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  • Marta Barreiro

FOLIO 2016: Utopia & the Usefulness of the Useless

"In all the cities of the world, it is the same... The universal and modern man is the man in a rush, a man who has no time, who is a prisoner of necessity, who cannot understand that a thing might be without usefulness; nor does he understand that, at bottom, it is the useful that may be a useless and back-breaking burden. If one does not understand the usefulness of the useless and the uselessness of the useful, one cannot understand art. And a country where art is not understood is a country of slaves and robots."

Eugene Ionesco.

"Filipe Seems" by Gonçalves & Silva - Capela de São Martinho, Óbidos

FOLIO 2016 celebrated the idea of Utopia. In this festival, people were encouraged to talk critically about our present. “We are living in the darkest time I have ever known” claimed the British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie. This pessimistic feeling was present also among the general public, as it was asserted by a young speaker that took part in Utopia & Dystopia debate who said that “it seems like we live in a world created ‘utopically’ according to someone, which –in our view– it’s actually a a dystopic one”. In Óbidos people talked about neoliberalism, endangered democracies and the refugee crises. It was pointed out that there is a greater need today than ever to think about Utopias. Not about totalitarian and rigid ones but to discuss diverse and collectively constructed Utopias, which might sound like an unreachable task, albeit one worth aiming for. And where to think about Utopias better than in fiction?

Utopia and Fiction are both places of thinking what is possible to do for the well-being of our society, while having a retrospective view of what we as a society have built. In this respect, Aristotle claimed that history speaks only of things which have happened, while poetry of things that might have happened, conceiving more philosophic importance to the second one. Consequently, Utopia & Fiction help us to think about Unknown Islands: alternative spaces from which we can learn alternative ways of inhabiting the space.

However, even though Utopia and Fiction can be seen as room for wishful thinking and longing for a better future, they are also a place of resistance against the dystopian present. In a globalized world which is mostly constructed by values such as ‘productivity’, ‘profit’, and ‘competitiveness’, spreading the idea of Utopia is to resist against the neoliberal message that claims everything-should-be-productive-and-useful-in-order-to-create-competitive-nations-and-economic-growth.

Contrary to the productivity-oriented approach to value in our society today, FOLIO was a place of thinking the possible and resisting against “today’s madness of productivity”. Even though it may as well be argued that such utopian discussions, poetry and art were ‘useless’, thinking about the possible even knowing that it is imposible, to continue walking on the idea of Utopia even when it “swiftly slips ten steps ahead”, is deeply essential for the human spirit.

We should never forget the usefulness of the useless, we should never forget Utopias.

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