The winds of change: history and human identity

“History has meaning, but there is no pure development of ideas. Its meaning arises in contact with contingency, at the moment when initiative founds a system of life taking up anew scattered givens.”

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in Les Aventures de la Dialectique


So far in this thesis I have traced all human motivation and accomplishment back to the primordial trait of the questioning being, a binary trait which fuels its questioning tendency. This is not to suggest a simplistic kernel to human life but to identify the fundamental ubiquity of the human desire for significance and capacity for purpose whose harmonisation is vital for sustainable human identity. At the heart of the notion and practise of history this primordial trait is at work.

History is the human record of change, a recognition of time passing which either selects out the significant as landmarks, or chronicles the passing of life to accomplish a purposive agenda. To illustrate the former one might cite urban development, gender emancipation or territorial annexation as key significant thematics. In terms of the latter one might curate historical accounts in order to eulogise a king, to sanitise the past, to write an apologetic for divine actions or to legitimise a victor’s demands over the vanquished. I do not deny that matters of fact comprise the background of our shared lives but only acknowledge the partisan nature of histories that bring it into the foreground through selective accounts.

The historical matters of fact which comprise the background of our shared lives are brought into the foreground through selective human accounts.

The historical matters of fact which comprise the background of our shared lives are brought into the foreground through selective human accounts.

Merleau-Ponty, introducing a lecture series on Husserl, presents the Heideggerian notion of inhabitation as akin to the late Husserl’s notion of history as ideation. Essentially one could argue that partisan accounts can nevertheless resonate with each other and contain furthermore, timeless truths or historical essences in which others can participate. In my view, key to both is the appropriation of meaning which makes another’s history also one’s own, just as, for all his revisionism, Merleau-Ponty finds a road to travel by in his historical reading of Husserl.

Consider Merleau-Ponty’s use of the Husserlian example of the geometer. Euclid’s development of geometry opened up a region in which future geometers can operate and laid down a formal conceptual route one must travel by each time one engages in geometry. To this extent then, one participates in Euclid’s thought, in fact in Euclid’s history, in doing geometry. Represented by Merleau-Ponty, Husserl’s  ideation makes its ‘lateral repetition’ redundant, and instead serves ‘to launch culture toward a future… to outline a futural, geometrical horizon, and to circumscribe a coherent domain.’[1]When we participate in history we do so as travellers climbing higher. As with inhabitation one might speak of repetition, but also the possibility of a future which travels the road laid down in order to discover the new. Euclid’s historical geometric endeavours do not consign mathematicians to the occupation of a space repeated endlessly, but enable an occupation which is the very harbinger of new discoveries Illustrating the congruence between my key phenomenological thinkers, one scholar has noted, Merleau-Ponty has given us a Husserlian account that is ‘markedly Heideggerian’.[2]

History is a map of significances.

History is a map of significances.

To my mind, even with the syncretist gloss Merleau-Ponty applies, Husserlian history becomes a map of significances. For Husserl everything historical becomes ‘understandable’ in the ‘being’ peculiar to it, ‘a unity of a self-questioning interior and intelligible structuration that develops as a result of that inner motivation.’[3] Husserl admires the way most historians address this ‘spiritual’ aspect of the human, they include spiritual being, and prioritise ‘the history of ideas’ above ‘the history of events’,[4] nevertheless they mistakenly attempt to study the psychical with methods appropriate to the physical. Historians cannot penetrate true reality; simply put, the philosopher deals with the truth of essence, while natural and humanistic scientists, limited by the natural attitude, deal with facts which are necessarily relativistic.

For Husserl, phenomenology discovers the real meanings of things through a process of ideating abstraction. This is a mental act, applicable to history, in which the thinker grasps the essence of something. The abstractive act may be a generalisation whereby an approximate morphological essence is grasped, or it may be an idealisation which grasps an exact essence.[5] Thus in reviewing the meaning of history one might accomplish via an empty ideating abstraction, concepts that govern history, I have called these significances. It is readily apparent however, that I cannot submit unforeseeable historical events to ideating abstraction until they occur. Also I cannot grasp the direct presence of events through eidetic intuition, unless I have appropriated that essence for myself and the presencing fulfils that intention. Thus once again as the Danish prophet warned us so simply, ‘life must be lived forward and understood  backwards’.

