Category Archives: Stephen Leacock

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.

 

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The Unsolved Riddle of Unsolved Riddles

Wednesday, March 27th 2019: First Posting here, Third Posting overall. (Posts will flow weekly here on Wednesdays.)

I am resolved to hunt down and tame the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. I am resolved to do this in time to replicate Stephen Leacock’s publication schedule of one hundred years ago: seven chapters individually from late August to early October, and a book in mid-January. I am hoping that by performing this project on-line, I can engage many people,—you in particular,—in the search for ideas that will effectively domesticate this elusive and slippery creature once and for all. If we must make like Lord Ronald to begin with, riding madly off in all directions, so be it.

I am not sure when Unsolved Riddles were first spotted. Perhaps you know. If so, please tell me. I believe that the first step towards identification and classification was taken by the English clergyman Charles Simeon in 1825 when, in a letter to a friend, he said: “For you I can say in words, what for these thirty years I have proclaimed in deeds, that the truth is not in the middle and not in one extreme; but in both extremes. I see you are filled with amazement, and doubting whether I am in my sober senses.” The particular species of the genus Unsolved Riddle that he had in mind had to do with theology, or perhaps ecclesiastics. Our species is Social Justice. Later on, in 1855, Walt Whitman boasted of  his particular species: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then . . . . I contradict myself ; I am large . . . . I contain multitudes.” He thus makes a virtue of riding off in all directions. The social world boasts to us: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then . . . . I contradict myself. To deal with me justly, you must be large . . . . you must contain multitudes.” This is a tall order, the one served up however by all pluralistic regimes, contradictions and all.

There may be some out there who think we should not live in a pluralistic regime, that somehow or other we can return, or ought to be able to return, to the days of relative singularism, when we in Canada were four solitudes: a British, English-speaking solitude that believed in itself and knew where it stood; a French-speaking solitude that believed in itself and knew where it stood; an immigrant solitude or complex of solitudes grudgingly offered a place but little standing; and an indigenous solitude pushed out of its place with its standing brutally cut off. I am sorry for those nostalgic people. I could in fact be one of them, although I am not, because I grew up in the English-speaking British one, but it just won’t do any more. Stephen Leacock’s final chapter in The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice is called “What Is Possible and What Is Not”. Singularism of the old kind is no longer possible, and should not be possible. We have pluralism, we will have even greater pluralism, and we must find some practicable form of social justice that is suited to pluralism.

I wonder what happens if we throw out two words that appear often in conversations about social justice: equality, and fairness. I hasten to say that I am not suggesting we should throw out what those words intend to promote. I am raising the possibility that the words themselves, either inherently, or in what has become of them, are now in the way. In other words, when we battle against inequality and unfairness, as evils which Social Justice ought to overcome, we may not want to replace them with equality and fairness. We may want to replace them with something else. I wonder what that is.

I am determined that these postings will not become too long, and this one is getting there. I will therefore simply prime the pump for next week with my doubts about those two words, Equality and Fairness. And I may then add two more: Perfection, and Principle. Even Truth, perhaps? If you think of others, please let me know. voyageur@bmts.com is the e-mail address; http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca has all the links.

I have a strong urge to keep writing. I am going to suppress it until next week.

Thank you for reading. Please bear with me.

Posted by Paul Conway, Voyageur Storytelling

 

The Unsolved Riddle of the SNC-Lavalin “Affair”

As affairs go this is a pretty sorry one, but instructive nonetheless. We should thank our lucky stars that in times like these, the best Canada can do for political scandal is an argument among senior politicians concerning the fate of an important corporation allegedly caught in the act of bribing people in a corrupt foreign regime, a criminal act in this country. It should go without saying that the crime lies in getting caught, because I am sure that all corporations who deal with corrupt regimes do it. Pay bribes, that is. Not get caught. As long as we like the jobs and the stock price gains that come from such practices, we are hardly in a position to cast stones. But we do it anyway.

There are two aspects to this affair. One is the behaviour of the politicians. The other is the behaviour of the media reporting it.

Before I resoundingly object to the behaviour of the CBC, where I get most of my Canadian news, I tip my  hat to Chantal Hébert and Neil Macdonald who at least tried to tell us that there is more going on here than meets the eye, and that the interpretations of the political opposition need not be taken as Gospel. Fortunately yesterday (February 21st) the Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, threw some light where before had been only suspicion, and all became clear to the intelligently imaginative eye.

