntlessly blowing it, I suppose.”

“Thus adding to the cacophony.”

“A risk that must be taken.”



Charging the Global Membrane

The Dark Tower escapade continues for the Sixth Week on Monday, April 29th.

Last week I told you that Olde Stephen and I, armed only with a slug-horn, found ourselves lost on the edge of a darkling plain, in this instance a fog-enshrouded one, facing three paths, provisionally labelled the Left, the Right, and the Centre, forbidden to choose one but rather enjoined to walk them all at the same time, at the end of which we believed stood, or perhaps floated uncertainly, a Dark Tower which either was, or contained, the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. We were, therefore, in what may be justly described as a quandary, that is, according to my dictionary, a “state of perplexity concerning what to do”. If we wished to keep our feet on the ground we were limited by the relative flatness of it, its inherent two-dimensionality. If we tried to fly, seeking a third dimension above, we would lose touch with the ground and likely be blown off course. If we made like moles and dug we may discover a route among the roots, but were likely to lose our sense of direction amidst their many distractions. We may envy the star-nosed mole, able to sense and feel its way through the dirt with the same facility as we above it use our eyes, a faculty alas more effective for finding worms than Dark Towers. We idly speculated on the possibility of a third dimension that is neither above nor below, but had as yet not discovered where it may be, or how to travel in it.

We were about to break out in a lamentable cry saying, “What shall we do?” when we noticed a new growth had suddenly popped up before us, waving at us seductively with diaphanous fronds that were matrices of miraculous complexity. “What have we here?” I exclaimed interrogatively to my companion. “Can it be a, or even the, Global Membrane?”

I would like to describe it for you, but words fail me. Fortunately, Professor-Poet B.W. Powe of York University has already done the job. In fact, he has written a book about it, called The Charge in the Global Membrane, very recently published by NeoPoiesis Press with street art photos by Marshall Soules. His description is definitive.

The global membrane is an evolutionary jump from the global village and global theatre into sensory, psychic alteration in which communications bring us at once closer and into sharp, painful divisions. A time of openings—expressions of humane empathy: a time of terrified, terrorizing closings—reactions against uprooting of what we know. Ecology, the afflictions of the Trump phenomenon, the quick-time evolutions of the internet, the rush of data influx, the upsurges in Nationalism, Trolls and Hackers, spiritual distress, crises of identity and A-literacy, #MeToo, the Netgens, the search for silence and rest, the intimations of a worldwide linked consciousness, the transfiguration of digital experience into cellular intimacies and addictions, the crying out of souls longing to grasp and express this dislocating jump-drive and its illuminating hopes, the shape-shifting artistic expressions of the current: all are elements of what we experience.

“Can it be,” I cried to my ectoplasmic companion, “that this plant is the new dimension we seek? Can it be that this plant, by gathering all trails into the miraculous organic matrices it displays to the world, in its essence both both rooted and mobile, will guide us to the Dark Tower of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, through all the ambient fog, cacophony, and uncertainty as to its precise nature and location?”

“I have no idea,” said Stephen Leacock’s ghost. “Such creatures did not exist in my day.”

“Then what is your relationship to it?” I asked, sensing (after the fashion of a star-nosed mole) that there must be one.

“I have no idea about that either,” said the ghost.

“Can it be that you are one of its roots?” I ventured.

“I have no idea about that either, or perhaps at best a very tentative one. I might have been one of its roots, if anyone read my books in the proper way and paid any attention to what they said. Quite frankly, I don’t think they did.”

“Well, we’ll have to do something about that!” I thundered.

“Be careful,” advised my companion, “that would mean you would have to read Powe’s book. Maybe mine again too.”

I was ready to do that, but having come this far I wasn’t ready to give up on the Dark Tower. “Plant,” I demanded, “can you help? Can you guide us where we want to go, and give this ghost his due?”

The plant, after the manner of its kind, said nothing, but suddenly I spotted on it a little twig, which certainly was not there before, and round the twig was a label with the words ‘CHARGE ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters.

Fearing the invitation might be ephemeral, like so much these days, I beckoned quickly to Olde Stephen and together we charged, right into the middle of the Global Membrane. Or should that be spelled ‘mem-brain’?

