October 18th, 2004


Penury Stew

Leafing through the papers, it hasn't escaped the bywriters' notice that Jacques Derrida has died and there's plenty of jest as to how to describe this event in something as friable as language. There seem to be two notable aspects to Derrida's life - what he achieved and then what others achieved with him. I like the first, I'm uncertain about the second.

Like many who came of age in the 80s, and read the NME, I learned early that it was the epitome of aspirational cool to be able to drop post-structuralist and post-modernist terminology into conversation. I've avoided it since. It was more to do with obscuring your conversation than illuminating it. J'accuse Paul Morley et al... My grasp of continental theory was always rather behind the times. I'd just about managed the Situationists at school, staggered towards Baudrillard, Virilio, Foucault and similar at university and didn't bother with Lacan, Deleuze, Lyotard and their ilk until the mid-90s. I've never read Derrida. I've dipped in from time to time. They're can't be many contemporary philosophers who have managed to get accepted, at whatever teleological expense, into the mainstream. A particular sort of mainstream though. Deconstruction is a term that's been adopted by many. You can buy deconstructed suits, buildings, meals, records. A complete deconstructed lifestyle is available. It's not particularly cheap.

I once went to the Tate (when there was just the one) with Neodig in the belief that Derrida was going to speak there. As it turned out, it was a film of Derrida rather than the person. This hadn't really been made clear on the program and I felt a bit miffed, my companion was closer to tears of boredom or violence. That's pretty much the extent of Derrida's involvement in my life, but here's a few things I'd like to say in his favour:

1. He was good-looking for a philosopher and knew how to dress.
2. He worked outside the academic system and never held tenure.
3. He was on to something.

To be honest, and I hope not too pig-headed, I've always found that the basis of most of the 20th century's intellectual wranglings can be found in the works of Ferdinand de Saussure. It's a shame people don't make more of an effort to read him, rather than take him at second-hand value through commentators and other specialists. For me, it's all there in Saussure. On the whole, I'd rather read Ballard than Baudrillard. Similarly I'd rather read Saussure through patchy lecture notes than the generations of reductionists that followed him. But there is something that Derrida added. Whereas the bylines are filled with remonstrations about how Derrida made meaning so unstable, I always thought he was doing something quite the opposite - that is, he was revealing the presence of God. Just as physics in the 20th century has passed from a Lego-based view of structure to the vaguaries of the quantum/universal level, so must our view of meaning evolve from enlightenment certainties. I don't think Derrida had any particular problems grocery shopping. Meaning does exist and it works. A pound of spuds, please. At many levels of operation. What Derrida was trying to bring to attention was the wonder, curiosity and, arguably, mysticism of language elsewhere. Coming from an Orthodox perspective, rather than that of the Evangelist, this is a given. What Derrida's life lacks for me is a point at which he throws down the pen and picks up the yarmulke.

I'm reminded of a linguistics teacher I had who would pepper his conversation with various semantic anecdotes from domestic life. He's sitting at home on Sunday afternoon, watching tv. His wife enters. "Is this Rugby Special?" "Hmm, well, what exactly does she mean by special. The game's not so inspired..." He thinks. "Well, is it?" "Err, umm, yes." Twenty years of that and you'd better get ready for a frying pan in the head. I don't imagine married life with me would be much different in the long-run. Oh dear, that thought's just made me rather miserable on this grey Monday. Anyway, I shall miss you Jacques, however little I understood you, the world needs sexy mystic philosophers. It doesn't particularly need Roger Scruton.

Here are the Derrida links that Libération included in its obituary issue. "Along with Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault, he is the most cited thinker on the internet. 115,000 pages on Google, of which 14,700 are French." There's Farabi's, Stanford and Hydra. Other than that, you're on your won, mes pauvres amis...

To add to the general background level of poverty, I noticed last night that a firm in Cleveland (oh...) had withdrawn $517 from my account, although they credited $46 back the next day. Someone's been watching a lot of prøn on this computer and it ain't me. So the credit card's off the scale now and has been cancelled. What this lack of money does encourage (as well as the tobacco I brought back from France) is for me to get on with the next album and there's some news about this over at the Radio Orchestrar journal. Things are on the way...

When I am poor, my diet gets a whole lot healthier. My favourite shop in Stamford Hill is the horn of plenty that is Fresh and Fruity and there's nothing like poverty to encourage you to fill the house with veg and fruit. Or, just as possibly, take the Netto option. I'm with the first. I may be sounding like one of those MPs who spend a week on social security. I fed a family of five for only 34 pence a day and decided to treat the family to a whore and a bottle of milk stout on Friday. No. I'm single and unemployed, I've got plenty of time to make food. The cupboards are already filled with rice, couscous, kasha, bulgar wheat and the like. Simply add veg and stir... Here's what I cooked yesterday.


Shallots (bought way back in July in Brittany)
Mouli (which is pretty much daikon)
Lentils (Puy)
Tomato Puree
Hot Bean Paste (gochujang - Kr.)
Mustard Seed
Star Anise
Provençal Herbs
Olive Oil
Sea Salt (also from Brittany, it does taste different)

Heat up olive oil in saucepan. Grind the coriander, cumin, mustard seed, fenugreek and star anise (or any other experimental combination of spices you darn well like) and put in the oil with finely chopped shallots. Add diced carrots and, once you've cut them up into medium-sized chunks, the parsnips and the potatoes. You may as well throw in the passata you've just found in the fridge. Some water might help and some tomato puree, what the hell. Have a fag. Taste. Mmm, so-so. Add salt. Put in some lentils. These small green-black Puy ones are the dope. Spoon in some gochujang and you're cooking. May as well add some chunks of mouli while you're at it. And those herbs need using. Cover on low-heat and retire for around 45 minutes, occasionally stirring. Eat. It is good and will probably taste even better today. The lentils and bean paste give a nice deep autumnal hue to the dish. Eat with bread or whatever.

No matter my level of poverty, I'm still off to watch Oldboy for a second time today. Life without film isn't really life as I know it.