Category Archives: Metaphors

What Do We See Coming?

The Erewhonians say that we are drawn through life backwards; or again, that we go onwards into the future as into a dark corridor. Time walks beside us and flings back shutters as we advance; but the light thus given often dazzles us, and deepens the darkness which is in front. We can see but little at a time, and heed that little far less than our apprehension of what we shall see next; ever peering curiously through the glare of the present into the gloom of the future, we presage the leading lines of that which is before us, by faintly reflected lights from dull mirrors that are behind, and stumble on as we may till the trap-door opens beneath us and we are gone. (Samuel Butler, Erewhon, 1910)

B.W. Powe of York University, poet, writer, and teacher, closes his latest book The Charge in the Global Membrane, with a question: “What do you see coming?” We correspond from time to time. I wrote to him last evening, as follows:

Your question is a vexed one to my mind, because I believe we can never see anything coming except in the very narrow and immediate visual sense, or through Samuel Butler’s mirrors looking backward, and pretty darkly at that. I was trained to be deeply suspicious of linear extrapolation in complex situations, and to watch carefully for tidal oscillations that may appear for the moment to be flowing rivers. I am not sure how to reconcile that caution with your observations about the Charged Global Membrane. I have no doubt that what you describe is happening, and that if reactions so far persist the consequences could be dire. But will they persist, or will adjustments occur when people become accustomed, and if so what kind?

Of course, your question is not “What is coming?” but “What do you see coming?”

In other words, I don’t see anything coming, because some intensive training in my younger days and a working lifetime of practice have conditioned me not to look. The closest I come is to examine carefully the available data, and to extend them forward using some kind of formula to see what might come, and to attach a reasonable set of probabilities to their coming. Because what I “see” by this method is always a plural set of possibilities. On no occasion do I use linear extrapolation from the present or the recent past. What is happening is not necessarily what is going to happen, and so I stoutly maintain. This makes me unwelcome company sometimes when the dire predictions are being passed around the conversational circle.

This does not mean that I live in a Pollyanna world where dire predictions are summarily drummed out of the room. Let’s look at climate change, for example. When we take into account the masses of first-rate data we have of past global climate patterns and the sophistication of the models used for projections, we must believe that a global catastrophe is possible. If we attach any significant probability to that outcome,—and we should!—then what decision theorists call the “expected value” of the outcome is the global cost of the catastrophe multiplied by its probability. Since the cost, in human terms, of this outcome is so huge as to approach the infinite, then the expected value (cost) of the outcome is the same. Faced with that kind of possibility, then we had better act, even though there may be some probability attached to a miraculous reaction of planet or humans that mitigates the effect.

Since a climate catastrophe, even a mild one, is certainly an issue for Social Justice, then any reluctance to act, or effective resistance, contributes to the Unsolved Riddle that we are trying to understand here. In fact, if we look at it that way, we may even find that the reluctance and resistance are grounded in just that realm, for example, in the quite legitimate fear of lost livelihoods. We must deal with them accordingly. I am not going to do that today, although I promise we will in this metaphorical collective I have created for the purpose. We will deal with climate change as we will deal with global population growth, inequality of opportunity and prosperity, pluralism, tribalism, individualism and collectualism, precarious livelihoods, our relationship with Nature, democracy, consumerism, culturism, education, and any other issues of like importance.

In order to set the stage for that process I have drafted Stephen Leacock’s ghost, Olde Stephen, from his former setting in what I am now calling the Stalking Blog, updated Mondays, and sent the Yottapede, along with Mnemochiron, the feminequine centaur, over there in exchange. This is, after all, now the Talking Blog. Olde Stephen will be a lot happier here than burrowing around in the Charged Ooze disguised as a star-nosed mole. We will charge this blog with verbosity, his natural element, at least it was when he was alive.

All verbosity will be suspended, however, for until the week after next, due to other commitments. Our newly aligned saga will resume on Wednesday, June 19th.

Thank you for reading, and for your patience. The preliminaries are completed; we will get down to brass tacks very soon.

Metaphorical Reasoning for Unsolved Riddles : Does It Work?