Either way, did we thus make any impression on it? Not yet, perhaps, but the Leacock Anniversaries have many weeks to run.

Toward the Dark Tower: A Race, or a Crawl?

Week Five of the Dark Tower arm of the Hunt for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. April 23, 2019.

I am going to leave out the whole tedious account of the trek undertaken by Olde Stephen and me as we made our way towards the Dark Tower. If you want to get the flavour of it, read Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”. Our geography was very different, although the ethos of the journey was not. Complicating our progress were the myriad voices of those who had gone before, or tried, blaring contradictory advice or singing in our ears, saying that this was all folly.

We were somewhat impeded by our lack of knowledge concerning the exact appearance and nature of the Dark Tower. We had been led to believe we would find there the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, but whether the Riddle was the Tower itself, or a creature who lived inside the Tower, we knew not, and none of the voices was willing to tell us. Probably they didn’t know either.

We faced other problems too. We were standing on the edge of a darkling plain, blanketed in fog, trying to gather our wits amidst the cacophony of the myriad voices, and contemplating the complex of trails whose opening few steps we would see, and which appeared (this could have been illusion) to group themselves into three parcels which I will call, at considerable risk of over-simplification even to the point of absurdity, the Left, the Right, and the Centre. By looking carefully I could see Olde Stephen’s lips moving, but could not make out what he was saying. I was very confused, because he was pointing with his fingers, but in all three directions at the same time, waving his arms this way and that, pointing with one finger, or two, or several, or all of them. I tried the Right-hand path. He pulled me back and pointed down the other two. I tried the Left. Same result. I tried the Centre. Same result.

At last I could tolerate the uncertainty no longer. I seized the Slug-Horn and blew a mighty blast out across the plain. The fog did not clear, but the voices did fall silent, so that I could hear what Olde Stephen was saying. It was not very consoling. “You have to take all three,” he said.

“At the same time?” I quavered.

“At the same time.”

“How on Earth am I going to do that?”

“That’s the problem, isn’t it,” he replied. “You have to do it on Earth, because that’s where we are. You can’t do it in Heaven, because we aren’t there, and when we try to do things on Earth in Heavenly ways we always seem to end up in Hell. I never did figure that out. Or maybe I did, but no one believed me. The result was the same.”

“Suppose we link them with bridges,” I ventured.

“But the bridges will go cross-ways between the paths,” he said, “and not forward to the Dark Tower which, may I remind you, we don’t know where it is.  The only way we can go forward, under that regime, is to run back and forth across the bridges from one path to the other and moving forward by building more bridges each step of the way. It will take a long time, and by the time we get there the Tower may have moved. Oh, woe is me!” He was the one quavering now, and quivering, ectoplasmicly. I felt sorry for him, and decided to chance my arm more boldly than I might otherwise have done.

“Why don’t we change the plain,” I suggested. “Why don’t we make it in three dimensions instead of two. As long as we have only two dimensions, then our paths remain incompatible. If we add a third, then perhaps we can make in that dimension a new path out of the materials of the old.”

“Isn’t that the same thing as flying?” he asked. “Isn’t that just building Dark Towers in the air?”

“Not at all,” said I, “at least perhaps. Air is its own dimension, and would be unaffected. I am talking about a third dimension of ground. I am talking about doing what painters do when they move from flat representation into perspective. That, visually, makes a third dimension. Maybe we can do the same with our darkling plain. When we are in only two dimensions, and visualize our situation as we are wont to do, then we see only on the one hand or on the other hand. In the third dimension, if we learn how, we will see on the one hand and on the other hand, at the same time. We will take from the Right-hand path with one hand, and from the Left-hand path with the other hand, and from the Centre path with both hands, and we will build a new path in the New Dimension.”

“But where is it? We have to put the contents of our hands down somewhere on Earth, in order to make a path that we can walk. I say,—I said,—put them in the Centre path, make the Centre path into a new one out of the materials of the old, in the old dimensions, and walk on it. It will prove a sturdy and useful path.”

“It did prove useful for a little while, but not sturdy. It showed a strong tendency to drift either to the one hand or the other, or to lose sight of Social Justice altogether and walk towards a Dark Tower of its own conception, not in a New Dimension, but in a reconfiguration of the old one.