Husserl’s notion of ideation, applied to history as the historically defining idea that a nation or community of people embodies, initially arose out of his dismissal of the historically contextual embeddedness of perception which forfeited timeless truth and relegated historical insights to relativity. It has been argued since that this is a false phenomenological dichotomy.[6] The historically defining idea for Husserl was, in Europe, epitomised supremely in the rationalistic questing resolve, or theoria[7], threading through European humanity to the present day. The ‘Inner history’ of Europe therefore underlies and supersedes all personal and historical events. Here is history distilled into its essential significance.

History pertinent to the phenomenologist Husserl concludes, is that ‘culture of truth’ which discloses founding intuitions and meaning-giving acts.[8] Not the diverse experiences of actual people at various times, but the ‘primal wellsprings’ from which current tradition was originally drawn.[9] For Husserl, historical reflection becomes all of a piece with the phenomenological search for the things themselves and ‘historical, backward reflection… is thus actually the deepest kind of self-reflection aimed at a self-understanding in terms of what we are authentically seeking as the historical beings we are’[10].

Heidegger in contrast held that history is an element of the ‘factical’ thrownness to which we are tethered, and by implication as concernful beings, to the purposive lives we appropriate for ourselves. Fundamental to Being and Time is his portrayal of the worldhood of the world, an ‘all-pervasive background of meaningful relations’ wherein we find ourselves already thrown. As being-in-the-world, Dasein is inextricably bound up with a background of inherited significance and relevance relationships it must appropriate purposively.

For Heidegger this shared world is accessible only through the interpretations and practices of a linguistic community, a theme echoed in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. The linguistic community however represents for Heidegger the indeterminate perspective of ‘anyone’. Dasein is bombarded by this dominant ‘interpretedness’ which disseminates ‘the possibilities of average understanding and of the state of mind belonging to it’[11]. Socialisation necessitates imbibing this everyday standardisation of language and practices. Thus again we no longer encounter the things themselves spoken about, but instead a superficial linguistic commonality in the form of I-said-because-she-said-because-he-said.

History is an element of the ‘factical’ thrownness to which we are tethered.

History is an element of the ‘factical’ thrownness to which we are tethered.

Dasein is that concernful being, directed towards the future in undertaking projects fuelled by the past, and ‘making present’ that which it attempts. This temporality is the very condition enabling history. ‘It is because Dasein is a ‘movement’ or ‘happening’ with a distinctive structure that historical unfolding and ‘world history’ is possible’.[12] History takes the form of a ‘tradition’, the ‘calcified set of uprooted and groundless presuppositions’ that constrain the parameters of judgments and behaviour. Too often this ‘tradition’ overwhelms and obscures those originating ‘primordial wellsprings’ Husserl spoke about. Historical investigation has legitimacy in drawing us back to the sources.

Here Heidegger diverges from Husserl. If one can find and maintain personal integrity in the public commonality of the linguistic community one can be authentic; in appropriating it for oneself, ‘tradition’ becomes ‘heritage’. The importance of history for both Husserl and Heidegger lies in the ‘authentic happening of human existence’ arising out of the future meaning-conferring projects one adopts.[13] Being authentic in one’s historical context means for Husserl the identification of ‘one overarching project’, the significant inner history of one’s community, and for Heidegger ‘experiencing oneself as a participant in a range of purposive undertakings defined by one’s heritage’.[14] For the lives we lead the world is ready-to-hand as are its inherited significances, for Heidegger it is the appropriation for oneself of contextualised history as purposeful in one’s Being-towards-death that history is authenticated, as ‘heritage’.[15] For Husserl history is distilled into a significance that transcends lives, for Heidegger history is that personally appropriated purposive  existential meaning. Either way, one must make history one’s own if it is to enrich one’s identity.

