Writing On Drugs
Sadie Plant (Faber £9.99)
Few of us - from the executive unable to function without that morning espresso to the ecstatic clubber - exist in perpetually unaltered states; and yet a censorious attitude to drug use still prevails. Furthermore, we tend to categorise drugs as symptoms of a modern slump in moral standards, rarely acknowledging that they have always formed part of human society.
In her book Writing On Drugs, radical philosopher Sadie Plant presents a vivid and meticulously researched argument that our culture has never been drug-free, and indeed that many developments within it can be linked to the quest for artificial stimulation. ’I felt that a lot of books about drugs were either very dry and technical, or else a little too involved,’ she says of her controversial project. ’Now - with such a focus upon ecstasy and acid house culture - seemed like a good time to take an overview.’
Plant identifies a culture of denial;
A drugs game: Sadie Plant
we maintain the pretence that drug use is the preserve of an anti-social minority, turning a blind eye to its increasing presence throughout our society. There is also an illogical faith in the notion of legal drugs as inherently separate from their close relatives on the other side of the law. ‘It’s an argument that we haven’t had in a very rational way,‘ Plant notes. ’It’s true that there is very little pharmacological reason for the distinctions that are drawn; but it's also interesting that a lot of our "worst" drugs developed because of illegality. We got cocaine because of restrictions on the use of coca leaves, and heroin through the prohibition of opium.’
Plant argues that the prevalence of drugs is such that ’the line between taking drugs actively and living in an altered state is not clearly defined.’ Here a link can be drawn with Plant’s previous work in the field of feminist theory; she notes that whilst dependency of various
kinds has historically been encouraged in women, ’the idea of the strong, independent. in control man is one of the things that drugs threaten.’
Illegal drugs occupy a peculiar position; ostensibly socially disruptive, they are nonetheless a lynchpin of the justice system and the economy. 'The more I investigated, the more i realised that drug laws often work as a way of exerting other kinds of control; and also the importance of the drug trade in the global economy. There are big, powerful interests involved there.’
Plant is no Howard Marks-style legalisation evangelist, though. ’I would want to dissuade people from taking drugs,’ she says. 'Not for moral reasons, but because there are many other, better ways of getting those same sensations.’ (Hannah McGiIl)
I Sadie Plant is at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Tue 12 Oct, 7.30pm, £3 (£2). Writing On Drugs is out now.
Raised and confused: Stuart David
Nalda Said Stuart David (IMP Fiction £7.99)
Before he became semi-famous for playing bass in Belle & Sebastian, and then a bit more famous for being in his own band Looper. Stuart David was in Balloch, near Loch Lomond. For three years he wrote for four hours a day and ended up producing a trio of novels.
Then he wrote to publishers. Then the publishers wrote back. ‘They really liked them,’ he says, in his soft, shy burr. ‘But they said they weren’t commercial, which was strange; I don't really know what makes a book commercial.’
Publishers do. After the 8&5 Brit award explosion, IMP picked up on David’s prose on the Looper website. and, to cut a short story shorter, the result is Nalda Said, a queer debut that
tiptoes between magic realism and tragic fantasy. Our petty, ill-natured world is made unfamiliar through the eyes of the sheltered narrator. The guidance of his wizened aunt Nalda has gifted him a unique society-view; part wide-eyedinnocence and part clenched-fisted paranoia.
‘There are maybe things that you've been told by your parents and it's a while before you realise that they aren’t true,’ states David. It's easy to crayon parallels between the fragile- hearted outsider of the novel and the stubbly sensitivity of its author, but even David isn't sure.
‘When I was younger and I started writing, I was confused whether I should be writings songs or novels,’ he half-smiles. ‘And with the novel coming out, I've gone back to being confused.’ (Graeme Virtue)
l Nalda Said is published on Mon 18 Oct.
Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Charlotte Fairbairn
Who she? Charlotte Fairbairn, Oxford graduate, mother of two. and eldest daughter of the late Sir Nicky Fairbairn, Scottish aristocrat and controversial MP.
Her debut It's called A Bear With An Egg In Her Paws and is billed as “a poetic exploration of the frailty of the human spirit.’
First sentence test ‘Had she been a bear with an egg in her paws, a Jeweller who hadjust found the Koh- l-Noor, had she been a fisherman who in ancient times mistakenly brought up the first pineapple or a starved man presented with a brandy-snap or a forester with the last-existing acorn. she could not in her clumsy hands have held more tenderly nor nursed more gently her new-born son.‘ Basically. . . Basically, self-confessed restorer of Elizabethan farmhouses, Fairbairn tells, in an olde worlde style. the story of Clara, mother, wife. niece, daughter and grandmother. lynchpin of the family in the story. We learn of births, deaths, losses and celebrations both past and present. She paints a portrait of the flamboyant in-Iaws and outlaws which make up one's extended family. from brandy guzzling, bellowing Aunty Lily to the ebullient. unpredictable Freddie. Inspired by both the birth this year of her second child, and the legacy of her (to say the least) outspoken father, Fairbairn also writes travelogues. poetry and children's verse. When she's not indulging in a spot of dressage, that IS.
To whom the book is for “To my father, my mother, my husband, my son.’
Laugh ratio It’s not about laughs, it's about the tragic consequences of self- delusion. How terribly, terribly apt. (Mark Robertson)
I A Bear With An Egg In Her Paws is published by Citron Press priced £7.99.
IABEAR WITH AN EGG IN HER PAWS
CHARLOTTE FARBAlRN I
7—21 Oct 1999 THE U87 99