“To walk on the surface of the plain is unstable, to float above it a separation, not an engagement. I can think of only one other possibility.”

“Under ground, you mean.”

“From here on: burrowing.”

“Unable to see or hear, having to find our way by smell.”

“Like moles, or worms.”

“Guided not by what is on the surface, or in the air above, but by what is below among the roots. A truly radical approach to the Dark Tower.”

“I both wanted that and did not want it.”

“It has been discovered recently that trees can talk to each other through their roots.”

“If you follow the root, you will find the tree.”

“The route is among the roots.”

Swimming in Beautiful Metaphorical Soup

Week Four of the Leacock Anniversaries, Monday April 15th: The week before Passover and Easter, and therefore somewhat truncated in its blogs. We start the week admiring, somewhat ruefully, an abundant blessing of April snow. The migrating birds seem to take it in stride; we do our best.

Olde Stephen and I left you last week with a question about the profusion of metaphors that has invaded this … what is it, anyway? Is it hunt? An analysis? An investigation? A discourse? I like Marshall McLuhan’s term: a Probe. It’s a Hunt and a Probe. We hunt by probing. We probe while hunting. Eventually we want to catch the Wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, or WUROSJ, and convert it into a Tame Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, or TUROSJ, after which it can live out its days, which will no doubt be long, as an UROSJ, dreaming all the while of becoming a SROSJ, or Solved Riddle of Social Justice. I personally have my doubts, well-founded I believe, that it will ever get that far.

Olde Stephen, so far, has been of little help. He likes the profusion of metaphors,—dark tower, slug-horn, Unsolved Riddles, etc.,—but doesn’t seem at all inclined to follow them to their metaphorical conclusions if they have them. I, on the other hand, must do so. I need his help. At our meeting today I decided to push.

“Olde Stephen,” said I, “in 1919 you made made your way to the Dark Tower, after visiting several other lighter towers on the way, you dauntless set the slug-horn to your lips, and you blew “The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice”. What happened then?”

“I walked all around the Dark Tower, observing its superficial features and describing them, I spotted some false ways into it and described them, I spotted one good way and described it. Then, having spotted more pleasant terrain in another direction, I went there, leaving the Dark Tower for others.”

“Did you ever return?”

“Yes indeed, during the Depression. I went back, the good way in was still there, I pointed it out as did others, and then left the entry to younger hearts. I did point out that the old false ways were still there and apparently attractive to many.”

“What happened to those who tried to go in the bad ways?”

“They scrabbled away at the walls, sometimes ineffectually, sometimes doing damage, without ever getting inside, then marched off to war, another dark tower with many easy ways into it and pulsing to its own warped slug-horns.”

“And those who went in the good way?”

“Few did, and none whole-heartedly. They fiddle-faddled around for a while in the ante-chambers, then they too marched off to war, slug-horning their hearts out just like the rest.”

“Then what did you do?”

“I turned away to other things. Then when the time came I died.”

“You did not see the great experiments that followed the war.”

“I did, but from Beyond.”

“Or what happened to them.”

“That too.”

“What would you say if I told you that the Dark Tower of your day is still there, vastly complicated now by recent construction of more rooms, more turrets, and all manner of architectural gewgaws, as substitutes for going right at the heart of the edifice. I would like to go there with you. We will have a difficult time. I fear that many of the new parts are rickety echo-chambers full of noise, distraction, and falling debris, the whole surrounded by menacing legions armed with wrecking balls and other powerful siege engines. The Tower may fall down while we are in it.”

“Then we will have to give the slug-horn a right good toot, will we not?”

“That we will.”

Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set, and blew. “Olde Stephen and friend to the Dark Tower came.” Will set, and will blow, that is, when we get to it. I am getting ahead of myself.

To be continued.

As I Walked Through a Wilderness of Metaphors …

Week Three, Monday, April 8th

I am, as usual on Monday mornings these days, engaged in ethereal conversation with Stephen Leacock’s ghost, called Olde Stephen. The question remains open whether Olde Stephen came to the Dark Tower, or from it, or indeed had any relationship whatsoever with anything that could be called a Dark Tower. None of his house in Montreal, nor his office at McGill University, nor the nearby University Club, nor his cottage in Orillia, nor its boathouse where he worked, could fill the bill. Upper Canada College perhaps? The farmhouse on the hilltop in Georgina Township perhaps? The latter is a distinct possibility, considering what he wrote about it later. In that case, he came from it, as quickly and permanently as possible, with or without accompanying slug-horn.

