Exploring the Yottapede II: The Inside Story

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I am displaying last week’s pictoverbicon here because we ran into a technical glitch that prevented up-dating of the web site. I hope to get that solved in a day or two. I am sure the server’s intentions were good, in changing the up-dating regime, although the old one was working very well for me. The new one appears much more powerful, but also more complicated. The problem may lie entirely in my awkwardness at finding my way around.

Mnemochiron and I experienced no such awkwardness however. We simply walked into the tremendous maw of the Yottapede to make our way directly into its internal workings. As we made our way human beings of all descriptions flew past under the force of the suction I described last week that nearly caught me, but none hit us. As long as I was mounted on Mnemochiron I remained immune, able to observe.

The Yottapede was indeed a most remarkable creature. The people sucked into it were not digested in the natural way, its inner workings lacking all such equipment. The insides appeared as a giant, shallow domed continuum, dimensioned in space and time, where I beheld hundreds of millions, even perhaps billions, of humanoid actors apparently well incorporated into the imperatives of the Yottapede yet retaining the appearance and trappings of individuality. I spoke to many as we circulated in their midst and received from all their heartfelt and I am sure sincere assurances that their individuality remained complete and was in fact the most important thing about them, and yet clearly their incorporation into this amazing creature was equally so.

Each person a hard hat onto which was fastened the handle of an umbrella, the outer sides of which formed the Yottapede’s distinctive carapace. Some umbrellas were fastened to only one hat, others in couples or family or even larger groupings. I asked what they were for, and the answer was always the same: they kept the sky from falling on the people’s heads. And I could see that this was so, or apparently so.

In a blog posting it’s difficult to describe great things. One should keep it short. I have said a little about how the inside of the Yottapede looked. I have not yet described the sound, which I think should be called a Powean Roar. I will elaborate when I have time. I have not yet described the smell, which was not nearly as bad as you might expect in such a densely packed mass of humanity. The air was humid, almost clammy to the touch; I could taste it. I could see that Mnemochiron could too, and in fact was just as whelmed by the whole sensory experience as I was. Over and above what sight, sound, smell, touch and taste had to offer, however, were the vibrations,—I can’t think of a better word,—of a whole milieu, both massive and intricate, that permeated every aspect of the crowded interior. It was both pleasant and unpleasant, distressed and satisfied, a most curious mixture that I cannot yet describe adequately. Please be patient. I’ll get there.

I shut out as much of the sensory riot as I could, to concentrate on the Yottapede’s feet, which I had seen from the outside, which I now saw were the accumulated feet of all the people inside. I have already described how they moved every which way without getting anywhere. From the inside, however, the effect appeared much different. Here the apparent movement forward was obvious, even to me, let alone to the people attached. And yet I knew there was none. This was marvellous. It must have had something to do with the reality that all this was taking place within the organic four-dimensional space-time continuum of the Yottapede, and not what the poet Auden has called “the moderate Aristotelian city … where Euclid’s geometry and Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience …” The Yottapede was turning out to be a city indeed, but not like that.

As we made our through the domed interior we kept asking people, as best we could through the din, “Have you seen the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice?” Most looked back at us warily, as if we were insane. A few dismissed us, the word “mirage” either spoken aloud or etched upon their faces. This continued until we met one who was a clown. He, or under the woolly yellow hair and behind the bulbous nose it could just as easily have been she, laughed and said, “My dear pilgrims, can’t you tell? We are the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice! This is the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice!” And she spread her arms to take in the umbrella dome, the whole yottopedian interior, and all the footed folk therein. “We’re all in it together! And so are you!” And he danced way, laughing, her twinkling toes finding spaces between the shuffling feet where was visible a little solid ground.

I could tell by her quivering and prancing that Mnemochiron was as anxious as I, both to get out of the Yottapede back into the sane world of waterfalls and trees, and to explore the interior more thoroughly, suspended, as it were, between repulsion and curiosity, between triumph and horror. Like the clown, she was able to find solid ground among the feet, which was more than I could have done I am sure, especially considering the size of my feet.

