“And what is the use of use?”

"Résistance, Résurrection, Libération" of Marc Chagall, painted between 1937 and 1948. A property of Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, it is on display at the Musée national Marc Chagall, Nice, France.

Another year passes by. 2014, will it carry with it new centres and new centralities? Yes, I am quite sure.

My research in 2014 focuses on numerous topics, the most pertinent of them are:

-How centrality interacts with text: how centrality forms, constructs, deconstructs and manifests itself in text: in toponymes, in place-names, in streetnames, and in every name inscribed and used in the space appropriated by this centrality.

-How centrality can be “confirmed” or even “infirmed” by text.

-How centralities and centres are related.

In some days I am beginning to write some small excerpts of my doctoral thesis: the epistemological/theoretical framework of my work. I am usually confronted to the same question from many: “What is the use of this?”, “What would be out of it?”, “How are you going to use it??!”, “Is it of real use??!”, etc. I think those questions are frequent for every doctoral student: what is the “use” of their research, with the usual insinuation that research is not “professional”, that is, research is neither a work nor a utility.

Are those questions pertinent, are they “useful”, to speak of the same logic? How use and utility are measured? Do nations and civilisations advance by so-called “professional” work alone???!

The answer is not that easy, if one wants to give all the logical explanations. But better to answer with Hannah Arendt’s question at The Human Condition: “And what is the use of use?” To quote Hannah Arendt, complicated utilitarianism is but an unending chain of means and ends without ever arriving at some principle which could justify the category of means and end, that is, of utility itself.

I find this painting of Chagall illustrative of the situation of research and theses: the yellow-and-red sphere is the centre of the scene, it is the “invigoration” and the reason of all what is and what moves around; yet it is the most “static”, the most “abstract” part of it. This is research: necessary for advance and movement, yet discreet in its appearance: it is a profession to be a researcher (thus research is also “professional”!), but its professionalism is sometimes of a different kind: the “use” can be immediate, at the same time it can be slow and time-taking, but long-lasting. Civilisations have advanced thanks to science and research!

A happy, blessed and fruitful 2014 for you all!

"Résistance, Résurrection, Libération" of Marc Chagall, painted between 1937 and 1948. A property of Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, it is on display at the Musée national Marc Chagall, Nice, France.

“Résistance, Résurrection, Libération” of Marc Chagall, painted between 1937 and 1948. A property of Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, it is on display at the Musée national Marc Chagall, Nice, France.  Photo taken at the Musée Luxembourg, Paris, 2013.

  Image Credit: Jack Keilo, photo of Chagall’s Résistance, Résurrection, Libération at the Musée Luxembourg, Paris, 2013.

For further reading on utility please see Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition. Arendt’s quotation in this article is from the version of the University of Chicago Press, 1998, Introduction by Margaret Canovan, pp. 153-156.


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