Underwater hang-gliding

Vernon expected to sink without trace along with his nonsense filter

Vernon expected to sink without trace along with his nonsense filter

Section 94 is attempting the unachieveable

There was no answer from Jean Luc and Vernon realised that his friend was hurt or deeply embarrassed.

“Sorry Jean Luc, he’s a bright boy and any mess is my own doing. Shall I meet you there tomorrow or call for you?”

“Sorry Jean Luc… shall I meet you there tomorrow or call for you?”

“Better meet me there Vernon” Jean Luc finally managed to say quietly, Ari has bought a smart outfit. She’s been told TV cameras will be there so I’ll have to arrive in a manner suited to attract their attention. Sorry I didn’t get chance to demonstrate it to you first; It’ll all work out in the end, these things always do.”

Vernon ended the call and realised that he was still sitting in the flower bed. He got to his feet creakily and went into the house. What was he going to do if it didn’t work, if it fed out spurious lies or incendiary racism? What was he going to do if it gave the same interpretation to every piece of data? What was he going to do if it did work? He shuddered and shook his head bitterly at that false friend. It wouldn’t work… the Nonsense Filter couldn’t filter out nonsense anymore that he could master underwater hang-gliding. If the cameras were there he’d better decide what to wear.

Check out the Nonsense Filter



For Sartre it is the will of the free agent alone that confers on life its status as surmountable or insurmountable.

Sartre’s test-case concerning human freedom focuses on a hypothetical climber considering a crag and the feasibility of climbing it as an analogy for life’s choices; the natural environment offers a situation which is responsive to the climber’s projected intentionality. The crag accordingly appears ‘not scalable;’[1] ’Thus the rock is carved out on the ground of the world by the effect of the initial choice of my freedom’ he says.[2] The rock-face acquires significance from the climber’s purposive intentions, however Sartre acknowledges that such human freedom cannot determine ‘whether the rock ‘to be scaled’ will or will not lend itself to scaling. This is part of the brute being of the rock.’[3] Nevertheless, though the brute in-itself of the rock-face stands as an external ‘basic reality’, it possesses no determinate character as motive for the climber; resisting or cooperating are not intrinsic to the in-it-self but constituted by or disclosed in the climber’s projecting freedom. Describing a dynamic relation between the agent and the situation which he terms ‘the coefficient of adversity of the given’, Sartre states that ‘The rock will not be an obstacle if I wish at any cost to arrive at the top of the mountain…’ it will discourage me however ‘if I have freely fixed limits to my desire of making the projected climb.’[4] I choose, the world responds, and external to me there can be no limitation to my free choice.

Though Merleau-Ponty concedes that a rock’s unclimbable status, or indeed any other attributed status, is necessarily derived from human meaning-making, even without conscious intentionality such as a decision to climb them ‘these mountains appear high to me, because they exceed my body’s power to take them in its stride….’[5] Whilst I find it convincing that underpinning my identity-sense there is a living body or natural ‘self’ ‘which does not budge from its terrestrial situation and which constantly adumbrates absolute valuations’, too simple a telling of Merleau-Ponty’s position will not account for new and puzzling situations my unthinking embodied intentionality cannot resolve which consequently arrest my attention. Indeed such a telling would fail to recognise my conscious compensation, prior to a situation, for my known genetic, psychological or cultural dispositions that experience, or others, construe to be potentially controlling. Indeed this ‘attending to’ seems altogether different from the perceptive attention posited here.

For Merleau-ponty there is a pre-thetic tension between the agent and the motivations of the given world.

For Merleau-ponty there is a pre-thetic tension between the agent and the motivations of the given world.