To be continued …

 

 

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Exploring the Yottapede, Part I

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The Yottapede Saga evolves in the eighth week of the Leacock Anniversaries, on May 15th.

Normally I don’t hang images in these blog posts, although there is no reason why I should not, the mechanics being simplicity itself. I do so this time simply to show you the apotheosis of my riffing on words that begin with “M”, as it appeared in last week’s social media posts. I think it’s an interesting list. So too is the observation that “M” and its mate “N” are the middle two letters in the English alphabet. “N” for No, Negative, Nothing, Nihilist, Nemesis, Number, etc. “MN” for Mnemonics, related to Mind, Mindful, and Memory. “MN” for Mnemosyne, Goddess of Memory and Mother (by Zeus) of the nine Muses, one of whom,—I am not sure which one,—has Unsolved Riddles in her portfolio. Perhaps it’s all of them.

“N” for Nematode, a kind of worm, a parasite, a worm within. My centaurian companion and I are about to confront the Yottapede, also a parasite, also possibly an host for us who are its parasites. It’s a poor parasite that kills its host, as I was instructed when studying the phenomenon, although we might consider, if not killing this one, at least putting it in perspective.

I need to explain a couple of things about my equine-feminine companion, whose name I soon learned is Mnemochiron, descended from Mnenomsyne, with all the associations entailed thereby, and from the centaur Chiron, renowned according to Bullfinch not for carousing and mayhem (another “M” word!) like other centaurs, but “for his skill in hunting, medicine, music, and the art of prophesy.” I can’t imagine a better lineage for the purposes of our hunt for the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. I also need to explain, in case you are concerned for her ability to carry my weight, that Mnemochiron, though fully as shapely and shining in both her feminine and equine aspects as I described her last week, has some of the draught horse in her bloodline. Not the big hulking breeds like Clydesdales, Shires, Belgians, or even Percherons, but the smaller, more graceful ones, like Canadians. John La Farge, in his depiction (see below), makes his Centauress more delicate than is Mnemochiron, at least in her equine portions.

Being carried by such a creature, however, is a delicate matter. A gentleman could hardly put a saddle on her, a bridle would be entirely out of the question. Bare-back it must be, but how to hang on? La Farge Centauress.jpgBy gripping with the knees, of course. To wrap one’s arms around her waist for greater stability might be considered fresh; any jostling could cause extreme embarrassment. When all blushingly I put the problem to her, she gave me permission to grip her by the shoulders, with a request that I should massage the muscles from time to time, as the effort of constantly considering Unsolved Riddles first on the one hand and then on the other was often tiring. I did offer to walk alongside, but she thought that we would travel more quickly if I rode, and if matters came to combat we would gain from her speed and manoeuvrability. As we approached the Yottapede we soon learned the wisdom of this arrangement.

The creature before us was a huge gape-mouthed blobby arthropod with a truly astonishing number of feet, not arranged in pairs as with some, but forming a dense mat underneath. Each foot was human in form. Even at the first scanning glance we could see that these feet did not all point in one direction. Rather, they pointed in all directions of the compass and some no compass ever considered. All were in motion, striving to advance forward as it appeared to them. The Yottapede, therefore, stayed put, unable to advance on the whole, in a state of constant internal struggle. Its flexible outer covering, a carapace of loosely linked plates domed in umbrella shapes, did however ripple variously, sometimes even bulging out in one way or another, as if the whole creature were about to displace itself. It never did, or at least, only so slowly that its progress was almost undetectable. As it rippled and bulged, the colours and shadows of its iridescent carapace shifted and changed under the plural illuminations of the heavens, all quite unobserved, as we found out later, by the urges governing the feet.

The Yottapede was far too large to encircle, but we rode back and forth for some time, surveying its exterior, before we approached the gaping mouth. It was here we found out the wisdom of our arrangements. I thought it would be more fitting if I dismounted, in order to greet the Yottapede in courteous form. As soon as my feet hit the ground I was subjected to a mighty sucking wind that threatened to pull me right into the hungry mouth. It was almost irresistible. Fortunately, I am tall and long-armed; I still had my hands on Mnemochiron’s shoulders. Using my grip for lift I flung myself once more onto her back. Immediately the wind died, at least from me. If it was sucking at her, she was completely unaffected. I scrambled back into proper mounted posture, and we both looked around.