In my view Merleau-Ponty, with his reinstatement of embodiment as essential to the subject offers a link between Husserl’s history as the sedimentation of significance and Heidegger’s history as purposive. Merleau-Ponty like Heidegger, argued that the philosopher must not be construed as a detached ‘spectator’, but as a ‘situated’ participant in a shared world. Intersubjectivity, raising inevitably questions concerning the relationship of the self with ‘the other’, is consequently a matter of ‘history’, for history is the negotiated human record of change and of time passing; indeed, the theme of history is fundamentally the same as the theme of the other.[16] As I have noted already, the question of ‘the other’ arises essentially because ‘the other’ is always my potential negation, the place in which conflict arises. Though I am indebted to intersubjectivity for my identity, intersubjectivity is inevitably conflict.

The questioning being is not merely a psychical thing nor is its identity-sense merely that of a discrete reflecting consciousnesses placed alongside the world of objects. I sense my identity holistically through the body that I am and the world of things is always and necessarily present in me through my body. Though an external object certainly ‘stands before me,’ says Merleau-Ponty, ‘I am not in front of my body, I am in it, or rather I am it’.[17] Thus as I have already rehearsed, to exist is to be one’s body and to be one’s body is to be a ‘body-subject’’, a unity transcending the dichotomy of mind and body, subject and object. This concept invokes a paradoxical and ambiguous relationship, in which consciousness and materiality, subjectivity and the world of ‘things’, are co-extensive. Because of this ambiguity one’s identity requires harmonisation, between a desire for significance as subject, and one’s practical and participatory purposiveness in action as a part of the world.

That world of things is always and necessarily present in us for our bodies question the world as to its purposiveness for us. Through our bodies we have a world, and our existence is inseparable from our inherence in things; an inherence in a world that is both shared and changing. I am the history I appropriate. My sense of history, in general and also personally, relies on thought grounded in the fact of this changing world. Thus as Merleau-Ponty shows, it is through my body as a unique and ambiguous, but nevertheless really objective thing in the world of things, that I can ‘know’ that I exist from day to day and in some particular context. My body, this proof of my historical existence, lies in part beyond myself in things and verifies my existence only when grasped in action toward the external world. In significations that I find as givens I work out a purposiveness and attempt a harmonisation which can never be entirely my own exclusive possession. Thus is my identity won.

As subjectivity I encounter the world as that realm, Husserl memorably contended, in which I do not hold sway, that thing I do not pervade or control. Nevertheless I am not pure subjectivity, distinct from the world in the transcendental manner Husserl invokes, nor as in the bleak Sartrian radical bifurcation of things. The reason for this Merleau-Ponty explains, is that like a temporary ‘hollow’ or ‘fold’ made in being, I am simultaneously part of being and distinct from it. I share the historical purpose of things yet my significance transcends them. My identity is historically embedded just as my empirical being is embedded in the Lifeworld; this is not a static petrifying status but the very reason my identity evolves and the source of meaning on which it feeds.

History... initiative colliding with contingency.

History… initiative colliding with contingency.

For Merleau-Ponty the ‘body subject’ is characterised in a quite particular manner as dialectical and he notes, ‘The dialectic … is the tending of an existence towards another existence which denies it, and yet without which it is not sustained’.[18]  Just as the questioning being is a recursive or dialectical reality, so too its situation is also dialectical, it can both affirm and negate; ‘it is both the field of my freedom and a limit to my freedom, since it is ‘other’, as well as being mine’.[19] My historical situatedness is ambiguous because I grasp the unity of my bodily existence through an intentional perception of objects yet something always transcends that perception. My situation commits me, not to a transcendent grasp of things-in-themselves, but to a perspectival grasp of the objects of history seen from one adumbration which disallows others to me whilst revealing that in this shared world other perspectives are tenable; indeed I find it is so in colliding with them.