Merleau-Ponty, rightly in my view, reinstates the body alerting us to the prethetic role of the intentional arc saying,  ‘Insofar as I have hands, feet, a body, I sustain around me intentions which are not dependent upon my decisions and which affect my surroundings in a way which I do not choose…. not of my own making, they originate from outside me, and I am not surprised to find them in all psychophysical subjects organized as I am’.[6] The efficacy of this intentional arc is not a consistent, determinable factor even so; a mindful person may override their state of being, perhaps having acquired from childhood a disposition that mistrusts or rationalises embodied intentionality, or even despises the body’s promptings. Consequently, though Sartre may wrongly assume that a transcendent human presence affords meaning to a world which it is unfettered by, Merleau-Ponty overlooks the human capacity to be driven by calculated or calibrated decisions from a very early age. Though we may indeed comprise ‘systems of body intentions’ before being persons, our identity-sense is also holistically attuned and our habitual engagement with the world may develop over time, reluctance to move intuitively without conscious assessment of an environment.

In the main however I accept that in a basic way our embodied interests and skills pre-structure our interactions with the environment. Though a Heideggerian projective or purposive intending in the world eventually dominates, at a pre-thinking perceptual level we can be sensitive to the initial hindrances or enablings that things entail for us. Why otherwise do tall people stoop or insecure people unwittingly sit facing the door through which newcomers enter? The questioning being must recursively engage with the environment prior to thought or conscious recalibration. Its freedom is constrained by this recursivity.

The key to the divergent emphases of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty is of course in the weighting given to embodiment. Though Sartre regards human beings as embodied subjects whose lives are only comprehensible as situated contingently within time and place within the world, Merleau-Ponty regards embodiment as a primordial embodied disposition wherein situations motivate and responses  are generally ready-made.

In Sartre’s fable of the hiker, a walker unlike his companion, after hours of walking in the hot sun, gives up, throws his rucksack down, and lies beside it. Both thinkers could accept the cause to be the hiker’s singular decision to quit rather than the external effects of pain or fatigue. After all, hikers engage with pain and fatigue differently. Both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty would agree that the fable affirms that while the hiker could have behaved differently, doing so would entail them modifying their way of being in the world.

For Sartre the questioning being treads a path of complete and utter self-determination.

For Sartre the questioning being treads a path of complete and utter self-determination.

Is the decision to go on entirely ours to make. Merleau-ponty does not think so.

Is the decision to go on entirely ours to make? Merleau-ponty does not think so.

Sartre regards the human being as entirely free so to disengage from this way of being, whereas Merleau-Ponty posits an accretion of meaning which attaches to a person and calls this the ‘sedimentation of our life’. Borrowing from Husserl he argues for a stance towards the world which due to its repeated reinforcement  acquires a ‘favoured status’ for us, so for example an inferiority complex which has been operative and reinforced for twenty years is habituated and entrenched.[7] Because Sartre disputes that anything outside of freedom can restrict it, our lives are characterised and progressed by unfettered specific choices. For Merleau-Ponty, however generalities and probability are phenomena which furnish diverse ways I can ’make my abode in’ attitudes and patterns of action which ‘genuinely incline although they do not compel’.[8] Though I may be an accomplished climber I may be defeatist, cautious, full of bravado or consistently methodical. My ‘abode’ in an inherited or habituated accretion of meaning renders determining factors something internal I must work with rather than something eternal I must work against. This embodied middle-way, suspended between the psychic and the physiological, Merleau-Ponty recognises as ‘categorically impossible’ for Sartre’s ontology.[9]

Sartrean freedom denies the textures of embedded lived existence such as my self-esteem or my personal pain threshold. It denies also the extent and nature of my historical or cultural memory; the inherent immediacy these have and how I live through them are ironed out and equalised. One cannot consequently be sensitive to these experiential textures or conceptually attuned to their potent contribution to existential choosing. These bodily experiences are not a part of the external in-itself of the world however but experience’s textures that are intentional, already rendered purposive or significant and already defining in our engagement with nature.

Human identity, as I have argued, animates the accretion of meaning attaching to each singular life; the purpose or significance one seeks in the world is coloured and shaped, enabled and delimited by our incipient behavioural tendencies and once found modified by them. Pain, fatigue, self-esteem and world-awareness for example, in varying ways give character and direction to our activity. My interaction with this experiential texture is therefore an internal motivation more foundational than a thought-through response; indeed, I identify myself in its tendencies.