My interpretation: There was an argument among senior politicians about an important domestic matter, and one of them didn’t like it. She, the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General at the time, was the one who had to make the decision. She in fact made it her way, but unfortunately she expressed her indignation at the argument to such effect that someone in her entourage — I doubt very much that she did it herself — blatted to The Globe and Mail. That august press organ failed to ask itself or discern what was really going on, printed the story, the opposition weighed in, other media took up the cry, and a tiny morsel of hell broke loose.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould MP, then spoke in the House of Commons, looking forward to the opportunity to tell “her truth”. That was graceful of her. She could have said “the truth”. It was also the moment when the affair became instructive, and not merely intensely irritating.

She has her truth. Her former colleagues have their truth. I hope both will find clear articulation, and the sooner the better. Both these truths will be true to those who hold them. It may even be that both are true objectively, and that we have here a clear example of what Stephen Leacock called an Unsolved Riddle, a situation where The Truth lies at both poles simultaneously. Stephen Leacock was of course one of those who could do justice to the absurdity of the discussion, as politicians, the media, and the public try to come to grips with one of these things. The phenomenon itself is not absurd, but simply a part of the human condition with which we ought to be entirely familiar but to which we never seem to become accustomed.

I wish the Prime Minister had told his truth right off the bat. Of course it is a terrible thing if SNC-Lavalin with all its experience, expertise, and legions of employees were to fail, if the allegations are well founded, as a result of common practice carried out with clumsy stupidity. They will have learned their lesson, and it is only right that it should hurt. But not fatally. He and his people were entirely within their rights and their jobs to argue so. Ms. Wilson-Raybould was entirely within her rights and her job to want to throw the book at them, to resent the intrusion of political or economic considerations into a legal matter. Let Justice be done, though the heavens fall. Two truths, both true. The jurisprudential art will consist in finding a way to respect both. I think our rule of law will be able to do that, if the hordes stop howling and let the juris bring their brains and skill to bear in pursuit of the best possible mixture of justices.

In my schoolyard many years ago, when combat broke out between two boys, or more rarely between two girls, the cry would go up: “Fight fight fight!” And everyone would rush over to form a circle around the combatants and urge them on, some cheering for one, some for the other, most simply enjoying the spectacle. A teacher would then come along and break it up before anyone got hurt very much. A bloody nose or two, perhaps, or some pulled hair. We are at no loss these days for people to form the circle and cheer as we did, but who will act as the teacher? Where is the voice of calm common sense in this absurd affair and others like it, the voice who knows how things happen in the huge complex conflicted highly-pressured governments of our time, and how we should think about them.

Stephen Leacock, on his good days, had that kind of voice. Of course he had his bad days too. Who of us does not? This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of  his birth, the 75th of his death, and the 100th of his book The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. It’s time to re-write that book.

 

The Unsolved Riddle of “Multiculturalism”

Oh dear! “Multiculturalism”! From an aesthetic point of view, what a terrible word. I much prefer “Pluralism”; if we want to be more explicit we should call it Cultural Pluralism, or Ethnic Pluralism, or Linguistic Pluralism, or Land-of-Birth Pluralism, or Religious Pluralism, or even Racial Pluralism, or whatever we mean. Because whether we like it or not — and we should like it — we are surrounded by plurals of all kinds — natural plurals, human plurals, economic plurals, social plurals, plurals without end — and we might as well enjoy them.

I recently found a beautiful poem called “Snow” by Louis MacNeice in which he says, “The world is crazier and more of it than we think,/Incorrigibly plural.” And so it is. We all need to feel “the drunkenness of things being various.”

I am still on my brain break (for another two weeks), but the recent brouhaha about “extreme multiculturalism” and immigration triggered by Maxime Bernier and the Progressive Conservative Party’s exploitation of the “immigration crisis” or “refugee crisis” (which isn’t a crisis at all, merely a surge in migrations of distressed people to which we can easily adjust if we put our minds and our resources and our copious good will to it, as we are in fact doing) has brought the whole matter into my mind and I might as well spill some of  it out.

I am going to talk a lot about pluralism during the Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial and its run-up, because I consider him a kind of proto-pluralist, not necessarily in his specific beliefs, but in his cast of mind and way of thinking, the intellectual tools that he brought to the task of understanding and discussing human affairs. That he did not always use these tools in ways we now consider acceptable, particularly when it came to matters of women and race, says nothing about the quality of the tools. Within his academic field of political economy and often in his humour he demonstrates them quite well enough for us to acquire them for ourselves. Our job is to learn them, put them to use, and pass them on to the coming generations.