[1] Accessed 31st May 2014, 23:47

[2] Accessed 31st May 2014, 23:47

[3] Husserl, Philosophy as a Rigorous Science, in William Casement, Husserl and the Philosophy of History, History and Theory, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Oct., 1988), 230

[4] Casement, ibid

[5] Drummond, J. J. Historical Dictionary of Husserl’s Philosophy, Maryland, Scarecrow Press, 2007, 104-105

[6] Kaufmann, F. The Phenomenological Approach to History: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Dec., 1941), 159-172

[7] Husserl, The Vienna Lecture, Crisis, 1970, 285

[8] Guignon, C. History and Historicity, in Blackwell Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism, Malden, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, , 548

[9] Guignon, ibid, 549

[10] Husserl, 1970, in Guignon, ibid, 551, italics mine, ‘what we are authentically seeking’ echoes our sensibility of human identity as the embedded desire for significance which often is obliged to transcend that embeddedness.

[11] Heidegger, BT, ibid, 211

[12] Guignon, ibid, 552

[13] Guignon, ibid, 553. NB, ‘history has its essential importance… in that authentic happening of existence which arises from Dasein’s future’. Heidegger, 1962, 438

[14] Guignon, ibid

[15] Heidegger, BT, 435, in Guignon, Ibid

[16] Merleau-Ponty, M. (1966). La philosophie de l’existence. Dialogue 5(3): 307-322. Originally a lecture

given in Paris, 1959 in Kruks, S. Marcel and Merleau-Ponty: Incarnation, Situation and the Problem of History, in Human Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1987), 225

[17] Merleau-Ponty, PP, 1962, 150, in Kruks, ibid, 236

[18] Merleau-Ponty, (1962: 167-168) in Kruks, S. Marcel and Merleau-Ponty: Incarnation, Situation and the Problem of History, in Human Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1987), ibid, 238

[19] Kruks, ibid,  239

Ninety nine percent parenthetical and one percent ethical

Section 123 misses the point by a mile

The only thing Vernon and his students gleaned from the lesson was that the sun was very, very hot.

The only thing Vernon and his students gleaned from the lesson was that the sun was very, very hot.

A shallow but meandering lesson on events from the Second World War through to the Cold-War quickly identified this candidate as a junior school chaplain with a desire to teach; history.

A number of times in the lesson Vernon failed to avoid the gaze of Flora. Her expression was almost as hard to read as the worksheet candidate three was holding aloft. There was something in her eyes however that made Vernon want to dissolve with laughter. He daren’t look sideways at the director of studies, slumped disconsolately in his chair, a look of disbelief tempered with despair. He knew he’d explode leaving a hole of megaton proportions in the floor.

“And these weapons. These weapons. Well, these weapons I won’t tell you how powerful they are. Or how hot.”

‘Oh go on’, Vernon wanted to interject, ‘Go on tell us one fact at least’.

“And hot. They’re hot. I won’t tell you how hot they are? They’re very hot. Hotter than the sun.” Vernon began to feel now that Father Newman’s initial disinterest in detail was preferable.

It took just a nano second for Vernon... and his class to fall out with Cardinal Newman.

It took just a nano second for Vernon… and his class to fall out with Cardinal Newman.

“Does anybody know why America dropped two bombs?”

The lesson was ninety nine percent parenthetical and one percent ethical. Vernon tuned out and wondered whether perhaps another five years in the Park was a price worth paying to avoid being an interviewer again. No, he told himself…

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Lighting up a niche of your own

Vernon could see that there was an electrical connection between candidate number three and every learner in the room.

Vernon could see that there was an electrical connection between candidate number three and every learner in the room.

Section 122 is saying phoo to poo

The dynamic candidate was warming to his theme. “Freud was sexist and really only focused on the psychological development of boys. Sure there was the Electra complex, I’ll tell you about that later. But it was boys that revealed the most”. Vernon realised that despite of the candidate’s probable twenty stone bulk, he was springing up and down on his feet as he spoke. Oscillating Mr Watts.

In defiance of the laws of physics, Mr Watts nimbly moved to and fro around the desks. Electrified, the student’s faces glowed and their mouths hung open.

From where he was sitting at the back of the room it was as if the head of every student lit up like a bulb.

From where he was sitting at the back of the room it was as if the head of every student lit up like a bulb.

“So Freud says there were five developmental stages.”

No detail went to waste as Mr Watts described, brazenly, the significant Anal Stage of a child whose prolific gift of poo to mum and dad is unaccountably flushed down the loo. Boo-hoo to loo coup.