Human freedom rests upon our harnessing of involuntary body intentions which contribute to the formation of generalised attitudes toward the world, these in turn comprise the involuntary, but constantly reviewed  background for specific choices. Freedom contributes to identity in its appropriation of the background array of involuntary intentionalities available for conscious willing. My life accrues meaning in the choices I make, and the choices I make are demarcated by the behavioural tendencies I have inherited or habituated in conjunction with the specific situations with which they resonate.

The questioning being inherits the meanings which accrue to its life; these are audited freely, but the mechanisms for auditing may also be inherited or prompted externally.

The questioning being inherits the meanings which accrue to its life; these are audited freely, but the mechanisms for auditing may also be inherited or prompted externally.

Of course inherited traits, habituated tendencies and generalised attitudes, as the seedbed from which our choices grow, take time to emerge and are the gradual sedimentation of a recursive socio-historical process. Intersubjective embeddedness in the world, in institutional forms such as a language, family, race, class, or nation, each with its own history, is an essential aspect of our situatedness.

These lenses through which we perceive the world and so appropriate it, precede any particular choosing on our part. For Sartre however such institutional realities represent alienation from others because each person so situated finds themselves in the presence of meanings they did not initiate.[10] Though society institutes relations of all kinds that one inherits, for Sartre they are nevertheless maintained and appropriated as externals, significant or allied to one’s purposes solely through free choice.

Consider says Sartre, a labourer in 1830, who patiently endures his poverty as inevitable, though he can choose to acknowledge oppression of the ‘working classes’ as his own unjust lot, it requires adoption of a different lens if it is to motivate his rebellion. Freedom must appropriate  a different possible condition or horizon, attainable by revolution, against which his own condition is signified as unbearable and avoidable.[11]  Thus motivating conditions are aspects of one’s actions, not their antecedent causes. Sartre’s assessment is that a worker becomes ‘working class’ not because of economic conditions or economic forces but through appropriation of a transcendent opposition which brings them into the living foreground prior to the free choice to revolt. Not so, responds Merleau-Ponty.

Whether we align ourselves with others, or make self-interested choices, the rich fable of free will is enough to render us accountable. Freedom is not free floating.

Whether we align ourselves with others, or make self-interested choices, the rich fable of free will is enough to render us accountable. Freedom is not free floating.

Sartre’s view is of course problematic and in the previous chapter I discussed the relationship that the questioning being has with the ‘basic facts’ of existence. Exploitation can steal a person’s health despite contentment with one’s lot. For Merleau-Ponty, Sartre’s account fails to explain the emergence of the labourer’s class-consciousness and the reality of social intersubjectivity. History is spiced with provocations to enact free choice, and this is illustrative of the recursive exchange between generalised and individual existence;[12] the Labourer in 1830, aware of the improved working conditions afforded workers in different trades after agitation for them, may consequently feel exploited and motivated to protest. His life is lived in a shared world resonating with class-consciousness.

The labourer’s self-understanding  as a worker or a bourgeois, is indeed aligned to an appropriative alliance with a possible revolution and the meaning-making accompanying it, however the labourer’s evaluation is not transcendent of his environment even if his aspirations are, but springs from his present and past intersubjective coexistence in a shared world.[13] The questioning being is free within a constraining network of intersubjective intentionalities; each human identity acquires its singularity in the place ‘between’ self and others rather than in existential autonomy. Interconnected at a primordial level in involuntary intentions joining us through our bodies, we collaborate and conflict, and consequently, attain conscious singularity.

Acts of freedom of course entail temporal change. For Sartre the past is in itself a mere contingency whose meaning I appropriate in my present. Nevertheless, like Merleau-Ponty and unlike Husserl, he recognizes that our ‘temporalization’ contains no absolute moments. There is a structure of becoming in which the present fuses a projected future with a retained past.[14] Problematically however, this becoming,  does not happen to me as a consequence of my temporal embodied and embedded existence in the world. I am instead a pure, individualised and disembodied consciousness, and each moment is a creation indebted to nothing outside of choice itself. Ironically this unfettered freedom renders voluntary deliberation a ‘deception’, for nothing is ever permanently appropriated, it must be chosen again and again.

