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The importance of being useless: A cross-cultural contribution to the new materialisms from Zhuangzi

Kwek, Dorothy H. B. 2018. The importance of being useless: A cross-cultural contribution to the new materialisms from Zhuangzi. Theory, Culture and Society 35 (7-8) , pp. 21-48. 10.1177/0263276418806381

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The recent ‘material turn’ focuses on materiality in two distinctive ways: one, by including nonhuman agencies, another, by mining indigenous knowledges for alternative conceptions of agency and human–thing relations. A troubling gap persists between the two endeavours. The gap insinuates an us–them dichotomy and, more importantly, curtails communication between radically different visions of thingly agency – thereby impeding the political drive of these conceptual enterprises. This article is an essay in cross-cultural transposition. Through a close reading of a story of a useless tree in an ancient proto-Daoist text, Zhuangzi (莊子), the author shows how its fabulist and oneiric form illuminates a distinctive perspective on uselessness. Conversely, the trope of uselessness lets us begin from what she calls a ‘situated affectivity’ amidst more-than-human materialities. The article concludes with a brief comparison of three modalities of uselessness from different ‘cosmologies’ of thought – a foretaste of the potentials of cross-cosmological endeavours.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Law
Department of Politics and International Relations (POLIR)
Publisher: SAGE Publications
ISSN: 0263-2764
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 16 October 2018
Date of Acceptance: 6 November 2018
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2019 10:55

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