A Dark Tower, a Slug-Horn, a Charged Global Membrane, two star-nosed moles in aspect, a labyrinth placed in a middling Canadian city named Mariposa, citizens to walk it and leaders to help them, a bag-full of clobs for clobbering bawls, a yottapede, a centauress with an uneasy rider. Have any of these proved of any value in locating the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and imagining the creature and its natural habitat, so that it can be tamed and put to work? I think it is time to assess the progress of these three quite different work parties.

Two of them have located the creature, or think they have. The two moles, burrowing their way through the ooze of the Charged Global-Perceptual Membrane-Medium-MemBrain, or Chooze for short, looking for the Dark Tower, believing it to be the most likely habitat, have discovered that the Chooze is the Dark Tower, and that all the confusion, perplexity, fragmentation, incompleteness, inconclusiveness, and resulting anxiety are both the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice itself, and the essence of its nature. The Chooze is a Puddle of Muddle, they would say if they were being epigrammatic, so is the UROSJ, and so are the people caught up in it. If that is so, then pretending otherwise, as ideologies of all kinds tend to prefer, may be the worst possible entry into the necessary tasks of taming and putting to work.

The Labyrinth Walkers appear to have discovered what it means to blow the Slug-Horn, which is odd, because that question apparently never crossed their minds in the whole half-labyrinth they have walked so far. In fact, the Slug-Horn has until now been the exclusive property of the Dark Tower party. The Walkers came upon it when they got to the Centre. They think that to blow it means to be epigrammatic, to speak in “slogans”, these and slug-horns being the same thing etymologically. Childe Roland’s slogan was “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”. Theirs is:


This they intend to employ as they work their way back out of the labyrinth. When they emerge from where they came in, but of course going in the opposite direction, they expect to have tamed the UROSJ, so that it can be put to work.

Mnemochiron, the feminequine centaur, and her Uneasy Rider, who narrates in the first person and therefore may sit in the same relation to the writer as does the narrator in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, which may or may not be a close one, believe they have discovered the UROSJ itself, in the person of the Yottapede. Mnemochiron’s magic is her ability to move around inside the creature without being sucked into it, as Uneasy Rider would be on his own.

So you see, it has taken all three parties to locate the UROSJ and equip us to tame it and put it to work. The UROSJ, formed as the Yottapede, swims or wades in a puddle of muddle called the Chooze. Mnemochiron is able to carry Uneasy Rider safely into its inwards where it can be carefully explored. The two moles in aspect are able to burrow sensationally through the Chooze, and thus explore it. The Walkers maintain their steady undulating course through the Labyrinth, clobbering the bawls encountered,—bawls being little globes, or globs, of Inertia,—with the appropriate clob from among the fourteen carried, depending on the lie of the bawl and distance to the whole:

Pluraliser :: used for recognizing Pluralism;
Puzzler :: used for recognizing Unsolved Riddles;
Coherenator :: used for overcoming Fragmentation;
Completer :: used for overcoming Incompleteness;
Concluder :: used (always most carefully) for overcoming Inconclusiveness;
Congruver :: used for reconciling incongruous juxtapositions;
Both-Ander :: used for coping with hazards of the either-or kind;
Knowledge :: should always be complemented by application of the Both-Ander;
Imagination :: the indispensable clob; no inertia can be overcome without it;
Compassion :: clob for choosing the appropriate direction;
Humour :: clob for dealing with inherent imperfections or difficult lies;
Conversation :: everyday, working clob;
Negotiation :: clob for overcoming conflicting inertias;
Education :: clob for learning the game and basic clobbering skills.

I think this whole system needs to be brought together, the parties introduced to each other and allowed to join forces. To do that I propose a device first suggested by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, a floating airborne island he called Laputa. I propose to suspend the Chooze with its inhabiting Yottapede as a mega-glob, or “meglob”, floating above Mariposa in Laputan fashion with differences where necessary. The two moles in aspect, whose names can be Stebu and Pedub, Mnemochiron, and Uneasy Rider can act as scouts circulating within the meglob. I will assign the nine Muses to carry their observations and suggestions down to the walkers below. We’ll have four scouts, nine Walkers supported by Mayor Josie Smith, nine Muses supported by their mother Mnemosyne. The  Labyrinth and the Chooze I will make coextensive, so that the Walkers can theoretically encompass the entire meglob on their way out. When the scouts identify a particular bawl, or glob of Inertia, they will point it out to one of the Muses, who will flutter down like butterflies to tip off the Walkers of Mariposa, who will clobber it with the appropriate clob, blowing the Slug-Horn with each stroke to control line and distance. That’s the general idea, to start with. We’ll see how it works out.