For Merleau-Ponty, it is conditioned choice precisely that is truly effective and affords me the freedom I have. The certain significance of nature and history which my situation offers and my identity accrues does not limit my access to the world, but rather is my means of communicating with it.[15] Rehabilitated in the world, the questioning being, through its whole-body interrogation of experience, communes with that world in recursive engagement. Identity is won by means of an indebted and contextual freedom, not through the creative acts of consciousness alone, but in a recursive intentional collaboration with the environment and others. The questioning being is embedded concernfully within nature and prompted by it to express culturally and historically some of its possibilities.


[1] Sartre, J. P. BN, 488, in Compton, ibid, 581

[2] Sartre, ibid

[3] Sartre, 488, in Compton, ibid

[4] Sartre, ibid, in Compton, ibid, 582

[5]  Merleau-Ponty, PP, 439-40, in Compton, ibid, 582

[6] Merleau-Ponty, PP, 439-40 in Compton, ibid

[7] Merleau-Ponty, PP, 441-442, in Compton, ibid, 584

[8] Compton, ibid

[9] Merleau-Ponty, PP, 122, in Compton, ibid

[10] Sartre, BN, 520, in Compton, 585

[11] Sartre, BN, 435, in Compton, ibid, 586

[12] Merleau-Ponty, PP, 449-50, in Compton, ibid, 586

[13] Merleau-Ponty, PP, 446-7, in Compton, ibid

[14] Sartre, BN, 465-6, in Compton, ibid, 586

[15] Merleau-Ponty, PP, 455, in Compton, ibid, 587

Atheneum, Colosseum, what’s the difference?

Vernon's head was in a spin, not to worry, the walls were circular in the Colosseum.

Vernon’s head was in a spin, not to worry, the walls were circular in the Colosseum.

Small print, big deal, big cats, small fry.

Small print, big deal, little warning, big cats.

Section 93 Vernon’s days are numbered

The event could not go ahead… how could it, there was nothing to launch?

Vernon went back out into the garden wondering if his neighbours were keeping a record of this, yet another crisis conversation. It’d make intriguing reading for a blackmailer he thought as he listened to the ringing at the end of the line.


“Jean Luc, Hi look its Vernon. I’ve just got back from Edinburgh and there’s a pretentious letter from Tarkey which amounts to a fanfare announcing the launch of the Nonsense Filter. What Nonsense Filter Jean Luc?”

On the other end of the call Jean Luc sounded troubled and tired. “Hi Vernon. Glad you called. Look I’m sorry. My megalomaniac son went behind my back and phoned Tarkey assuring him that we were ready to go public. They’ve booked the Athenaeum at great expense, and though I’ve tried to call it off, he won’t cancel. You will come won’t you?”

“Should’ve booked the Coliseum”  Vernon grumbled, “my days are numbered.”

Check out the Nonsense Filter


Ancestors of spam…

Where have you been?

Where have you been?

Section 92 is out like a light

By the time Vernon got home after dropping Nsansa off in Newmarket and swapping cars he was exhausted. As he shuffled in the dark through the bills and flyers, those pathetic paper ancestors of spam, and locked the front door, he knew he had mixed feelings about being back. What would the final half of the Spring term hold for him? What would he do about Thailand especially as Nsansa had not allowed herself to be drawn on that resurgent issue?

On the mat was a note from the neighbour who’d kindly fed Chucky while they’d been gone. It seemed she’d left a dossier on his movements and habits. ‘…Day two looked morose and slept in the bath’. Mad cat.

