'What's the Use?' Cultural studies and the religion of the useful

Carfax Publishing
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 2003, 17 (4), pp. 397 - 409
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There is nothing which is absolutely useful or absolutely harmful. There are only those things which are used and those things for which a use has not yet been found (Eisenstein, 1988, p. 72). Useless Stock The problem of uselessness began for me around 1985 in an article by Tony Bennett called 'Really useless knowledge: a political critique of aesthetics' (Bennett, 1985). Already by that stage I was heavily invested in aesthetics and I also held some preference shares in a new field, not yet fully developed, called cultural studies. Original assays had indicated that there was gold, but the quality of it had not been fully determined. I was reluctant to abandon the aesthetics investment just because some bad publicity had made the market nervous. I knew that the risk I was taking in holding onto the stockwhich I rated as blue chipcould result in my becoming 'really useless' at some stage, which would mean I could lose everythingbut these are the risks you take in that futures trading business we call life. I also knew that with the flick of a switch, anyone could be useful or useless in this game of reversals, anyone could be in or out. To be in, you only needed to be useful according to the latest measure of usefulness, like a 'Standard and Poor' index, which comes out of the blue and tomorrow it was likely you would become useless anyway, because the measures kept changing. Indeed, this constant change was itself the very motor or entrepreneurial activity of a new growth industry: the uselessness production industry, which is founded on the desire to be useful. Its main activity is the identification and measurement of wasted time and energy and the transformation of human resource into dead wood, which can then be chipped and exported.
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