Fourfold Visions in Public Affairs & Literary Casts of Mind — Seven

After my complete failure to do what I said I would do the last time out, which was to be brief, I decided that the only way I could be brief on my subject was to say nothing at all. I decided that August was a very good month to say it. So I did.

I was brief this month on Twitter @conwaypaulw, because there one has no choice. I was brief in my weekly pictoverbicons, reproduced there and at http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca, because there I have constrained that space deliberately.

I will begin regular communications again in September, but they will be less frequent, and I will reverse the order of publication. I used to send out weekly e-mails to my list and then post them here. From now on I will post them here and on my other blogs first, then notify the list that they are ready to be viewed.

I believe, and have always believed, in the public airing of drafts. This is a draft of the first posting that I intend for the second week in September.

I am hoping to make larger and more creative use of pictoverbicons in the future, less of conventional prose. I am not sure how that is going to work. I will begin by meditating on the words “mosaic” (also “Mosaic”), and “tissage”.

I remain committed to the idea that complex circumstances demand complex thinking, and that one possible approach may be to cultivate Fourfold Visions as recommended by William Blake. I believe that a certain kind of literary mind knows how to do that, and should therefore be cultivated.

The short list of my Top Fourfold Prophets, on the masculine side, stands at Tolstoy, Keynes, Berlin, and Whitman, although the list of candidates is long and the competition stiff. On the female side the list is proving slower to evolve. George Eliot seems certain to make it, although perhaps her kind of fourfoldedness has too much masculine character. Perhaps there is a feminine fourfoldedness that I simply am not yet able to imagine. It may be presumptuous of me even to try, although I am certain that the people who have had the most profound influence on me personally are all women, also numbering four. Perhaps I should start with them.

Fourfold Visions in Public Affairs & Literary Casts of Mind – Six

The following was e-mailed to the Fourfold Visions list on Monday, July 27th, 2020:

Greetings!

I am going to try to keep this brief today. These are, after all, the dog days of summer, when minds habitually relax and addle in the sun and humidity, at least where these intrude. Decisions stall on all sides, which makes it all the more unfortunate that this year our poor addled governments have not that luxury. Circumstances are on the march, experts of all kinds pontificate and disagree, carping negativity out-shouts the voices of serenity, deadlines insist, and confusion reigns, or at least has plenty of room to run.

Does Fourfold Vision addle, or de-addle? I fear we must face the possibility that when first applied to any Unsolved Riddle, even with an impeccably Literary Cast of Mind, it may appear to addle. After all, the whole movement begins with William Blake and Charles Simeon, the former being too loquacious to quote here, and the latter telling us “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.” (Emphasis his.)

Appearances can be deceptive, however. To apply simplistic answers to complex questions constitutes the highest pitch of addling, or so I believe. Single Vision is the addled form, not Fourfold. If you are looking for erudition to support this assertion, I suggest you try Isaiah Berlin. If you are looking for an empirical challenge, then read, watch, or listen to the news and try to imagine a decision arising from the data and advice there presented.

Of course governments do not make their decisions based on the news, or should not. But we the people might well do so, often lacking any other perspective on the issues of the day.

Last week I flung out two parting questions. First, in our pursuit of the Higher Pragmatism, are we stuck with Henry Minzberg’s “Balance” (https://minzberg.org) and the “Balanced Response”of http://www.balancedresponse.ca? If the Higher Pragmatism is in fact our goal, as it well might be, then perhaps we are. I keep hoping that we can discover some form of Idealism that will do better for us. I know I have plenty of hopeful company. Perhaps we can find that in Isaiah Berlin’s acutely Fourfold (or compound Twofold) ideas of “Liberty” and “Pluralism”.

Second, I asked what would happen if we wedded Walt Whitman’s “America” with William Blake’s “Jerusalem”. Would we thus beget a “Canada” of comparable poetic weight? According to Northrop Frye the answer may lie with E.J. Pratt.

Blake? Whitman? Pratt? Berlin? Frye? Now there’s summer reading!

Sincerely,

Paul Conway
Northern Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
July 27, 2020

Archive of Fourfold Vision E-Mails: https://mariposabyconway.wordpress.com.
Comments for public consumption can be made there.
I am always delighted to receive feedback by e-mail, of course.