To name and describe all possible bawls and clobbers would far exceed the quantitative capacities of this metaphorical exercise. I will therefore arrange the labyrinth into a course of eighteen (18) representative wholes. When the Walkers have clobbered their way around the whole thing, we will declare the game to be over, the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice tamed so that it can be put to work. Our metaphors have worked so well so far that I have no doubt of their success. They need only proceed



Riffing on M-Words Centaurally if not Orally.

Random reflections and reminiscences on this, the 7th week of the Leacock Anniversaries, reflected and reminisced on May 9, 2019.

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a centaur, a female of that species shapely and shining in both her feminine and equine aspects, and with a great burden upon her back. And that burden was me.

If you  have read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress you will recognize that I have borrowed the entry into that passage, although not the dream. Bunyan’s opening is a favourite that I use or recite on as many occasions as I can make it fit. I particularly like the reaction of Christian’s family when he tells them of his distress: “At this his relations where sore amazed; not for that they believed that what he said to them was true, but because they thought some phrensy distemper had got into his head; therefore, it drawing towards night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains, with all haste they got him to bed.” Phrensy. That’s the spelling in my copy of the book, an old one inherited from my great aunt Alma. I love that spelling. To my synapses it makes the whole thing sound more frenzied.  If I ever wrote my memoirs I would try to work it into the title, because whether or not I set off on my pilgrimage because of a phrensy distemper, some of those in my entourage certainly thought I did.

My dream of the beautiful female centaur comes of course from the painting Centauress by John La Farge which I found at Her burden is my own idea.

I have been thinking more this morning about B.W. Powe’s charged membrane, continuing the posting ruminations of this Monday’s Leacock Blog ( with some play on five words all beginning with “M”: Membrane; Medium; Matrix; Message; Memory. These all describe certain aspects of, or metaphorical ways of describing, our surroundings both individual and collective, particularly as they might contribute to a phrensy distemper possibly able to unsettle our brains. If all goes well by this time next week I will have read Powe’s new book The Charge in the Global Membrane, and will know what he means by both the Global Membrane and its charge. I draw your attention to the possibility that the “charge” may imply an electromagnetic property of the membrane, either innate or generated, or a responsibility placed upon it by an outside agent, or both.

I am also wondering further about the Yottapede, a creature which I introduced in a blog posting back in April of 1918 ( I am assuming that you know that “yotta” is the largest prefix in the decimal system, the last in the series that begins with “deca”, “centa”, “milla”, etc. A yottapede is a worm-like creature with a very large number of feet.

I am anticipating that Powe’s Global Membrane is going to be something that envelops us in some fashion, in which we “swim” perceptually. If that turns out to be true, then my question for B.W. is going to be along these lines: Did we become so enveloped because of a natural phenomenon that rolled in like a bank of fog, or did we dive into it, or did something swallow us like Jonah’s whale, perhaps even the Yottapede itself? And if it has become part of us, did we become charged by it, as in electromagetism, or did we absorb it by some osmotic or digestive process, or were we absorbed by it? Is it part of us, or are we part of it, or both? What state of consubstantiation are we in, and how did we get that way? Can we escape? Do we want to escape?

I am also anticipating that when I have answers to these questions as they apply to Social Justice, they are going to constitute a a comprehensive organic tissage of both-ands, a mighty and pervasive Unsolved Riddle. I rejoice that as I make my pilgrimage therein I will at least have the company of this centaur of my dream, whether or not she is able to bear my weight.

Membrane. Medium. Matrix. Memory. Message. Mem-Brain. Mess.

Moving Forward With Walking Notwithstanding

Fifth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries, April 25, 2019

The various parties to this quest, having sorted out their metaphors, are now on their respective ways, or almost, which is just about where they should be at this stage. We are in the fifth week of forty. We expect the hunt for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice to take more time, and the taming of the creature even longer than that. I regret that I am unable to be more precise.