These tools for the comprehension of and navigation through the ambient plurals, the landscapes of various things in which we live, Stephen Leacock labels as Unsolved Riddles, which is a way of thinking about them, and his tetrad of Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour  which he urges us to apply to them. Education, his favourite subject, is about learning how to do that, and is life-long.

I would say, therefore, to Maxime Bernier and anyone else who suggests we should be less plural than we are: “There is nothing Canadian about monism, or even small-set-ism, in any sphere. We have always been plural. That is who we are. We may have clashed occasionally over our varieties, or been made uncomfortable by them from time to time, and some of us may have sometimes yearned for a more simple national landscape, but we have never embraced it as an ideal. Why should we do that now? Why should we believe that now we must become less than we are, and always have been? What has changed to make such diminution desireable?”

Think of the variety of our natural landscapes, and how we glory in them. Why should we treat our human landscapes any differently?

That will do for now. More of this in the Fall and next year.

On the Trail of Unsolved Riddles

Yesterday I wrote a Missive for the on-rushing Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial, in part as follows:

When what is plural about us becomes perceived as an entanglement of identities and tribes, then we are in trouble. When the institutions that we have created to realize our hopes yearn for the simplicity and powers of monism and act accordingly, then we are in trouble. When we cannot or will not converse with each other in humane ways across the intermedia of our plural beings, then we are in trouble. When we think we cannot afford to be what we are, then we are in trouble. When we cannot remember how we got here and why we set out in the first place, then we are in trouble. I am not sure how much trouble we are in, but I worry about the trends.
What are we, and what do we want to be? A liberal democracy? A social democracy? An institutional democracy? A communitarian democracy? All of the above: a pluralistic democracy? I think so, but the traditions of collective reflection and conversation and accommodation that we need to make that work are under pressure from monistic interests and simplistic misunderstandings on all sides, and the sheer difficulty of the combination.

If we can’t find some way forward we will eventually find ourselves with no democracy at all, or only the pale shadow of one in the form of representatives duly elected to parliaments largely powerless. Of course the journey will be difficult, but why should we blinch at that? We are, on the whole, a thoughtful, articulate, educated, humane people, who can handle a complex conversation if only given the opportunity. Such a process is hard work, of course, and we are, on the whole, also humanly lazy. But we constantly prove ourselves quite capable of working hard in a good cause. Why not this one?

It would be helpful if those who aspire to inform us were not so eager to climb onto and sustain the simplistic bandwagon itself. Off the top I can think of two unhelpful illusions that are regularly presented to our credulity. First, and most ludicrously: that “the economy” is a singular thing that is and can be “managed” by our governments. Nonsense! Economic life is a tremendous organism of mind-boggling complexity. Those who claim to understand it — and they are many and vociferous — need to retain a just measure of humility, and to remind us, and themselves, as they spin their informative webs, that what they are able to see and describe on any one occasion is only a tiny slice of the reality. Such blatant absurdities as the CBC’s nightly “business report” consisting of a few stock market indices and a couple of spot market prices should be hooted off the stage. Likewise any politician or journalist who talks about “the economy”. Such talk is pure bamboozlement.

It would be helpful  if those who aspire to inform us would abandon the idea that the identity of a political party can be expressed in the person of its leader. I think that our political parties are complex organisms in their own right, and that all the main ones, those who try to embrace a wide perspective and have any hope of being elected, have something wise to say. They also indulge themselves and try to tempt us with much twaddle and intellectual candy floss borrowed from consumer marketing and branding. It would be helpful if our journalists would not go along so lazily with these unhelpful habits. I think that if we put all the platforms of all the parties together, after cutting out the candy floss, we would see the mind of the body politic in all its colour and richness.

I believe also that we would have a manifesto for the pluralistic democracy that collectively we hope for, that is a liberal democracy, a social democracy, an institutional democracy, and a communitarian democracy, all rolled into one. A monumental Unsolved Riddle perhaps, but a good one.

You may well ask whether I have done such a thing. The answer is that I tried, at the time of the last federal election, and made some progress. I tried to capture it in the persona of the Muddle Party. Some of the platforms were so incredibly verbose and disorganized that I was unable to finish in time. A vision of pluralistic democracy did indeed emerge, a flickering shadow glimpsed through the partisan fog. I have not tried for the Ontario election soon to come, for reasons peculiar to this particular occasion. I am going to try again for the federal election in 2019, which may, if we are fortunate, be more about ideas than personalities, or can be made so.