Thoughts on Fourfold Visions and other related matters appear also at:
Voyageur Storytelling, http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca
KnICH Magazine, http://www.patreon.com/knichmagazine and associated sites;
Blog: https://paulwconway.wordpress.com;
Twitter: @conwaypaulw
Facebook: Paul W Conway and Voyageur Storytelling

Fourfold Visions in Public Affairs & Literary Casts of Mind

The following was e-mailed to the Fourfold Visions list on Monday, July 20th, 2020:

Greetings!

Do I misquote Walt Whitman? Very well then . . . . I misquote Walt Whitman, or did last week; I am large . . . . I contain multitudes. I also apologize. My audience is literary, and I should be more careful.

Was Walt Whitman a Fourfold Prophet, as extrapolated from John Maynard Keynes in the passage I quoted last week? Possibly. Possibly not.

Certainly he did possess a “rare combination of gifts”, although Keynes probably meant something specific, his tetrad of “mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher”. Walt Whitman had his own set, and your definition would be as good as mine. If we had that conversation I would submit that he did indeed reach “a high standard in several different directions and … combine talents not often found together” within the poetic realm.

Certainly Walt Whitman did “speak in words”, a great many of them, although whether he understood symbols in the mathematical sense, which I believe to be what Keynes meant, is less certain. He had his own symbolic sense. Did he “contemplate the particular in terms of the general” or the other way around, and what difference would it make? Perhaps he did both, as I believe a good Fourfold Prophet would.

I believe he did “touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought”, and magnificently so. He harboured no plodding thoughts. Did he “study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future”? I am not sure that he did. I think he had little use for the past. His thoughts flew from the present into the future.

Keynes said of his “master-economist” that, “No part of human nature or its institutions must lie entirely outside his regard.” I believe that the same must be said of the supreme-poet. Walt Whitman certainly cleared that bar.

Keynes proposed a cast of mind that was “purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, as near the earth as a politician.” I will grant that Walt Whitman was purposeful and, within the poetic realm, incorruptible. I do not find him disinterested and aloof, however. Quite the contrary. And although no politician, his nearness to his earth and his people is perhaps the most remarkable thing about him.

His earth and his people are not ours, however. The triumphalist sweep of his “America” (which poetically includes Canada, just as it did for Stephen Leacock,—and Australia, and South Africa, and other such enterprises) does not sit very well today. It holds limited practical value in public affairs.

Is there any room for a mind, poetic or otherwise, of triumphalist sweep among our Fourfold Prophets? Or among ourselves? Or, in our pursuit of the Higher Pragmatism, are we stuck with Henry Minzberg’s “Balance” and the “Balanced Response” of the folks we acknowledged last week? (cf. https://minzberg.org and http://www.balancedresponse.ca)

I wonder what would happen if we wedded Walt Whitman’s “America” with William Blake’s “Jerusalem”. Would we thus beget a “Canada” of comparable poetic weight?

More mundanely, I have been attempting to apply Fourfold Vision to Covid-19, and have posted my strivings at https://paulwconway.wordpress.com, under the title “The Madness of King Us”. I would value your comments.

Sincerely,

Paul Conway
Northern Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
July 20, 2020

Archive of Fourfold Vision Letters: https://mariposabyconway.wordpress.com.
Comments for public consumption can be made there.
I am always delighted to receive feedback by e-mail, of course.

Thoughts on Fourfold Visions and other related matters appear also at:
Voyageur Storytelling, http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca
KnICH Magazine, http://www.patreon.com/knichmagazine and associated sites;
Blog: https://paulwconway.wordpress.com;
Twitter: @conwaypaulw
Facebook: Paul W Conway and Voyageur Storytelling

Fourfold Visions in Public Affairs & Literary Casts of Mind

The following was e-mailed to the Fourfold Visions list on Monday, July 13th, 2020:

Greetings!

I was reminded again this past week of the Hedgehog and Fox of Archilochus and Isaiah Berlin. I was reminded of them by reading:

• “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” signed by a long list of literary and academic people and published by Harper’s Magazine :: https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/;

• “A Balanced Response”, both “Open Letter” and “Statement”, about Covid-19 :: http://balancedresponse.ca/;

• Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s “The Sunny Way” speech about political practice :: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/wilfrid-laurier-the-sunny-way-speech-1895; and

• J.K. Rowling’s statement :: https://www.jkrowling.com/opinions/j-k-rowling-writes-about-her-reasons-for-speaking-out-on-sex-and-gender-issues/.