“Let us suppose,” I said to him after we exchanged the usual pleasantries and reminded each other what we were about, “that you, Olde Stephen, are coming to the Dark Tower of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, and that you are either carrying a slug-horn, or find one hung outside the door. Dauntless you set the slug-horn to your lips. What do you blow?”

“Olde Stephen to the Dark Tower came, of course. Do you think I have forgotten everything?”

“Not for a moment. Then what did you blow. The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice is inside, you know. You want him to come out. You have announced your presence. What next?”

“I thought we were hunting for that thing, said to be wild, in a wilderness.”

“We are. We are trying to flush it out of its Dark Tower too. We are large. We contain multitudes of metaphors. Right now we are working the Dark Tower. Maybe we will end up with a Dark Tower in a Wilderness, the Wilderness of this World, as John Bunyan called it. In any case, we will be expected to blow the slug-horn when we get there. I am hoping you will be able to tell us what to blow, what you would blow. ‘Olde Stephen to the Dark Tower came,’ you say. What does ‘Olde’ mean, by the way?”

“The opposite of ‘Childe’, which means a would-be learner, a pre-knight, a becoming. ‘Olde’ means a has-been teacher, a post-professor, a bygone.”

“All right, Olde Stephen, thank you. Back to the story. What blowest thou next?”

“I think I would blow ‘On the One Hand, and On the Other Hand.’ I think that would make a good blowing to flush out an Unsolved Riddle, that one in particular.”

“Very nice. I like it. Would you then blow anything more, or simply storm your way inside?”

“I’d blow Knowledge,
I’d blow Imagination,
I’d blow Compassion,
I’d blow Humour.”

“Just at the Dark Tower, or all over this land?”

“Both, but especially all over this land. I did that, in fact. Fifty-three books! Fifteen hundred separate pieces and articles! Reprints and anthologies galore! Seven hundred and fifty public lectures! Forty years of teaching!”

I knew his numbers were correct, because Carl Spadoni told me so in his A Bibliography of Stephen Leacock. All that blowing, and good stuff too, a lot of it, but how much remembered now? We remember the name, but not much that he said. These anniversaries in 2019 are a good time to remedy that. Unsolved Riddles. Both hands. Both-And. Knowledge. Imagination. Compassion. Humour. I knew that’s what he stood for. If the medium is the message, as a later sage opined, and the medium is a great river of verbosity, then maybe the message gets lost.

What about the great river of verbosity and stridency we’re in now? Was there ever such an age for talk! What message is being lost there? It just might be that whole series about Unsolved Riddles, Social Justice, and other preoccupations of wisdom down through the ages.

“The title of that book, The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice: did you come up with that, or did your publisher?”

“I think I did. Why do you ask?”

“Because the term never occurs again in the book or in the titles to anything you wrote. Riddles of any kind seldom appear at all. Imperial defence in 1912; the Depression in one speech in 1933; a bit of persiflage about fiction in 1927. It’s such a useful trope. I wonder you didn’t work it harder, do more with it.”

“I don’t remember very well, but I am not sure I was all that interested in unsolved riddles. More in solved riddles. And so were my readers. I think unsolved riddles are your fetish, not  mine.”

“I don’t agree. I think your time was just as immersed in unsolved riddles as the present. In fact, I think they came in with the industrial revolution, as soon as productivity began to go one way and just distribution the other on a mass scale. You certainly wrestled with that, in all its aspects. But I think you believed these riddles could be solved, just as the laissez-faire folks did, and the socialism folks. You just didn’t believe in their solutions. You thought a mixture was the solution, but we know now it simply creates more unsolved riddles. If the situations created by modern condition are nests of unsolved riddles, and the ‘solutions’ are more unsolved riddles, then I think we had better come to terms philosophically with unsolved riddles, and not pretend they are ever going to be ‘solved’ unless some kind of creative, flexible, and dynamic accommodation, always temporary and experimental, can be called a ‘solution’. We are always yearning for something more permanent, something we can wrap in institutions. We are inertia looking for a place to rest. I think the Goddess of Unsolved Riddles ought to be Ertia: restless, experimental, artistic in a broad sense, never afraid to try something different, in a positive sense never satisfied.”