That’s enough words for today. Next week I will tell you what we saw, and what we found when we willingly entered the great black mouth to explore the Yottapede from within. Jonah, after all, would have learned nothing of whale anatomy if he had stayed on shore.

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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centaur. 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 (https://playstephenleacock.wordpress.com/) 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 (https://paulwconway.wordpress.com/2018/04/). 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.

Charging Membranes, Atmospheres … and What Else?

Sixth Week of the Leacock Anniversaries, Wednesday May 1st, 2019. May Day. Or is that MAYDAY! MAYDAY!

My mind is full of questions this morning about the verb “to charge”, and whether it may make some potential difference in the hunt for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. Now there’s a blast from the past that just popped into my mind as I typed that sentence: potential difference. It came, I think, from my second-year physics course at the University of Toronto, a subject from which my degree of disengagement was exceeded only by thermodynamics. As far as I was concerned at the age of nineteen, electricity and magnetism, on the one hand, and heat, on the other, could do their thing in whatever way they pleased. Their decisions to flow, or not to flow, from one body to another were none of my business.

The idea of potential energy, however, perhaps related if memory serves me, could be my business now, depending on definition; especially the idea of something being charged with potential energy. We sometimes speak of a charged atmosphere; let’s borrow that. Let’s remember that we breathe the the contents of an atmosphere, either the natural one around us, or an artificial one from a tank or controlled environment. BW Powe has recently brought into the perceptual discussion the idea of a charged membrane. Let’s borrow that. Then let’s imagine the situation we may be in.

Let’s imagine two different atmospheres, one conducive to Social Justice, and one not conducive. Let’s imagine them mixed in the same breathing space, just as the natural atmosphere is a mixture of different gases, and as an artificial atmosphere can be made to be. Then let us imagine a membrane that is charged to allow one type of atmosphere through easily and to inhibit the passage of the other. The question then becomes: what kind of a membrane is it, and what kind of charge?

Is it a natural membrane, or do we “facture” it, as in manufacture, or mentafacture if there is such a word? If natural, then our approach to it will have to take one kind of form, if humanufactured, then another. The same goes for the charge. Is the membrane global, enveloping us all like some great blanket, or is it more like a face mask that we can put on or remove at will? And are these questions the essence of what we mean when we call Social Justice an Unsolved Riddle?

I am thinking out loud here, but make no apology. That’s the purpose of this blog. I invite you to think along with me, because I have grave doubts about my capacity to do it on my own.

I have not yet read B.W. Powe’s new book, The Charge in the Global Membrane, but am on track to do so. Based on his books that I have read, I expect to find it both informative and, perhaps more importantly, suggestive. For example, the other day I was reading Outage: A Journey  into Electric City, and was struck by the following line: “I’d been striving for a clear unattainable outside position [concerning information and electronic effects], and I was resisting the deeper and tangled path, the emotional core.” And a few pages later: “A passion for the end may be a passion for breakout and renewal.” What happens to  us if the global membrane is so charged that it filters out the passion for the end that we call Social Justice? How much of what is thought and said about it represents a striving for a clear, unattainable outside position when we should be taking another path, be it ever so deep and tangled?

Stephen Leacock, in 1943 at the very end of his life, in the last paragraph of his last book called While There Is Time, concluded that: “Everything depends on the work of the spirit on the honesty and inspiration of the individual.” He is suggesting that the membrane is a mask that we can individually put on or take off and thus change the atmosphere we breathe. The idea of a global membrane would seem to disagree, or at least suggest that we would have to deal with it even if we each did take off the mask.

I don’t pretend yet to have caught the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, let alone tamed it, but I am coming to believe some things about it. Most importantly, I believe that we can control the spirit we bring to our individual and collective lives, despite the efforts made by all manner of interests to control them for us. These may try to whelm us perhaps, but need not overwhelm. We can choose the deeper and tangled path, and may well find it not nearly as deep and tangled as we fear it is going to be. If it enabled us even to shed some of our anxieties, we might indeed find it quite pleasant.