I read the first two for obvious reasons, the third out of curiosity, and the last because I wanted to know what J.K. Rowling actually said, a certain amount of vituperation having come her way for signing the Letter on Justice and Open Debate.

All four of these documents, in different ways, are pleas for a complex understanding of complex issues, for tolerance, indeed cultivation, of diverse points of view in public discourse and affairs, and, explicitly or implicitly, for policy to be developed in ways appropriate to a liberal democracy. In other words: all these people are in effect advocating for the rigorous application of Fourfold Vision (or Multifold) in Public Affairs.

For that we need Fourfold Conversations, which are not easy to come by, at least in the public media. No doubt they carry on vigorously in the official and political halls where the decisions must actually be made.

This hiatus between the blizzard of onefold perspectives that swirls around the public sphere, and the conversations that must go on where decisions are made, remains a deeply regressive force. I do not mean to suggest that mitigative measures will come easily. We start, however, with the idea that they are important.

I remind you of the other three casts of mind in play: the Mariposan, which is what we have by default; the Ideological; and the Scientific. I will look into these in more detail in due course.

I have put out a call for the names of Fourfold Prophets, and names have been coming in, for which I am grateful. By following up one of those I believe I have stumbled on a description of the cast of mind that might make someone a Fourfold Prophet. It comes from John Maynard Keynes, who may have been one, from his homage to Alfred Marshall (September 1924). I think that what Keynes said about “the master-economist” applies to any Fourfold Prophet of the kind that we need:

He [she] must possess a rare combination of gifts … must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together … must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher—in some degree. … must understand symbols and speak in words … must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought … must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of human nature or its institutions must lie entirely outside his [her] regard. He [she] must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, as near the earth as a politician.

I am grateful to Professor Jeffrey Sachs for putting this description where I could find it, at https://prospect.org/culture/books/keynes-and-the-good-life/#.

To ask such scope of any individual person is a tall order indeed. It is not, however, a tall order for our collective conversations, as long as we recognize the wonderful power of talk, are seeking a complex understanding of complex issues, and are prepared to practise the virtue of tolerance for diverse points of view.

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Collectively we indeed know many things. We do contradict ourselves, of course. So be it. We are wide, we contain multitudes. In liberal democracies we have evolved ways to deal with that. We need to instil in ourselves more confidence that applying these kinds of conversations to our Unsolved Riddles will answer them well enough for the time being, which is all the time we have. That’s what I mean by Fourfold Vision in Public Affairs. We are, I believe, too prone to turn complex issues over to experts, who if they truly are experts have highly refined Single Vision, or to delegate them to governments.

Fourfold Vision is admittedly hard work. The first step in getting there is to admit the idea and play with it, however crude the results may be in the beginning. I believe that Literary Casts of Mind are especially adept at that kind of play.

Thank you for your interest,

Fourfold Visions: Literary Casts of Mind in Public Affairs: Three

The following was sent to the Fourfold Visions mailing list on July 6th 2020.

Greetings!

In his essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox” Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) recalled a fragment from the Greek Poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” When I first found out about this, in the early stages of my personal probe that has turned into the Fourfold Visions projectile, I immediately began to look for a beast who would know both ways. I called this creature a Bothandian, distinguished from an Eitherorc. Bears are bothandians. Canadians tell stories about bears. Perhaps that is the reason.

Both “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” becomes a lot more complicated when you have four hands. Perhaps we can call bothandians so gifted, or cursed, Tetradicals.

The tetradical I like to think about is a fictional creature: Dorothea Brooke, from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, whose one big thing was an early Victorian ideal for actively humane landed gentry, and whose Fourfold Vision sought well-being for herself, her husband, her immediate family, the society around her, and would include her children when she had them, making five folds. The Vision was eventually too big and complicated for her on her own amidst the “imperfect social state”, so she found herself a secure centre as the wife of a public man, and a mother, so blossoming with her “finely touched spirit” that “the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive”. The Vision won out after all. Her husband was a fox, her loving sister the epitome of a domestic hedgehog. By the end of the book the family portrait is a triumph of Both-Anding.