“I think I knew that. I think Inertia was the popular deity I was protesting against in Sunshine Sketches and Arcadian Adventures. Maybe Ertia inspired The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and I never quite put a name to her.”

“We’ve remedied that today, in any case. Excelsior! Our reach should exceed our grasp, or what’s a metaphor? (Borrowed from Marshall McLuhan,—is he or is he not a metaphor? Or Northrop Frye? Or Stephen Leacock?) Unsolved Riddles. Dark Towers. Slug-Horns. The Goddess Ertia. The Hobgoblin Inertia. Olde Stephen. What kind of a metaphor soup is this anyway?

Posted by Paul Conway.




Launching LEACOCK 150~100~75: The Slug-Horn Plays the First Post

Monday, March 25th 2019: First Post here, First Post overall. (Posts will flow weekly here on Mondays.)

Well, here we are, exactly a month after the previous post, surging forward into Launch Week of LEACOCK 150~100~75. Launch Day is Thursday, March 28th. I will play appropriate fanfare on the slug-horn then. If you are wondering which slug-horn, it’s Childe Roland’s, with which he sought to challenge the Dark Tower, according to the poet Browning.

You will perhaps recall that Childe Roland, on that occasion, was surrounded by the ghosts of those who had gone before. So we will be if I have anything to say about the matter. At least for blogging purposes I can call spirits from the vasty deep, and they will come when I do call for them. Leading the parade, or chorus, or whatever they are, will be Stephen Leacock’s ghost, known as Olde Stephen. We can’t expect to see him , however, until Thursday, the 75th anniversary of his death. I will make sure that he checks in here next Monday. (“Olde”, by the way, is an archaic usage signifying a teacher, just as “childe” signifies a knightly squire, a learner.)

We should also draw attention to the likelihood that this week, or thereabouts, is the 150th anniversary of his conception,—his birthday being December 30th,—although his parents did not record a specific date. Perhaps they were sufficiently vigorous and devoted at that stage to allow for several eligible dates. Later on they gave up, but not before a further eight children. They already had two when Stephen arrived.

If you are interested in all these goings on, please remember to keep in touch with, where the story of proceedings will be told and always up to date. Up-dates on Twitter (@conwaypaulw) and Facebook (Voyageur Storytelling) will appear on Thursdays. Postings will appear on the other two blogs (Mariposa’s, and my own) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, respectively. It may take a few weeks for all this to come together and shake down. I will do my best to keep up the pace until December 30th.

I leap into these nine months of anniversary blogging and posting with two purposes in mind: first, to revive a full awareness of all that Stephen Leacock was. I profess to be aware of the breadth if not the entire depth. I am aware in particular that he was an opinionated man with a difficult personality. I am also aware that his accomplishment was enormous, as far as I know not matched quantitatively until Northrop Frye came along, and for breadth of quality not even then. Depth is another matter. I am not aware of any Canadian writer who did as much over such a wide field, and if there is one please tell me who it is. I would be most grateful to learn more.

My other principal purpose is to re-write Stephen Leacock’s almost forgotten book, The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, written in 1919, published first as a series of newspaper articles from August to October that year, and as a book in January 1920. We have not solved the unsolved riddle of social justice, not by a long shot, and to suggest that it is a moving target should not remove the incentive to try. I intend to probe its unsolved riddleness, find out how deep it runs,—I believe it may well run deep, indeed down into the very heart of the matter,—and explore how we can cope so as to move resolutely and steadily towards the goal and not become discouraged. I believe that Stephen Leacock started a line of thought about social justice that needs to be continued.

We think of Stephen Leacock as a humourist. Much more than that, however, he was a teacher. We may do ourselves harm if we assume we have nothing to learn from him.

I intend to conduct this probe on-line, in the hope that you and many others will respond, using the comments facility on this blog or the others, or writing to me by e-mail:

Stephen Leacock began The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice with this statement: “These are troubled times.” Since I believe that to be one line of the book that is not out of date, I will start there next week.

Posted by Paul Conway, Voyageur Storytelling, producer of LEACOCK 150~100~75.