“And that,” he sang, “is what is meant by anally retentive.”

Here’s a charismatic teacher Vernon thought, tidying his beard. Here’s a man whose disability disappears when he is doing something that has meaning for him. It’s not health and virility that gives meaning, its finding one’s niche. It’s finding a place to doing something you love that brings meaning. The student’s laughed, responding to all the cues, they wrote copious notes and let themselves be carried along. Bouncy Mr Wats joyfully expounded the dark concepts of a child’s obsession with its bowel movements, the giddy heights of penile envy supposedly found in girls, through the labyrinthine story about mother-love and patricide and beyond. ‘Boy’ was Vernon ready for coffee break when it came?

You did not need a voltage meter to know why Dr Gumtree was electrified.

You did not need a voltage meter to know why Dr Gumtree was electrified.

As the end of the day approached, Vernon was beginning to feel that he had paid his dues to the School in the Park, no matter what disrepute the school might blame him for attracting to it. The thought of going through this interviewing ordeal again to fill his own vacant position filled him with dread; the last lesson for the following day was a typical GCSE Religious Studies topic. The ethical issues relating to nuclear warfare.

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Purpose and significance in the human relationship to technology; Part III

The world is still shaking off the masculinisation of purpose.

The world is still shaking off the masculinisation of purpose.

How pervasive is this polarisation of human identity and its fundamental essence? The masculinisation of purposiveness has accompanied a normalising of purposiveness. Thus men have been able to dominate science, for it is by such procurement ‘man’s domain’ and, as such, science has been dominated by domination rather than collaboration. As Heidegger puts it, though he looks beyond science per se, ‘the revealing that rules’ throughout modern technology is characterised by a domination which is challenging forth; one might almost employ of the analogy of a Lazarus commanded to arise from the grave. This domination commands nature to release its energy, once unlocked, this energy –  nature’s bounty – becomes a procured commodity, owned, stockpiled and sold to the highest bidder.[1]

Sooner or later everything in a functionalist world is procured as part of the standing reserve.

Sooner or later everything in a functionalist world is procured as part of the standing reserve.

The purposiveness of technology commands that all remain immediately to hand, inventoried as a resource in the ‘standing-reserve’, no longer seen for what it is itself but for what purpose it may serve at a moment’s notice. No longer an autonomous object, what is procured as standing-reserve waits as an itemised extension to myself, ready to do my bidding; the airliner on the runway is my escape to the sun; the woman at the counter my means to acquire groceries; as I have described already, the disused railway line becomes my route to fitness. Though ultimately humans such as I perpetuate this revelation of things as ‘on hand to do my bidding’, I am not in ultimate control because I too am subpoenaed, summoned to my place in the standing-reserve. Thus to win my identity, dependent as it is upon a desire for significance, I must wrest it free from another’s appropriation of my capacity for purpose.

If I am to be emancipated from mere purposiveness I must acknowledge the ‘enframing’[2] that summons me to validate the standing-reserve. Alternatively, all that is actual, the background, the foreground and the Other, myself even, become something to be procured or appropriated purposively or discarded as useless, something without significance. It is through signifying that the Lifeworld comes alive, becomes a part of my life; it is through granting significance to the other as subject that I am finally not alone. Finally it is through the accretion of meaning as purpose and significance that I acquire, develop and sustain identity.

The human tendency to overemphasise purposiveness results in a loss of equilibrium. The problem facing humankind and accordingly human identity, perhaps as a result of a reactionary abhorrence in post enlightenment society towards the mythology of ancient and medieval worldviews, is the corruption of our sense of the unconcealed. What, implied the Logical Positivists, can there be, aside from those matters of fact procured by purposive thinking? Though purposive science can successfully describe the fabric of the background of our lives, ‘there is in the midst of all that is correct’ the danger that ‘the true will withdraw’.[3] The severing of significance from purposiveness brings an impoverished appropriation of the background world into the foreground of human existence and, if it brooks no questioning, humanity withdraws too.

Is man truly the measure of all things?

Is man truly the measure of all things?