In my call for names of Fourfold Prophets I am imagining fox-hedgehogs who in the midst of whatever imperfect social state they occupy manage to hold on to their hedgehogian one big thing, or even to expand and develop it, while involved in a foxian array of particulars. Those who succeed will have found a secure centre and supportive foxes and hedgehogs, with an incalculably diffusive effect on those around them.

After all that palaver about Stephen Leacock during his anniversaries last year, you may wonder if I think he was a fox-hedgehog bothandian. I do not. I think he was a fox. I think the hedgehog called out to him in the idea of Unsolved Riddles, but he did not hear the call. The same goes for Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour. He had foxy ideas about them, and put them on display, but never managed to fuse them with a hedgehog. He left that job to us.

Please send me your Fourfold Prophet or Fox-Hedgehog Bothandian nominations. I have a modest but intriguing list so far. I will start to discuss individuals next week.

Many thanks for your interest and participation,

Fourfold Visions: Literary Casts of Mind in Public Affairs: Two

The following was sent to the Fourfold Visions mailing list on June 29th 2020.

Greetings!

Many thanks to those who replied to last week’s e-mail. Our list of Fourfold Prophets grows quite respectably, with some expected and some unexpected names. On first glance some of their fourfoldedness will be useful in public affairs, some less so. I am hoping some kind of composite, pragmatic fourfoldedness, or tetrationality, will emerge with further exploration as the list grows. We are looking for tools.

When I speak of Fourfold Visions, their application to Public Affairs, and the utility therein of Literary Casts of Mind, I am thinking entirely in practical terms. W.H. Auden speaks of:

” … the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.” (From “For the Time Being”)

That, I believe, is the natural realm of public affairs. By “literary casts of mind” I do not mean simply the minds of people who read books. I mean people who are innately attracted to multifoldarity, who deliberately cultivate the capacity to practise it intellectually, and who dream of bringing it into the realm of public affairs. I mean people who grasp, at least intuitively, the nature and prevalence of complexity and want to understand how to deal with it creatively and constructively. I believe such people exist, that they are of excellently benign intention, and that their voices need to be heard respectfully in public affairs.

I have started to speculate on a framework, using the opening page of http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca for my sketch pad. I begin by suggesting that a set of political ideals attractive to such people could be:

The Benefit of the Common Weal, that is, the sum or average of well-being, objectively considered;
The Advancement of Social Justice, the distribution of well-being;
The Nourishment of Human Contentment, the feeling of well-being;
The Pursuit of Sane, Orderly, and Continuous Social Reform, the effective process.

Such ideals are usually usually presented in threes: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”, “Liberté, egalité, fraternité”, “Peace, Order, and Good Government”, “Property, Stability, Conformity”, etc.

The Onefold that normally comes at us most relentlessly is “The Economy”, as in the legendary “It’s the economy, stupid!” of Bill Clinton’s election campaign. It’s interesting, considering the interpretation often given to that phrase, that it was not a onefold to begin with, but a threefold: “Change; the Economy; health care.” Even ideas that start out as multifolds are chased into onefold corners. How does that happen?

I am going to try to keep these emails from getting too long. I will therefore stop now, merely expressing the desire to keep the conversation going.

Please keep your ideas for Fourfold Prophets coming.

Many thanks for your interest and participation,

Fourfold Visions: Literary Casts of Mind in Public Affairs: One

The following was sent to the Fourfold Visions mailing list on June 22nd 2020. This message inaugurated the Fourfold Visions Projectile.

Greetings!

I have been thinking, and writing, about “literary casts of mind” and how we might encourage the people who have them to apply them effectively to public affairs.

The people I mean are habitual readers who have developed, or want to develop, the capacity for William Blake’s “fourfold vision”, as a counter to the hurly-burly of onefold visions vociferating on every side. And goodness, how they do vociferate!

The fourfold visions among us struggle to be heard, because it’s easier to be loud if you don’t feel under any obligation to blend. I worry that many literary people with fourfold visions have become discouraged, or were never encouraged in the first place, and have vacated the struggle, leaving the fourfold field, such as it is, to some politicians and a few heavily intellectualized others. Most public discourse has become a raucous of competing onefolds.

