From Riches to Rags ('Variant', the inverted Cinderella)

By Josephine Berry, 10 January 1997

Review of Variant

Variant, in a Lazarus-style resurrection, has come back to haunt the Scottish Arts Council whose complete withdrawal of funding forced its capitulation in 1994. As if its mere reappearance wasn't galling enough for the SAC, Variant has (of necessity) exchanged its previous colour-glossy robes for black and white, newspaper rags and is also given out for free. And, not content with having ruined the SAC's good humour for a very long period of time, Variant has shunned the course of diplomatic discretion and taken the opportunity to condemn its condemners. Its editorial disclaimer and leader article examine the minutiae of the publication's demise; excerpts from the avalanche of letters written in protest of the SAC's withdrawal of support and its squirming responses are featured. Far from trying to draw an obfuscating veil across this chapter in its history and chirpilly ushering in a new epoch, the editorial states, "just like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn we have turned up at our own funeral". The immediate plan is to publish only a further three quarterly issues - this finite future together with its professed determination to deviate from the "cultural packaging and re-packaging of a benign culture of entertainment" impelled by the 'Darwinian' race for public funding spells a refreshingly liberated editorial line. Despite this cry freedom and, not withstanding the indisputable value of many of 'Variant''s features and reviews (these include Dave Beech's discussion of the classical constructions of pleasure and its other in 'Getting Carried Away', Peter Suchin's review of Hal Foster's 'The Return of the Real :The Avant-Garde at the End of the 20th Century', John Robert's review of Julian Stallabrass's Gargantua and a hilarious transcript from a roundtable discussion on dance music between DJ Tony Lamprey, techno producer GX 303 and leading member of the Frankfurt School of social theory, Theodor W. Adorno), it does seem that it falls a little short of fulfilling its radical promise. Given its nothing-left-to-lose rabble rousing disclaimer it comes across perhaps just too well mannered.

Josephine Berry <josie AT>