Imagining a Fragmented, Incomplete and Inconclusive World

“This blog now has another companion: https://playstephenleacock.wordpress.com, and I am going to use both in the effort to tease out an “Appreciation” (Peter McArthur) of Stephen Leacock’s “extraordinarily commonplace” (J.M. Keynes) approach to social and economic justice, politics, and personal well-being. I am advocating a playful approach, because the ideas are slippery and elusive, even possibly absurd, but they may be the ideas we are fated to embrace, so that to approach them with humour, as he did, may be the only satisfactory state of mind.

I am going to use this blog in the search for an imaginative approach, the other for a more empirical-analytical one, based on Leacock’s immense body of written and spoken works and the extension of his data and experiences into the present. I will move everything to do with our Re-Tour to western Canada this fall into the Voyageur Storytelling web site, http://www.voyageurstorytelling.ca. I will send out notices of postings and changes on the Voyageur Storytelling Twitter account. Leslie looks after our Facebook page, and will regularly post notices, biographical notes, and bits of Leacock gossip, with pictures.

These five sites make up the social media presence of this, our Sesquicentennial project. When we launch forth on the Re-Tour itself, next October, we may add others to enrich the telling of its story.

Over the next week or two all these sites will be reorganized and cleaned up in order to serve their present purposes. Please bear with us in the meantime.

I invite you to imagine that you are flying into Leacockland and that the pilot is circling your aircraft so that you can see how it is laid out. There are no maps, because what is important about the area is its nature, not its geography. It is a mutable place, whose reality is not of any fixed kind, a place of “fragmentation, incompleteness and inconclusiveness” (Ed Jewiniski, a.k.a. Dr. J — see previous post). You will therefore recognize immediately the place of humour, and laughter, in contemplating such a landscape.

Over there, on the one hand, is Mariposa, a not-so-little town; over there, on the other, is The City where, most probably these days, you live, or in some suburb or satellite thereof. Over there in the misty distance is the place I will call The Rus, because I know some Latin too, although not as much as Stephen Leacock did, and have access to a great deal more. The Rus is the place you remember coming from, which may be The Farm, or The Village, or as in my case The Small Town, located in Canada or in some other country. Your Rus may even be The City, but if so it is the city of your memories, not the one you inhabit now. Much more distinctly, over there, and there, are two places you can escape, theoretically at least, from the conturbations of The City and the confoundations of The Rus. They are, in Leacockland, The Country, and The University.

Stephen Leacock described these places most elaborately, and the world that surrounds them, in his 1,498 pieces of writing (622 of which he gathered into his almost-annual collections), his 739 public lectures that we know about, and the 23 other books that he (or his literary executor) had published between 1903 and 1946. He died in 1944.

I am able to be so precise about these numbers because of the bibliographic labours of Carl Spadoni of McMaster University Library, and his assistant Sheila Turcon. I have created a database from what they provide, and am in a position to count whatever is in there, which so far consists of date of first publication (many pieces were published several times), title, type of work, place of first appearance, all appropriately coded, and some other notes and observations of interest. I am now adding, for each work, its subject (this list when compiled will be very wide), its field (economics, politics, history, humour, etc.) and its voice. The study of the Leacock voices and how they change over his lifetime, or even within a single work, will be particularly fascinating.

I will use the other blog to play with the data. In this one I want to explore Leacockland, starting with its constituent places and the people he put there, including himself, and then extrapolating them forward to see what they look like now. I would like to engage you, and great many other people, in that exploration, and I would like to find a way to include at least some of it in the performances and conversations we present next Fall on our Re-Tour.

Is it possible, I ask myself, and you, that The City is now all that we have, that it has absorbed Mariposa, The Rus, The  Country, The University, and even laughter itself? And is it possible that if we explore them thoroughly, as he described them for us, with humour and compassion, we may be able to recover them, or at least some of their essence?

I invite you most cordially to follow this blog and its companions and to take part in their conversations.

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