In a recent blog post I have characterized other casts of mind in play as either “Mariposan” (i.e. “fragmented, incomplete, and inconclusive”), or “Ideological”. You will perhaps notice the footprints of Stephen Leacock in these labels.

I am proposing, for starters, that a fourfold political purpose, reasonable enough to be embraced by people of literary cast of mind, could be: the Benefit of the Common Weal, the Advancement of Social Justice, the Nourishment of Human Contentment, and the Pursuit of Sane, Orderly, and Continuous Social Reform.

Who are the Fourfold Prophets of our or earlier times? Or Threefold, or Twofold, or Multifold. You probably have your list, and I have mine. I would like to hear your list, and the lists of others with literary casts of mind. I suggest that the first step in pursuit of this Vision should be to compile a Master List, the second to study the ideas therein and, if possible, to make common sense of them. Then we will have something we can apply to public affairs.

I invite you to join, to bring your like-minded friends, and in particular to respond with names for a Master List of Fourfold Prophets. I will send out weekly bulletins, as I did during the Leacock Anniversaries, and we’ll see where we can go from there.

I am launching this just after Summer Solstice for reasons having to do with Enlightenment, and because it is a good time.

On Casts of Mind: The Mariposan

This posting will describe an intention, and not much else. Some ideas coalesced today, opening, for me, a clear sense of direction for the next six months and probably beyond. I have long held, without much elaboration, that one of the most important variables in public discourse is cast of mind, that we should look behind political utterances and behaviour for the cast of mind behind them, and not take them at face value. This leads to the idea that if we seek a voice in public affairs that will help move them in a particular direction, then we must look for casts of mind likely to take them there.

I have finally articulated the directions that I think public affairs ought to move, the phrases that I would write into the preamble of a political manifesto were I to write one. I call it, following William Blake, a Fourfold Vision:

To Benefit the Common Weal;

To Advance Social Justice;

To Nurture Human Contentment;

To Pursue Sane, Orderly and Continuous Social Reform, as the means to the other three.

You can find the article that started the whole coalescing at https://paulwconway.wordpress.com/, a companion blog to this one.

There you will find hypothesized three casts of mind, one of which promotes a Fourfold Vision, and two of which do not, or even actively inhibit. I am calling these, respectively, the Literary, the Mariposan, and the Ideological.

Some time ago, full of enthusiasm for blogs as a publishing medium, I set up three blogs. Since the end of the Stephen Leacock project I have been wondering what to do with this one. The latest developments show the way. I will turn this blog into an exploration of the Mariposan Cast of Mind, as “fragmented, incomplete, and inconclusive” as Stephen Leacock made it out to be. Ed Jewinsky wrote the seminal article on that perspective, and I will start with it. He was describing a book; Stephen Leacock was describing a people and their cast of mind. The fit with the original purposes of this blog is a good one.

The lead blog will be the one linked above. There I will explore the Literary Cast of Mind and how it can be mobilized.

The third blog is https://wordpress.com/post/playstephenleacock.wordpress.com. It will be explore the Ideological Cast of Mind. This is not such a convenient fit. Stephen Leacock was not an ideological thinker. In fact, he said quite rude things about the ideologies of his day, and would say quite rude things if he saw them in their contemporary forms. He was a man of complex mind, with a Literary Cast of Mind, which he urged on his readers with great energy although never calling it that.

All these matters I will explore, with the help of those I hope to recruit, in the months ahead. It will take some time, probably all summer, for me to get everything going the way I want, blogs, web site, social media, and all. Those with regular weekly publication schedules are KnICH Magazine at http://www.patreon.com/knichmagazine, the Voyageur Storytelling web site at http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca, and my Twitter page @conwaypaulw. I will blog when I can, as the ideas emerge.

Please remember: It all starts with the Leacock Tetrad: Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour. It informs the Literary Cast of Mind. It repels the Mariposan and Ideological Casts of Mind. It can serve to Benefit the Common Weal, Advance Social Justice, Nurture Human Contentment, and Pursue Sane, Orderly and Continuous Social Reform. There is much that can be said to amplify these assertions, and it will be said.