Rather than a recognition that others, that nature, that creativity and beauty have intrinsic significance of their own, all must audition for anthropic usefulness. Heidegger laments the very positing of consciousness’ constituting power that phenomenology after Husserl is charged with. The enlightenment mantra, ‘man is the measure of all things’, has come to mean that everything the questioning being encounters exists only insofar as it is an extension of ‘man’; ultimately ‘man everywhere and always encounters only himself’.[4]  Problematically however, just as woman cannot mirror man back to man as he wishes to be seen, neither nature, nor the divine can reflect humankind; ironically in fact, this narcissism entails that ‘nowhere does man today any longer encounter himself’.[5]

Heidegger’s warning is that enframing prevents the appearing of what presences itself . Unquestioned purposiveness blinds us so that we no longer see significance. We can no longer get back to things themselves. Put esoterically, ‘Enframing blocks the shining-forth and holding sway of truth.’[6]

Travelling from Pune to Mumbai I passed a bewilderingly large billboard beside the highway. It dwarfed a primitive village, overshadowing its impoverished inhabitants with a vast advertisement for cutting-edge mobile phone technology. The purpose of a hoarding, indeed of mobile phones too, is ostensibly communication. In an age of instant global communication mobiles allow one to speak across the globe and beyond. But advertising has done little for communication, for communication requires that we grant the other significance in the form of a voice we will attend to. The Indian villagers clearly had the capacity to be consumers, but they were not significant as people. Standing in reserve as a future market for marketing, future networkers for networks, their present significance as persons was ignored. Human identity must be reclaimed from a purposiveness that obliterates significance for both are equiprimordial; if the questioning being is to be ‘fetched home’ into its essence, it must be allowed to question its way back to a pursuit of significance in partnership with its capacity for purpose.

Heidegger’s assurances that within enframing, somehow is to be found a mystical ‘letting be’ for man to endure, though opaque, contains the embryonic idea that within humankind itself is the solution. Whilst humankind is not the measure of all things, certainly the questioning being measures all things. It is here in questioning that significance is allowed to arise. Though ‘the frenziedness of ordering that blocks every view’,[7]  ensures that unfettered procurement obscures significance, nevertheless questioning makes a way towards harmony through the path of disquiet. In the thwarted appropriations of our lives disclosed in the uncomfortable experiences of enforced waiting and indeterminate exploration the questioning being is brought back to its essence.

As with the stock market, unfettered procurement obscures significance.

As with the stock market, unfettered procurement obscures significance.

The identity of the questioning being is fostered consequently in a harmonisation of the desire for significance and the capacity for purpose. One’s identity-sense is accordingly, a faculty for questioning, one of life’s vital signs, and this audit must be an ongoing priority for human singularity and solidarity alike.

‘All revealing’ says Heidegger, is endangered by the essential unfolding of technology and threatened with being ultimately ‘consumed in ordering’; [8] one’s identity-sense, with its questioning sensitivity ignited by disquiet, can resist the standing-reserve however, though it cannot banish it. Meaning making, whether a signifying in art or poetry, altruism or faith, or indirectly sought in politics, religion, philosophy or community, comes from a questioning that is not merely purposive; redemptive meaning-making is catalysed by the desire for significance which grants to each singular human the possibility of significant singularity in harmony with its capacity for purpose. It is for this reason, as Merleau-Ponty points out, ‘…man, as opposed to the pebble which is what it is, is defined as a place of unrest’.[9]

[1] Heidegger, QT, ibid, 224

[2] Heidegger, ibid, 227

[3] Heidegger, ibid, 231

[4] Heidegger, QT, in BW, ibid, 232

[5] Heidegger, ibid

[6] Heidegger, ibid

[7] Heidegger, QT, ibid, 236

[8] Heidegger, ibid, 236

[9] Merleau-Ponty, M. Sense and Non-sense, Northwestern University studies in phenomenology & existential philosophy, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1964, 66

The mantle of Elijah

There was no containing candidate number two.

There was no containing candidate number two.