And guess what? It will coincide with the height of the Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial. He gave us the Great Election in Missinaba County. A fitting precedent for an election conversation chock full of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour, just as he would want.

 

Onward to a Toward Canadian Enlightenment

Did you know that “toward” is an adjective as well as a preposition? Meaning, among other closely related ideas: in process, promising, auspicious? I think I would have known that if I had thought about it, but I didn’t. Until today. I am trying to probe, or grope, toward (or equally towards) a toward notion of Canadian Enlightenment, hoping that nothing untoward happens on the way. Onward, upward, forward, outward, grasping the wheel and turning windward, and all that good stuff. Excelsior-ward!

An early result from the first e-mailings of our Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial — in fact a Sesquiettriaquatariacentennial (both 150th and 75th) — has been a firm pulse of interest in Canadian Enlightenment, be it “a” or “the” or without prior article.

This stimulated me to reply, along these lines: I think we have some plausible form of Canadian Enlightenment, although there are those who would sneer at the idea I am sure. There always are. My hypothesis is that it is organic, evolutionary, incremental, cumulative, with all manner of people contributing their fragmentary, incomplete and inconclusive bits which seep their way into the national consciousness or subconsciousness and gradually influence our behaviour for the better. Instead of the “dream of a perfect world or no world at all” deplored by W. H. Auden we have a dream of a world or a country that becomes better in stages. This process becomes first visible and memorable in what people wrote, not just the Big Writers, but all kinds of lesser ones. In what they spoke too, of course, but that is ephemeral. This view makes me particularly interested in what shows up in literary magazines down through the ages, and not only in published books. I am fascinated by The Canadian Magazine of Politics, Science, Art and Literature (1893-1944), also Andrew Macphail’s University Magazine, as an early witnesses to this whole project. I look down the list of names in the early volumes and I ask myself, who are these people? I intend to find out, but it’s going to take a while. I think many of them will turn out to be “folk writers” adding their little osmotic bits to the whole creature in almost complete anonymity.

Of course there is another osmotic creature out there too, that I call the Yottapede, a beast of quite a different hue. If we are looking for an epic struggle on which to build a national epic — and we should be looking for one — we could set Canilluminia against the Yottapede and let them slug it out. Canallumina has not yet triumphed, but she is still in the game, represented not by any of our favourite polarities, but by those who seek to reconcile them. That is Unsolved Riddle territory.

I am wondering if “osmotic” in this context is the opposite of “apocalyptic”, in the sense that B.W. Powe uses the latter in his recent book Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye. Powe sees those two as apocalyptic writers (i.e. revelatory, prophetic) and no doubt they qualify. Who else? Expanding on Matthew Arnold I think we would find Canadian Enlightenment in the best that has been thought, written, and voiced in memorable ways by Canadian writers and about Canada. I think the question of who is a Canadian writer and who is from somewhere else and writing about Canada depends on how much he or she has imported or learned here, and needs to be handled delicately. We owe much to our immigrants, but possibly not the automatic right to define us. I think that comparable care must be taken with the word “Canada”. When does “Canada” emerge from “pre-Canada”? In the political context, which is extraordinarily important in any useful concept of enlightenment, I think it comes some time in the 1840’s, when local leaders began to assert themselves against the pipe dreams of the colonial authorities. I would be prepared to find that the process began even earlier in the Maritime Provinces, but I am not as familiar with the history. It was certainly mature in some practical sense by the time of Confederation.

I do not think we need to own the unenlightened policies of the colonial authorities or the practices condoned by them, nor should we try to claim credit for the enlightened ones, until after the time when we had grasped the political initiative to some effective extent. By 1837 that extent was not effective, as the rebellions showed. When Responsible Government arrived, it was. The date when “Canada” emerged for Enlightenment purposes probably came somewhere in between.

Whether Stephen Leacock is “apocalyptic” or “osmotic” in this whole process remains for me an unsolved riddle, at least for the time being, and perhaps forever. In any case, I think he is perhaps the most interesting figure in the early stages of the Canadian Enlightenment creature’s evolution, because he emerged from folk writing into a position of such literary prominence which has to some extent endured, and because he lays out — fragmentarily, incompletely, and inconclusively — his tetrad of Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour, and because so many people read him and thus were subjected to his osmotic influence, and because he himself was so thoroughly also in the grip of the Yottapede impelling him to a life of comfort, security and academic mediocrity. His intense absorption in it and equally intense struggles against it make his life story a parable, compelling in its own way. He becomes an Unsolved Riddle of a man.