 

From Mariposa to the Canadian Œvirsagas: An Epic Transition

This blog began in order to explore the real nature of Stephen Leacock’s fictional “little town”, called Mariposa. I was under the belief, and still am, that the place has been routinely misunderstood by scholars, teachers, and readers, and is in fact much more interesting than what people have taken it to be. I exempt Professor Ed Jewinski from this conclusion. He called Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town “a supreme achievement of fragmentation, incompleteness, and inconclusiveness.” And so it is, with a purpose. I believe that Stephen Leacock intended to issue a prophetic warning, using all the resources of knowledge, imagination, compassion, and humour he could summon as he, at the age of forty-two, entered the prime of his observing, writing and speaking life. Desiring something simpler, however, people enjoyed the humour and assumed it must be satiric, because they liked the idea that he was putting somebody down, translated the compassion into an easy sentimentalism, reduced the imagination to its caricature by assuming that Mariposa must be a real place (Orillia, Ontario), and paid no attention to the knowledge, thereby missing the prophetic message. It is fair to say, however, that Leacock set this trap for himself, and could have set the record straight had he so chosen. But the money and fame rolled in, and he saw no reason to contradict them. He tried again two years later, just as tentatively and much more narrowly, with Arcadian Adventures of the Idle Rich, absorbed the experience of the War To End All Wars and its immediate aftermath, put a match to the prophetic fire on the title page of The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and then blew it out right away. He had the right stuff in him, but he kept it bottled up, for entirely human reasons, becoming a successful literary man although a prophet without honour in his own mind. Right at the end of his life, in the midst of another war, he tried to re-light the fire, but it was too late, and nobody cared.

A good, happy life for him, on the whole; a sad outcome for the rest of us because people with his gifts do not often come along. We need prophets who are less distracted.

Stephen Leacock’s prophesy ran along the following lines, I believe: If we Canadians, people of a liberal democracy which is what we are constituted to be and for very good reason, disregard the corruption, duplicity, incompetence, and triviality that surround us,—not to think for a moment that these are all that surrounds us,—then we will end up with the kind of farcical politics represented by John Henry Bagshaw and Josh Smith and with the governments that such politics produce. The people of Plutoria Street carry the same message for our business and economics.

That this message remains of concern to us today comes across clearly in a story on the website of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,—routinely calling it the CBC hides what this public company is supposed to be,—written by Éric Blais, a Toronto marketing fellow they say, under the headline “6 ways the Conservatives could shake things up to widen their political appeal”.  He says the Conservatives are at a “strategic inflection point”. The six ideas for their strategic inflection are: to “pick a spokesperson with impeccable communications skills who is fluent in Canada’s two official languages”; to “think outside your box”, to “adapt the Conservative brand’s promise to a changing Canada, while remaining true to the principles of conservatism; to “find something inspirational about the kind of change [they will] bring to people’s lives” and tell us about it without calling us taxpayers, or “being so negative”; employ “micro-targeting to reach specific groups of voters with a specific, tailored message”, especially one for what he calls “the Québécois nation”, terminology to which I do not myself object. I make that four things, not six, although maybe some of them are doubles. I wish I were Stephen Leacock so that I could comment on this string of banal political marketing clichés as it deserves, but I am not. As a devoted liberal-conservative progressive myself, I can only fret and protest against such a paucity of substantial and creative ideas. Stephen Leacock began his The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice with the minatory words: “These are troubled times.” So they are, and I earnestly desire that our great political parties, all of them, should stimulate their thinking accordingly, to present me and all my fellow voters with a range of interesting, constructive, exciting alternatives. Are we not entitled to that? Must we be forever presented with a bunch of Bagshaws and Smiths clothed in twenty-first century fashions of speech?

Perhaps Stephen Leacock is right, however, to depict the political débacle of the Great Election in Mariposa as being fed by the voters themselves. After all, those voters did have an alternative in Edward Drone, and are portrayed as having no interest in what he had to say. We vote what we are, says this tale, not what we would like to think we are. The banner for this blog intones that “We are the stories we tell about ourselves”. What stories are they? Many, and various, no doubt, but what are the narrations that run through their intense pluralism, the great national epic or epics that colour them all, that I am calling, nordistically, the “Œvirsagas”?

