The Riddle of the Chooze Revealed

In the Tenth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, May 27th, one-quarter of the way along, I continue the Saga of the Dark Tower. I first remind you, since the terminology is a little obscure, that the “Chooze” is the name I have chosen for the Charged Ooze in which we are burrowing,—we being Olde Stephen who is Stephen Leacock’s ghost and I in our assumed aspect of star-nosed moles,—the long, proper name being the Charged Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain. I will also remind you that as we burrow we blow upon the Slug-Horn, in order to clarify and lower the viscosity of the Chooze. Fortunately it turns out that the mole’s star with its foveated tendrils makes a very good slug-horn indeed.

In last week’s episode I may have given the impression that we could see all the activity surrounding us as we burrowed our way through the Chooze. This of course is false, because star-nosed moles do not see very well at all. They sense things through their stars. We could hear it, however, because until I learn otherwise I am going to assume that star-nosed moles can hear at least well enough to detect a nearby predator at least some of the time, because I can’t imagine the star being a safe device to rely on for that purpose. If it turns out that they can’t hear very well either, then I will either have to adjust the narrative, or take refuge in the notion that the ghost of a dead humourist and a living scribe who have assumed the aspect of star-nosed moles for metaphorical purposes can hear as well as the metaphor needs them to hear, that is, sufficient to detect what is going on around them. If it needs them to see, then they will be able to do that too, although I have an idea that will obviate the necessity,  should it occur.

Be that as it may, we were able to detect it all just as I described it last week. What I did not then describe was the sound. I am going to borrow another idea from B.W. Powe, who in his book Outage called it a “roar”, a “cacophony” that is a “polyphony, the song of all things joining”, that is also the sound of all things fragmenting, as Powe describes in one chilling paragraph on page 256 that is too long to quote here. Amazing, powerful stuff. And as we listened to the roar Olde Stephen and I both at the same time turned to each other, linked our foveated tendrils, and blew upon our combined slug-horns a mighty blast of recognition, a roar announcing to the roar that it is not alone in the wilderness of this world:

The roar that is the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice — I hear TWUROSJ singing, the varied carols I hear;

The roar that is the sound and the smell of everything good in the human enterprise, and everything evil, and everything morally indifferent, the Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Where-We-Are, for better and worse and muddling along, for richer and poorer and getting by, in sickness and in health and in okay for the time being, in all possible variations of life;

The roar that is the song of all things joining and of all things fragmenting, of all things complete and incomplete, of all things conclusive and inconclusive;

The roar that is Pandemonium and Pantheon and Pandemic and Pan and Pantaloon and Frying Pan and Fire.

The Dark Tower is not a structure, but a sound and a smell and a feeling as of warmth and cold, of damp and dry, an acoustic-olfactory-sensory aura, an emanation, a diffusion, a dispersion, a radiation, emitting its energy not in straight lines, but enveloping, swirling, penetrating.

We are in the midst of the Dark Tower, and have been ever since we entered the Chooze. The Chooze and the Dark Tower are one. We are the Choozen People.

We have arrived.

Now what?



The Chooze is the Booze of the News

In the Ninth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries in 2019, on Monday, May 20th, I continue the Saga of the Dark Tower.

You should now be aware, unless you are encountering this blog for the first time, that Olde Stephen, who is Stephen Leacock’s ghost, and I, having both assumed the aspect of star-nosed moles, are burrowing our way through the Charged Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain towards the Dark Tower, whatever it may turn out to be. As we burrow we play regularly upon the Slug-Horn, in order to keep it from becoming plugged.

I cannot go on calling our environment the Charged Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain, although that is the best description I have been able to find so far. I could call it the Charged Ooze, because that is what it was like, but I would like to find something punchier than that. From now on I am going to call it the Chooze. I will recharge your mem-brain from time to time with a reminder of its long name, each component of which captures an important property as we try to understand what it is and its effect upon us.

Since I believe it is important for you to understand just how Olde Stephen and I are finding our way through this substance, I offer the following quote from the Wikipedia article on Star-Nosed Moles:

The star nose is a highly specialized sensory-motor organ shaped by 22 fleshy finger-like appendages, or tendrils, that ring their nostrils and are in constant motion as the mole explores its environment. The star itself is a centimeter across and thus has a diameter slightly smaller than a typical human fingertip. Nevertheless, it is much larger than the nose of other mole species, covering 0.92 cm2 (0.14 in2) per touch compared to 0.11 cm2 (0.02 in2) covered by the noses of other mole species. This structure is divided into a high resolution central fovea region (the central 11th pair of rays) and less sensitive peripheral areas. In this way the star works as a “tactile eye” where the peripheral rays (1–10 on each side) study the surroundings with erratic saccade-like movements and direct the 11th ray to objects of interest, just like the primate’s foveating eye. []

As we learned to use the wonderful sensory organ that came with our assumed aspect, directing our eleventh rays to objects of interest with gradually increasing acuity, we became aware that we had plenty of company. All around us myriad creatures were burrowing or groping their way through the Chooze towards their myriad destinations, including some who wanted to find the Dark Tower of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice just as we did. We felt instinctively drawn to them, largely indifferent to the destinations of many, repelled by those of a few. It was difficult to pay attention to them all, such was their number and diversity.