Also on the mat was a letter whose handwritten script Vernon found vaguely familiar. It could wait another day. Tarkey maybe, or Jenny’s eccentric solicitor. He had tomorrow in which to investigate its secrets and he thrust it simultaneously to the back of his mind and into the letter rack on the bookshelf. Parking his suitcase and other luggage in the spare room and clambering into bed wearily after a brief encounter with the toothpaste, Vernon was out like a light.

Check out the Nonsense Filter Nonsense Filter


Who’s the king of the castle, who’s the dirty rascal?

Section 91 has no place to hide

Nonsense FilterAs Edinburgh became a diminutive blur on the horizon behind them and they began the long drive back to East Anglia, Nsansa and Vernon agreed that it had been worth the effort. They’d discovered traces of Glasgow’s architectural genius to be found around the capital, the taste of the East and the sometimes priceless trinkets of the commonwealth offered to royalty. They’d both enjoyed the cosmopolitan feel of the city, with its bars and theatres, cinemas and art galleries, palaces …and castle. Vernon had been torn between awe at the impregnable bleak grandeur of the castle and a sense of its vulnerability to time. Given time every bastion of human advantage or prowess eventually buckles, rusts, withers or ruins, or just become plain irrelevant. Who’d expect to hole up in Edinburgh castle now for very long? There was no place to hide any more, consider Waco, Texas, or the bearded fugitives Karadzic and bin Laden. Nevertheless the city was dignified and the castle guarded over that dignity with an impressive stony decorum.

Owning a castle must change your view of the world Vernon thought.

Owning a castle must change your view of the world Vernon thought.

It was a long drive. And, eventually Vernon was able to quiz Nsansa about her intentions and her background. An impression had already formed in his mind regarding her family and this was strengthened as she disclosed the sums of money she sent home to support the meandering fortunes of her unemployed brothers and the sense of resentment that hit her like a wall of humidity whenever she visited them in Lusaka.

“The lawyer. They call me the lawyer and say I’m only interested in procedures and money. I get no thanks and I stay away.”

Nsansa switched on her laptop hoping for some job details or replies to applications…

“Mmmm. Cintu nshi, What drama is this? You’ve a message from Thailand from Mr Snapper…  He says the other candidate has pulled out due to family difficulties, do you want the job ‘man’ and if so can you call urgently. Better check if it’s really for you, he calls you Vaughn.”

Check out the Nonsense Filter

"Think you better call him Vernon, even though he calls you Vaughn."

“Think you better call him Vernon, even though he calls you Vaughn.”


Aroy mai?

He had had a twelve mile long push me pull you.

He had had a twelve mile long push me pull you.

Section 90 is having a pad Thai

Later that evening, the room was dark as they awoke. Twelve windswept miles in the Pentland hills had been fun, though not without more verbal sparring. Nsansa reached across brushing Paul with her hand in a vague sweeping motion.“We getting up? she mumbled. “Want to go out?”

Looking through the Edinburgh guide they found a number of possible restaurants. On their third attempt at making a reservation, they had to settle for a table at the Thai Orchid in Johnston Terrace. It was as if some kind of offshore current from the coast of Africa had deposited him on Scotland’s most cosmopolitan rock only to find that all there was to eat in exile were South East Asian delicacies.

Pet mai?

Pet mai?

“Let’s park near the Castle again” Vernon suggested, as they dressed for dinner, “We got away with it last night.” Unsure of their bearings, it was a relief when Nsansa glimpsed the restaurant by chance as they drove down the sweeping descent from the Royal Mile. Because it had begun to rain profusely she insisted on clambering out of the car so as to shelter in the restaurant. As with all their driving around the capital that weekend, they again got lost, and found their destination accidently precisely at their point of giving up. ‘Is this going to be a metaphor for our life together wondered Vernon?’ as he slammed the car door shut and ran after Nsansa back up the ancient rain polished flagstone street.”

He was greeted at the door by a pretty, manicured doll. “Sa was dee. Sa-bai-dee-mai. Ka?  Good evening. How are you?” Her smile seemed so tantalisingly genuine. Thailand. Welcome to what you could have had Vernon.