Section 121 is electric

Vernon was completely unprepared for the changeover of candidates when it came. Dr Gumtree escorted candidate number one away to his next engagement in the interview process, Nice and Albright, and Vernon prepared the class for the next topic. Freud. Freud; a gift for any red-blooded male teacher with a radar for drama and a sense of the absurd, a goad to any red-blooded female teacher with a critical awareness and sensitivity to patriarchal condescension. There was a knock on the door and the Director of Studies entered and returned to his seat with an enigmatic smile.

Now what? thought Vernon. From the corridor he could hear the sound of sandpaper being drawn across a wooden block. It seemed to be drawing closer. Moments later the doorway was completely filled by the widest man he had ever seen. A man in a black suit, with a worryingly blue-grey face.

“Hi” he wheezed “You …  able to…  plug this… in?”

You have a connection for my laptop? gasped Mr Watts.

You have a connection for my laptop? gasped Mr Watts.

Pause. Beseeching look.

“You have …a connection for my laptop?” gasped Mr Watts.

The candidate seemed oblivious to the open-mouthed stares of the class as he squeezed himself with difficulty through the inadequate space between the desks. He sloughed off his jacket like a snake his skin and Vernon experienced a childish compulsion to try it on. The cavernous jacket, like the mantle of Elijah, was pregnant with an aura of mystery. Instead he busied himself with connecting the educator’s life-support machine.

“So, Isn’t

Electric Mr Watts lit up the room once life returned to his face.

Electric Mr Watts lit up the room once life returned to his face.

life great? Here we are. I’m going to talk to you about Freud. While I get this PowerPoint set up, tell me in your own words what God is for. What does he do? What’s his job? Write it down for me.” While candidate number two bent over the laptop, dwarfing the student beside him, the class hastened to comply.

You might well ask what God does, thought Vernon uncharitably. What does he do? And yet, for all his cynicism, the candidate’s voice was so compelling that he wanted to join in. He wanted to fill a blank piece of paper with speculation. He glanced over at the Director of Studies and felt as if he was looking into the face of a man transfixed.

In an enchanted sing-song voice that seemed to blend windy city with Forbidden City, candidate number two stirred the sleepy class into life from entropy into a state akin to orgasmic enthusiasm. They skittered and pranced around the task like a colt released into pasture, glad to be doing something at last. The PowerPoint was tolerable, but as the candidate elaborated on Freud’s quirky obsession about obsessional neuroses, Vernon forgot it was there. He forgot to take critical notes. He just wanted to listen. This man could have sold Rentokil shares to the Pied Piper. Vernon glanced over at Dr Gumtree who hadn’t moved. So that’s what an Epiphany looks like he thought.

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‘Get ‘em done Nicey’

Vernon was praying for a candidate who would stand out from the rest as just right for the job.

Vernon was praying for a candidate who would stand out from the rest as just right for the job.

Section 120 is presented in full and full of the Lord

Five interviews and five lesson observations for the new Head of Beliefs and Values stretched ahead of Vernon. It all commenced with an interview in Dr Gumtree’s office with candidate number one. He was undoubtedly nice. Six foot four and bewhiskered, like a clergyman naturalist from Hardy’s country.

His respectable grey suite and rimless spectacles co-ordinated well with his grim grey complexion. His rare but genuine pastoral smile however was disarming, and if that wouldn’t give incentive to work-shy students his height certainly would. BDs, MPhils, DipTheols, PhDs and other accolades vied for attention on his CV., though there was no teaching certificate to speak of. Reverend Nice’s curriculum vitae seemed more alive than he did until that smile pushed the greyness aside; Vernon only saw the man smile twice however. This man of the cloth had woven solitary contemplation and protracted periods of study, and maybe even gurning into the fabric of his life alongside faith. Vernon wondered what Mrs Nice was like. Did she have rimless spectacles and whiskers too? He sighed within as Dr Gumtree took over the questioning.

The interview went well enough. Complicated only by a message from Nsansa. Like her, he should have switched off his phone. Touché my dear. The message read…

Hills r alive to snd of boozng. Wales drunk nd noisy. Missing u r u missing me? Cll 2night ples Wll be in after 6.

The nice reverend was grey, bewhiskered and awfully wise.

