Variant issue 6    back to issue list


There is a plaque on the wall of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary which states that it was here from 1861 to 1869 that Joseph Lister initiated his anti-septic proceedure for performing operations. Eight years is a long time to initiate anything. What it took him so long to convince the ruling bodies of was that doctors washing their hands between operations with carbolic soap and the use of anti-septic sprays to kill germs would greatly decrease the death rate in hospitals. It took him so long not because of the difficulty people had in grasping what he was on about, but because of resistence to his claims. Resistence from within. Doctors would find it hard to admit that the blood was on their hands. They found it hard to admit that they were the cause of death. The established proceedures were defended by those who had established them as the basis of their carreers. This should be regarded as an advance.

"There was one Italian who possessed the scientific spirit, that was Leonardo da vinci. But he confided his thoughts to diaries and remained unknown and useless in his time."
Lord Acton, The Renaissance, Lectures on Modern History.

This is a remarkable fact. During renaissances censorship. A clash between new learning and old. The blotting out of significant thought which questions the order of things.
For those who are in the ascendancy in a 'renaissance', but whose real methods of exerting power are hidden, for the infamous, a historical inversion occurs:
"Lorenzo de' Medici once said that his buildings were the only works that would outlast him; and it is common in the secular characters of that epoch, unlike the priesthood, not to believe in those things that are abiding, and not to regard organisations that are humble and obscure at first and bloom by slow degrees for the use of another age."
His crimes were not useless to the nation. Acton is saying that Medici's--the Borgias--reputation lies now in the way they did things, not in the monuments and cultural artefacts they ordered constructed as a monument, as a facade.
With the case of Dr. Ismail Besikci the scientific spirit was not kept to diaries or notebooks: his work "Socio-Economic and Ethnic Foundations of the Structure of eastern Anatolia" was rewarded by a 12 year sentence. Besikci was also one of the first Turkish intellectuals to support and defend the armed national struggle led by the Kurdistan Workers party (the PKK) which began in 1984. As he said to his prosecutors:
"One of the most important prerequisites of modern civilisatiuon is the creation of an environment in which different voices can be heard, different views can develop. I am not the defendant...I defend science ...I defend the universal values of my time ...What they want to try is thought, science ...they are endeavouring to try me--but history will try them."
As we go to press we have been informed of a fire-bomb attack on the Kurdish Community Centre in Haringay, North London. The centre serves more than 4,000 Kurdish refugees. 
This edition of Variant contains two supplements, from Hull Time Based Arts and Streetlevel Photoworks. 
We are open to future colloborations with other organisations. For details contact the editors.