Check out The Nonsense Filter


Over the Hill

Section 89 is resting briefly on the shoulders of giants

Nsansa wiped her brow with a sense of desperation. Grabbing the back of his coat she gasped, “Pull Vernon pull.”

As they struggled up the hill in this comical fashion Vernon was mortified when a runner overtook them at speed. He was fit and fast and would be, very soon, over the hill Vernon was forcing Nsansa to climb.

'Please God' prayed Vernon, 'let heaven be like this.'

‘Please God’ prayed Vernon, ‘let heaven be like this.’

When they arrived at the brow of the hill the view was breath-taking. Not craggy, in the manner perhaps of the Himalayas or the Rockies, but undulating as if they were observing the recumbent forms of primordial giants clad in ancient furs. The reservoirs beneath them mirrored the restless sky creating a stirring contrast with the stillness of the contours around them, their movement almost lent to the hills the rhythmic breathing of sleeping forms. Vernon stood bewitched.

“Come on kutumpa, race you to the bottom” Nsansa yelled charging down the grassy slopes, breaking the spell. And so the pattern repeated itself for twelve weary delightful theatrical miles. Hurrah for Scotland, Vernon thought, entranced.

Check out the Nonsense Filter.



“Monumental view Vernon”


The modest room was guarded it seemed by the redoubtable David Livingstone. Photo by Kim Traynor

Section 87 gets an earful of Edinburgh

Though he was shattered from the drive up from Suffolk, Vernon found sleep evaded him and contrarily he wished for the fires of Africa he had spurned not so long ago. Though it sounded little like English or Bemba, Nsansa’s response to his speculative caress clearly translated as ‘Get some rest’. Counting sheep achieved next to nothing and eventually Vernon fell asleep counting the setbacks he’d experienced since meeting Tarkey in the Woolpack and anticipating what it was going to cost him.

They rose the  next morning anticipating the fortifying late-starter’s breakfast they’d negotiated; according to the website this was ‘legendary’.

“What’s the view like?” asked Nsansa somewhat wedged into the bijou bathroomette. Vernon swept back the industrial-grade velvet curtains and gasped melodramatically in appreciation.

There was plenty to see in Scotland that could take your breath away.

There was plenty to see in Scotland that could take your breath away.

“Y’get a g’d view of monumental Sco-tland” he intoned in his best Scottish accent.

Freeing herself with difficulty from the confines of the en suite Nsansa took a look and exclaimed, “Lordy Gordy the building’s moved in the night.”

From the over-dressed window they looked out onto the back of the massive bronze patina stained head of one of Edinburgh’s finest. Something of the neighbourhood could be glimpsed under the left ear.

Check out Chapter Five of the Nonsense Filter on “The Novel” page


This week’s featured archive: Not negation but interrogation

Like the college punter on the river Cam, who pushes the world away in order to travel through it so I must employ the world’s resources even if forsaking it.

Like the college punter on the river Cam, who pushes the world away in order to travel through it so I must employ the world’s resources even if forsaking it.

The manner in which we appropriate the world  determines  the style in which we travel through it.

Peter Giles

Both Sartre and Heidegger in their own way construe human being as ontological nothingness or negation. I cannot agree. Indeed, my life projection, in thrownness, is not ‘determined by this nothingness’, but by interrogation, for the world in thrownness is always already there and just like the college punter on the river Cam, who pushes the world away in order to travel through it so I must employ the world’s resources even if forsaking it. Though Heidegger holds that Dasein ‘is itself essentially null’, this is not phenomenologically apparent. I am never neutrality for even when my life is reduced to an existential veto, still my identity-sense is recursively interrogating the world for the nutrients and the oxygen I need at the most basic level of recursive indebtedness. Even if I set my face against human society I am destined to make my own. It is not nothingness in fact that describes ‘Dasein’s being-free for its existential possibilities’;[1] but an interrogative essence that  frees me, indeed compels me to choose amongst different possibilities of being.


[1] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, 285, in James Mensch, Embodiments: From the Body to the Body Politic, Published online, 2009, 80