We soon became aware of some, however, whose methods of chooze-navigation were aggressive, erratic, even hysterical. They would race towards any glimmer that looked like an opening, dash into it at high speed, and race towards the next one. Or, they would clutch blobs and fling them around in a frantic effort to clear their way. It was impossible not to notice them. They made themselves conspicuous by their rush and anxiety. Only by sensing carefully with our foveated tendrils could we detect the Great Preponderance of our fellow choozers who simply made their way as best they could through the stuff as it presented itself to them, sanely, sensibly, to all appearances content to take it as it came.

The most hysterical of all were those who had taken upon themselves the task of interpreting the chooze to the rest of us. Olde Stephen and I, also charged to interpret, played upon the Slug-Horn as we burrowed. Under its vibrations the chooze thinned about us, enabling us to sense more clearly and move about more easily. These other poor souls,  however, in their hysterical grasping at particular blobs that caught their immediate attention, only thickened the chooze around them, clogging their sensory organs and making their way more difficult. The worst were getting nowhere at all, but simply oscillated in their own little pool of congealment, oblivious to their predicament.

In the physical world there is a thing called Brownian Motion. As a method of forward progress it is not recommended. Olde Stephen and I had committed ourselves to Browningian Motion, a literary, poetical, artistic alternative, not intrinsically more difficult, but requiring a different kind of resolution. Would it take us to the Dark Tower of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice? We thought it might. We believed we would soon find out.

Onward Moles in Aspect!

In the Eighth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries, on Tuesday (May 14th) instead of Monday for reasons too complicated to recount, I continue the Saga of the Dark Tower.

Before I write a new posting I always read what I wrote the previous time, in order that this blog, as it creeps in its petty pace from week to week, maintains at least some semblance of continuity. I note therefore that last week I told you that Olde Stephen and I have become, for present purposes, moles in aspect, star-nosed moles to be specific. We assume this form in order to make our way through the layered viscosities that surround the Dark Tower wherein lurks (or that is itself) the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. These layered viscosities I have called the Charged Perceptual Medium, while B.W. Powe has called them the Charged Global Membrane.  These alternatives are both aimed in the same direction: to name something that is by its nature pervasive and obvious but extremely difficult to describe. B.W. and I are entirely agreed on the idea that it is “charged” including, as he insists in his recent book, all puns on the verbs “to charge” and “to be charged”. We are charged to charge the Charged Global Membrane (or Perceptual Medium) and not to count the charge.

I have suggested also that the Membrane may also be thought of as a Mem-Brain, that is, a phenomenon not only “out there”, but “in here”, and having something to do with memory, but whether that involves something remembered, or something that should not be forgotten, or perhaps both, remains to be discovered.

B.W.’s book, by the way, is called The Charge in the Global Membrane and is newly published by NeoPoeisis Press. I attended its launch in Markham, Ontario, last Saturday, and a fine evocative event that was to be sure. I drove 287.5 kilometres to be there, and 287.5 kilometres back again, and the experience was worth every one of them. I am now reading the book. I trust that its effects will be discernible in the wonderful adventure that is about to unfold of Olde Stephen and I, aspected as star-nosed moles, as we make our way through the Charged Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain towards the Dark Tower, dauntlessly blowing the Slug-Horn as we progress, in order to keep its pipes open. This sounds very like what a star-nosed mole would sound like if it were singing through its nose while burrowing.

The immediate effect of this slug-horning, we were delighted to discover, was that we were able to make our way forward quite easily through the layered viscosities, the challenge being to avoid transforming ourselves from moles in aspect to something more resembling snails in aspic. We paused for a moment in our burrowing to draw the lesson from this finding, which I pass on to you for what it is worth.

“We know that the Charged Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain is vast,” we told ourselves, “and impossible to encompass. We are not charged, however, to encompass it all, but only the part in which we are burrowing. The rest we can leave to its own devices. Daunting it may be, but dauntless we can be. By blowing the slug-horn as we go we can lower the viscosity of its layers and proceed in our search for the Dark Tower without undue hindrance. We don’t know where it is, but trust that our finely-tuned senses will lead us there. We constantly tune them to the slug-horn just to be sure.”

Vastly comforted, and fully charged, we burrowed on.


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.