The nice reverend was grey, bewhiskered and awfully wise.

Though Reverend Nice answered in a manner that was extremely… pleasant, his responses were characterised by a sanctified vagueness such as is only nurtured in establishment churches such as the Anglican Church. Vernon could imagine asking whether Rev. Nice had finished his class reports and the following exchange ensuing;

“In His wisdom the Lord will provide, let us wait on Him with peace in our hearts.”

“Hell yeah get ‘em done Nicey.

In the observed lesson, this first candidate had been briefed to contribute to his lower sixth revision efforts about the way religious experience can be regarded as evidence for the existence of God, with specific reference to William James. Dull job, but somebody has to do it.

“James categorised religious experiences looking for a common core to them” Rev. Nice intoned pleasantly. Vernon looked glumly into the dull dead eyes of his class and Thailand floated into view once again as a seductive tropical mirage. “Can anybody tell me what famous religious experience is recounted in the New Testament?”


“In Acts chapter 9?”

All quiet on the North Front.

“On the road to Damascus? It involves a bright light?”

A touch of hysteria had crept into Rev. Nice’s voice. Please God, don’t let one of them start on about the star over Bethlehem, or missiles over Syria Vernon prayed.

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The loudest voice is the one that controls the airwaves.

Rock, paper, scissors...

Rock, paper, scissors…

Section 119 has a media interest

In the afternoon of the following day, and after a quiet morning freed up by extra-curricular initiatives and games, Vernon made his way to the dining hall. He heard hasty steps on the gravel path behind him and turned to see Jean-Luc waving as he jogged unconvincingly to close the remaining gap between them. When he had caught his breath he turned to Vernon and said, gasping for air… “Rupert? Since when … since when did Rupert the bear have a media interest in the Nonsense Filter…  that could be abused? …Or is this a cryptic reference to another Rupert?”

“Come on Jean-Luc, now it’s you that needs to get out more. I worked it out this morning. ‘Rupert Mudrock. Media mogul? A very, very big bear. Even politicians relinquish their integrity to ‘get into bed with him’.”

“What d’you mean even politicians? Especially politicians. I know who you mean now… phew… what has Émile got himself into?” They walked on a little way and as they approached the buzz of the dining block Jean  Luc added, “Tell me this, how does this help me at all, or Émile? You suggested he had something I needed to know which he had to say cryptically. What?”

“I don’t know, not with any certainty, but what about this? Is it possible that Tarkey bit off more than he could chew and Émile is instructing us to wait and watch it bite him back?”

More than a soundbite.

More than a soundbite.

“It’s a compelling idea.” Jean Luc mused, his expression brightening . He helped himself to cutlery as they queued for food and, feigning a sword thrust towards Vernon said, “I think you’d be careful only to cheat Baron Mudrock when you were assured it couldn’t be traced to you.” Like a cloud passing over the sun another thought followed swiftly in the train of the first… “Hell, let’s hope Émile is never implicated.”

Vernon did his best to project an affirming look of sympathy while admitting to himself there was probably no guarantee nor would there ever be.

Check out the Nonsense Filter

Jingly bear

Section 118 spins a little PR for RtB

That evening, after an otherwise uneventful day, Vernon revised his list of world famous bears. It was impressive. Yogi Bear and Boo boo, Fozzie Bear, The Berenstain Bears… no that was a long shot, he doubted Émile would have encountered them. Paddington was a favourite of course, and then there was Baloo. Bungle and Sooty were also outsiders; they were hardly bear-like. Suddenly a jingle popped into Vernon’s head like a dislocated shoulder repair on the rugby touchline… ‘Rupert, Rupert the bear, everyone knows his name…’ Involuntarily Vernon danced around the kitchen singing the jingle and shaking a tea-bag ineffectually for percussion.

Rupert hardly seemed the scariest bear on the block!

Rupert hardly seemed the scariest bear on the block!

“It’s Rupert” he declared to no-one in particular. “Rupert the bear.”

Just then the phone rang. Must be Jean Luc, Vernon thought, it’s occurred to him too. It wasn’t however. It was Nsansa.

Check out the Novel so far…