If we charge the global membrane head-on, can we reverse its charge?

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.

 

Amidst Dark Towers and Labyrinths, a Yottapede

The tumbling metaphors are beginning to sort themselves out. Two probes are under way: the Dark Tower probe of Olde Stephen and me in the Stephen Leacock Blog, and the Labyrinthine probe of the Mariposa group in that one. Olde Stephen and I are ready to blow the slug-horn as soon as we arrive at the Dark Tower, if we can find it, and the Mariposans have walked the first ring which is also the middle ring, so considered both because it is the third of seven geometrically, and contains the half-way point by distance for each phase of the walk.

All that remains is for me to decide what approach I will take myself, because I am in this Hunt too, working the Dark Tower with Olde Stephen, walking the labyrinth with the Mariposans, and seeking my own way. But what way is that?

I think I will go back to what I was taught, all those years ago, and the idea that complex relationships in the human world can be effectively “modelled” in some useful sense of the word. I learned about mathematical models, econometric models, statistical models, deterministic models, stochastic models, and I can’t remember what all else. I even built a three of these things, two of which worked (a linear programming produce-mix model, and a set of provincial economic accounts) and the other (a regional holistic social-economic-environmental-cultural-political model) most emphatically did not and never would have done. But is the latter not precisely what we need, or at least may reasonably dream of, for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice? I think it is, and although it may not be possible to build it in any practical way, perhaps I can imagine it. Perhaps if I put this together with the Dark Tower and the Labyrinth, maybe I can achieve some useful effect, even if that is only to add some intelligibility to the whole confused prospect.

To do that I am going to adopt two ideas from my quantitative modelling days, as I remember them (an important qualification). First: that the variables in this model are primarily stochastic, not deterministic. In other words, they are governed by probabilities, by probability distributions. This does not mean they are random. A probability distribution has shape, centre (variously defined as its mean, average, median, etc.), and dispersion, or variance. It may have other attributes too, but for the time being I have forgotten what they are. I must bone up on that and, wondrous to relate, I still have the books! There may be newer ones I should read.

Second idea: that relations among the variables are simultaneously influenced (I don’t say ‘determined’); that is, that variable A influences variable B, and vice versa. Of course since we are dealing with multiple alphabets of variables, so these influences become highly complicated, which does not mean we cannot aspire to distill out their essence or some approximation of it.

Stephen Leacock’s standard for a model (he didn’t call them that) was whether it worked. Socialism, which is one model, doesn’t work, he judged. He still has plenty of company. He judged also that laissez-faire-ism doesn’t work, at least not in pure form as ideological capitalism or marketism. His ‘model’ was a mixed one, in those terms. The model we use today is even more mixed. The airwaves pulse with alternatives, which I will examine briefly. The ideologies and pragmatisms of the whole social-economic-environmental-cultural-political creature that we must find and tame if we are to have anything remotely satisfactory as a model for Social Justice indeed constitutes a wilderness of the most wilder kind.

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and I laid me down in that den to sleep, and as  slept I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a Yottapede, an immense worm-like creature with more legs than I could count, who crawled across the landscape absorbing all in its path, becoming larger and more yottapedic all the time. And a voice cried out from Heaven lamenting that the Yottapede was unstoppable, that it had absorbed so much, that it wanted to absorb the wilderness and everything it had not already absorbed, that it wanted to absorb the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice too, but had not quite succeeded, at least not yet. “Turn, turn,” cried the voice, “turn the Yottapede, before it’s too late!” I called out to the voice, how can I do that? “You must cast about to find all those bits of the Unsolved Riddle that the Yottapede has not already absorbed, and yottapede-proof them.” Oh, I replied, is that all. Okay, I will. But for that I am going to need a model, a simulation, of the world, of the wilderness, of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, of the Yottapede itself. “Go for it,” said the voice.

 

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.