Life in our society moves at full speed. The changes are constant, although on many occasions inconsequential. The planned obsolescence of our mobile phones means that the simple fact that a new model comes onto the market pushes us to replace it. The series each time have shorter chapters, in the movies the images follow one another at a faster speed, almost causing the viewers to be dizzy, and the TikTok videos only last a few seconds.
Our ability to concentrate is reduced. Our ability to stop is reduced. Productivity is a social imperative. Meritocracy requires constant work. Guilt stalks us in the minutes of rest. It is no longer called by phone, audios are sent, but in case we are in a hurry, the application allows us to increase the revolutions. We’d rather hear our mothers in Smurf voices than spend thirty seconds of our time listening carefully.
The very space that we inhabit becomes a backdrop that we do not look at, that we do not even see, where we do not interact. The anthropologist Marc Augé defined the concept of no-place as that space where the human being is an anonymous entity that does not appropriate the place, where it is a mere subject that establishes a consumer relationship with urban spaces.
Augé was referring to shopping malls, stations, etc. But since 1992, when he wrote about it, the street itself has become a non-place. We go at full speed, looking at the mobile. We no longer perceive the gaze of others or fashions –except through Instagram–. We are even about to fall into a ditch or collide with a lamppost more than once.
What is the use of what seems to be useless?
In a world that is moving at full speed, what use can a text by Aristotle have? And a Caravaggio painting? A poem by Machado? A Handel aria?
Some will see a clear benefit in this: money. If with them I can fill the museum, the theater, sell books, then the profit is clear. But where is the transcendental?
This is precisely what Nuccio Ordine masterfully claimed in his praised text The utility of the useless, a defense of the humanities, history, culture and art. A defense, after all, of humanity.
Faced with the productivist logic that seeks that immediate practicality of research, it is essential that voices like Ordine’s rise up, defending the usefulness of theoretical research, concepts, reflections.
Antiquity is us
Ordine subtitled his book “Manifesto”. And it is what it was, a manifesto in favor of culture, of the usefulness of thought, of stopping to read, to think, to look.
He did it at a time, 2013, in which there was also a clear political position. In the midst of the financial crisis, when Greece was going bankrupt and many nations were considering taking the country out of the European Union, Ordine wondered: does Europe make sense without Greece?
European culture is so indebted to the Greek that practically all the concepts that govern our modern society come from its Antiquity. So much so that Europa is nothing but the name of a character from Greek mythology, a Phoenician princess kidnapped and raped by Zeus, transformed into a white bull.
Ordine declares that he considers “anything that helps us to make ourselves better” useful, without the need for it to be subordinated to economic success, since an exclusive economic interest “progressively kills the memory of the past.”
In this way, he dismantles the idea of the uselessness of art, literature or music. And he does it in a masterly way, from the deep knowledge that he possessed about all fields of culture and history, with a much-needed nuance of protest, at that time and still today. The book is full of quotes, of clarifying examples, and encompasses different traditions, not just the Western one.
The utility of the useless contains three essays in one: the first on the usefulness of art, the second on the commodification of education, and the third on the glorification of material possession over the spiritual.
an unexpected death
Although this is a capital work in the production of the Italian, it is not the only one. He has many publications and numerous awards.
Unfortunately, he will not be able to personally collect the last of them, the Princess of Asturias Award that he will receive in October of this year. Ordine passed away unexpectedly on June 10 and left us with an unfulfilled longing to hear her speech, which we imagined would have been brilliant.
But we have his legacy. Let’s start by reading it slowly, without looking at the phone. Let’s start by raising our heads when we go down the sidewalk and appreciate the architecture, the trees, who passes by, the graffiti in front… Let’s start with the simple, the apparently useless, which will undoubtedly provide us with great benefits.