To summarize: In the Stephen Leacock blog Olde Stephen (Stephen Leacock’s ghost) and I (whoever “I” may turn out to be in this particular instance) are contemplating our final approach to the Dark Tower, which stands in a fog-bound plain echoing with a bewildering cacophony of strident voices. We confront the possibility that we may have to dig our way across, like moles, our route among the roots a radical one to be sure. Whether we can talpidagate the subsurfacial wasteland without plugging up the slug-horn remains to be seen.

In the Mariposa blog our earnest little band of unsolved riddle hunters are talking in circles, as they would do, although in labyrinthine fashion. This process divides itself into sixteen stages, or “rings”, with a sharp turn the other way at the end of each ring. A labyrinth, however intestinal its form, does have a destination. As they complete the second ring they are exactly where they should be.

In this blog I decided last week to assume the metaphorm of a centaur, with two hands, four feats, and a flowing tale, in order to confront the yottapede who has, I believe, for the time being consumed the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice along with much else, but I haven’t done that yet. I will start next week. For this week I am going to give you a progress report from all three fronts, as I have already done, and then remind you of some of the realities faced by those who undertake the difficult hunt for the particular Unsolved Riddle that was described by Stephen Leacock one hundred years ago.

First, Social Justice, a complicated enough animal in 1919, as he amply demonstrated, has become immeasurably more so in the succeeding century. We have to a considerable extent done the things that Stephen Leacock and other like-minded people wanted us to do, and yet remain insecure in our belief that we have achieved Social Justice, or that we can hang onto it. Old issues have reasserted themselves, and new ones have joined. Social Justice, which presented itself in 1919 as largely corresponding to economic justice for individuals and families, now leads us into an inter-woven tangle of social, economic, environmental, cultural, and political considerations none of which can be denied. “Let us have holistic science!” we cry, without having the slightest idea how to do that.

Second, the world for which we wish Social Justice is inevitably pluralistic. It was so in 1919, of course, but individual communities, cities, provinces, and even nations, were considerably simpler in composition than they are now. Now pluralism, in one form or several, is with us at all levels, from nations and inter-nations to families. An axiom of Pluralism is and always will be that actions taken to benefit one aspect of the Pluris are very likely to harm another. We are persistently demanded to take sides in the resulting disputes, to view our neighbours as adversaries. From adversary to enemy is a very short jump.

Third, we cannot have Social Justice without a sufficient measure of material prosperity. From a technical point of view the reasons are complicated, and we will deal with them, but not today. The political ones are much simpler: the majority of people in our democracies, who ultimately determine the cast of mind of our governments and the broad thrust of their policies, will not tolerate anything else. The idea that Social Justice requires a regression into a lesser state of real material prosperity is simply not acceptable. Perhaps it should be, but it isn’t. Lest you think the situation is therefore hopeless, however, let me remind you that there is plenty of room to re-imagine what we mean by “real material prosperity”. We have done that before, and we can do it again.

Fourth, and lastly for today, if we truly desire Social Justice, we must be prepared to think differently, by which I mean not only to think different thoughts, but to use the tool that is our minds, and the tools that derive from our minds, in entirely unaccustomed ways. That will be very difficult, and will evoke huge resistance.

I do not believe that Reason, as we have known it, whether employed by Karl Marx, or the Fabians, or Ayn Rand, or any of the other ideologues of Social Justice, or even the ideological non-ideologues like Stephen Leacock, is going to track down the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, or tame it for us when we have it in the corral. That is why I am taking a metaphorical approach, or rather several of them. If I can ever figure out what a poetical approach means, I will take that too.

I make a daily discipline of thinking about the key words: Social Justice, Unsolved Riddles, Both-And; Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, Humour; Talk, Drink, Laugh. I believe that we will have located the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice when we can both understand these words in the customary ways as they have evolved through the ages, and find new understandings for them. Both new wine in the old bottles, and new bottles for the old wine. At the same time. Not easy.


Apotheosis! To Be a Metaphor.

Week Three, Wednesday, April 10th, 2019. A sunny, not especially warm day on Bruce Peninsula, where birds do sing “hey ding-a-ling-a-ling” (not really) and everybody,—not just sweet lovers,—is ready for Spring. The yard is clear of snow so that I can walk the short labyrinth. The bush remains snow-congested, enough so that the long one is open only to perambulation of the mind. My mind, that is, because I am the only one who knows where it is. But this blog posting is not about labyrinths. Another one is (see the Mariposa blog linked alongside). The labyrinth there is being used to metaphorialize (there’s a word and then some!) the mental processes that might be used to hunt down and tame the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice.