The people of Mariposa don’t struggle. They embrace the Yottapede, and when they become successful and assume they know the answers to the riddles (as in The City of Arcadian Adventures) they become childishly foolish and morally monstrous. That is why I believe both those books to be prophetic, and why he abandoned that stream, because the next prophetic work was going to be too painful to write, a black hole of nihilism fed by successive waves of war, speculative madness, economic depression, and political insanity. No wonder he drank.

That’s enough for today. Thanks for reading.

 

Toward a (the?) Canadian Enlightenment

I write this on the eve of the launch of formal preparations for a Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial, a 277 day celebration to take place in 2019 from March 28th to December 30th, these dates being the 75th anniversary of his death and the 150th anniversary of his birth. If you want to plug into this event, the place to start is http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca.

In my most recent post I came down on the side of a humanistic approach to economics, part of my belief in a humanistic approach to everything. I am not always sure that some of our ways of thinking about huge issues are as humanistic as they need to be. For example, spokespeople for the indigenous point of view often advocate on behalf of Mother Earth, and they are right so to do. But over the course of history certain decisions have been taken about our relationship with Mother Earth, decisions which cannot be reversed without wholesale destruction of humanity, either in the crude mortal sense, or in regression to a primitive state of poverty, hardship and brutality. While I do not believe that a high level of material prosperity, a high “standard of living”, should be the limit of our aspiration, I am not prepared to sneeze at it either.

Our relationship with Mother Earth is often brutal and exploitative and wasteful to a degree that our descendants, if we have any, will find difficult to believe. They will turn away from it with the same kind of revulsion that we feel towards slavery, child labour, gratuitous massacre, the gorier forms of capital and corporal punishment, rape, physical abuse, and other practices that we believe to be conspicuously evil. But our relationship with Mother Earth has another dimension too, which has allowed us to sustain ourselves and to prosper wonderfully despite our burgeoning population which, relatively speaking, is not a new phenomenon. We have been actively manipulating Mother Earth to increase her productivity for our benefit for quite a number of centuries, even millennia, and doing very well out of it. Irrigation works, the torching of countryside to encourage new growth, the breeding of plants and animals, the damming of streams, these are all blatant intrusions into the natural realms of Mother Earth, and they go back a long time. Our power to make such intrusions destructive has increased enormously in the past 200 years, but so too has our power to make them productive and beneficial.

It is this kind of worry, for which I claim no originality, that makes me so interested in the Stephen Leacock trope of the Unsolved Riddle. I think that our relationship with Mother Earth is an Unsolved Riddle and that any person or point of view claiming to have the answer and with the power to impose it is likely to do us great harm. The truth, as one Charles Simeon said years ago, does lie at one extreme or the other, nor half-way between, but at both extremes. The question of how to do that is an Unsolved Riddle.

But we can’t simply run around wringing our hands. We have to find ways to think, and act. Stephen Leacock said of his Great Detective that to think was to act and to act was to think—frequently he could do both together. That is what we need to learn to do.

When we have found a way, a new way, or an old way reinvented, then we call it, or the ideas behind it, an Enlightenment. I am interested in the question of whether something has percolated through the pages of our history that could be called a Canadian Enlightenment, and if so, who lit it. I think it quite possibly has, incomplete and imperfect as the application has been. Obviously it must have several strands and that the application is a species of weaving. I think that the European Enlightenment wove the strands of Knowledge and Imagination to an unprecedented degree. I think that Compassion was soon added, because Knowledge and Imagination by themselves can lead too easily lead into darkness. To make them work in a Canadian context, however, we need something else, because our context is inherently uncongenial and maybe even impossible. But here we are, and we have to do our best. Humour becomes the necessary fourth strand for us. I believe that that discovery belongs to Stephen Leacock.

Knowledge, Imagination, Compassion, and Humour: the four strands in the Canadian Enlightenment, woven and perpetually re-woven by investigation, conversation, experimentation, and negotiation, the next step forward forever an Unsolved Riddle. That, at any rate, is my hypothesis. Pursuit ho!

Ahoy! Have you seen the Canadian Enlightenment?