I believe that if we can chase those stories out into the open and hear what they really have to say, not what self-interested people are telling us they should say, we would find that they express the best we can be, the journey we have taken together in what is after all a brief history trying to become the best we can be, all fragmented, incomplete, and internally contradicted as it is, but not necessarily inconclusive beyond the short term.

I have been thinking about these stories for several months now, arriving for the time being at a belief that the proper image for the ultimate Canadian œvirsaga is a musical one that would imagine an uniquely discordant harmonization of four themes, each with an œvirsaga of its own, which I have labelled the Aboriginal, the National, the Political, and the Urbanismal. I am going to use this blog to work out the telling of those four stories separately. Then I am going to work out possibilities for their harmonization, all discordant as they may prove to be. And if it turns out that we are, deep in the heart of us, the People of the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, as I suspect we may be, then so be it. We will bless the name of Stephen Leacock for giving us the term, even if he was himself able only to warble a few transitory passages of notes, hardly amounting to much.

 

Stephen Leacock’s 150th Birthday!!! December 30, 2019

Leacock Post 12-30.jpg

 

Stephen Butler Leacock was born on December 30th, 1869, in southern England. His parents emigrated to Ontario six years later and he, as he put it, decided to go with them. He lived on a farm south of Lake Simcoe, then in Toronto, then in Chicago (as a graduate student), then in Montreal for the rest of his life, except in the summers (after 1908) when he migrated to his cottage on Lake Couchiching just outside Orillia.

By profession he was first a teacher, first in Uxbridge, Ontario, for six months, then at Upper Canada College in Toronto, for ten years, then at McGill University, for 35 years. His academic field was Political Economy.

By profession he was also a writer, first of academic texts, then as a humorist and popular historian, then as an essayist writing without fear about anything he chose. His production is, or ought to be, legendary, although largely forgotten.

By profession he was also a public lecturer, beginning with learned propaganda concerning the British Empire, and expanding eclectically from there.

He was a dutiful son to his mother Agnes, eventually a hostile son to his father Peter, a conscientious brother to his ten siblings, a loving but somewhat overbearing husband to  his wife Beatrix (who died in 1925) and father to his son Stevie (born in 1915), a generous sponsor and employer to his niece Barbara Ulrichsen, and a good friend to many.

He died of throat cancer in Toronto on March 28, 1944.

His legacy, viewed in the best way: He planted seeds, in particular, a perception of Social Justice as embedded in Unsolved Riddles, and tools for thinking about them embracing Knowledge + Imagination + Compassion + Humour. He left to us the rich satisfactions of cultivation.

My tribute to him:

The Ballad of Stephen Butler Leacock

Come, readers and writers and I’ll sing you the song
Of a man who could write even when he was wrong;
He wrote his way to money and fame :
You’d best remember if you want the same;
He wrote, and he thought, and he talked, and he read,
Up early in the morning and early to bed :
A hard-working, hard-reading, hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-writing man,—
Stephen Leacock! the name of this man of fame;
Stephen Leacock! Remember if you want the same.

He wrote in the morning when the day was new;
He wrote the words that he thought were true;
He wrote in the hope that people would laugh,
But of all that he wrote that was never more than half;
He wrote of the rich, and he wrote of the poor,—
Social Justice and a whole lot more:
A hard-working, hard-reading, hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-writing man,—
Stephen Leacock! the name of this man of fame;
Stephen Leacock! Remember if you want the same.

He preached prosperity, he cursed at graft,
He teased their foibles and the people laughed;
He told the stories of the present and past—
Much that he wrote wasn’t fated to last;
He wrote for his time, and he wrote for his place,
He wrote stupid things about women and race :
A hard-working, hard-reading, hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-writing man,—
Stephen Leacock! the name of this man of fame;
Stephen Leacock! Remember if you want the same.

He wrote his country, and the Empire wide,
He wrote his people and he wrote with pride,
He wrote through depression, and he wrote through war,
He wrote for peace, and romance, and more;
He wrote for laughter, and he wrote to touch;
He wrote for money, and he wrote too much :
A hard-working, hard-reading, hard-talking, hard-thinking,
Hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-writing man,—
Stephen Leacock! He had his moment of fame;
Stephen Leacock! Enjoy it if you get the same
As much as he did.

With a little effort he can serve to inspire English Canadians who read, write, explore, create, think, care, and laugh. Our cultural lives will be richer if we remember him well.