Please don’t be put off by the ersatz vocabulary, which has its place. If we can have ‘memorialize’ we can have ‘metaphorialize’. In fact, in certain situations they may be closely related phenomena.

There was a little girl who had little curl right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good she was very very good, but when she was bad she was horrid.

I am being quite Leacockian in quoting that verse. By that I mean, that I am doing it by memory, not looking it up to make sure I have it exactly right. Stephen Leacock did that often. As an habitual misquoter he may have no equal in Canadian letters.

I finished off my Stephen Leacock blog posting this week (also linked alongside) by asking whether Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye, or Stephen Leacock, could be treated as metaphors. I started my recent lengthy discourse into The Unsolved Riddle(s) of Stephen Leacock with a quotation of my own, as follows:

How should we remember the flawed giants of our past? Do we focus on their accomplishments and gloss over the flaws, or do we focus on their flaws and gloss over the accomplishments? Our history abounds in men and women who worked wonders, amply recognized in their day, who held opinions, or did deeds, or were the kind of people we no longer want to celebrate. How do we do justice to them?

This Unsolved Riddle leads me, for complicated but quite respectable reasons, to consider the life and career of William Wilfred Campbell, 1860-1918, Canadian man of letters and occasional poet. I sit on the board of the annual William Wilfred Campbell Festival, a body charging itself with the task of memorializing him for his own sake, to diversify the amour-propre of the town of Wiarton too long reliant only on white groundhogs, to effuse the spirit of poetry into the young of Bruce and Grey Counties, and to celebrate poetry generally and local poets in particular. I support all these causes, which is why I am on the board. I am also watching, with interest, the memorizializing turn into metaphorializing, which is of course exactly what I am doing with Stephen Leacock. I am therefore one in spirit with the whole enterprise.

If one considers the poetry only, which is tempting because poets are rare birds and even more so in Wiarton, or even his whole literary oeuvre, it is difficult to make of William Wilfred anything but a metaphor of assertive and gritty mediocrity. But I am finding there is a lot more to the man than that, and I am hoping I can convince the board and the local public to take a wider view. I believe this will be up-hill work, because metaphorializing him along these lines will be much more complicated than to pursue the simpler story of a local boy with poetical aspirations who made good on the national literary stage. The problem there is with the “made good” part of the story, because poor William Wilfred was firmly forgotten almost as soon as he was dead, and one cannot be said to have “made good” in the literary pantheon if that happens.

Did Leacock and Campbell know each other? I think it entirely possible they did.  They moved in the same Empire-loving circles at the same time and, when Leacock was lecturing in Ottawa, in the same place. Leacock once placed the main character of a story in Wiarton, and gave him a clergyman for a father. That sounds to me as if he knew something of William Wilfred’s story, the kind that could be picked up in post-lecture social conversation. They both liked good company and conversation, and could have got along very well.

What has all this to do with the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice? Not much, perhaps, except one deep thing. Those who believe in Social Justice and are prepared to work for it come with a deep faith that things can be better than they are, and a deep frustration that so many people, including those who would benefit, do not share that faith, are not prepared to make much effort, or indeed are even prepared, if not to work against it, at least to think against it, subsiding too easily into negativity, pessimism and inertia. They thus withhold support from those “of good will whose hearts are in the cause”, as Leacock called them in his final published words, and passively encourage those who are of the opposite persuasion who were then, as now, powerful, aggressive, articulate, well-placed, well-financed, self-interested, and self-satisfied. Leacock pilloried them in Aradian Adventures with the Idle Rich, but the lesson did not stick.

I am beginning to believe, as I read more about him, that William Wilfred Campbell was on Leacock’s side, bringing his heart and his pen to the struggle, and paying the price. He brought a wealth of Knowledge and Compassion to the cause. He worked hard, and is forgotten. Stephen Leacock brought those too, and worked just as hard. He also brought Imagination and Humour. He is remembered. They both deserve to be made metaphorical, although not perhaps in the same metaphor.