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Robin van den Akker is a lecturer in cultural studies and philosophy at Erasmus University College Rotterdam, where he also coordinates the humanities program and Centre for Art and Philosophy. He is founding editor of Notes on Metamodernism, an academic webzine and research platform that attempts to map and analyze changes in aesthetics and culture that are symptomatic of the Post-Postmodern condition. He has written on contemporary aesthetics and culture for, among others, the Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, Frieze and ArtPulse, and has been advisor for various art exhibitions and cultural events, most recently “Metamodernism: The Return of History” at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Raymond Williams. Culture and Materialism. First published in 1980. London and New York: Verso, 2005.

About 10 years ago, as a naïve Dutch student, I packed my bags to chase the legacy of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. Upon my arrival I found out that the CCCS had been axed, as with so many other humanities-like departments in the U.K., and elsewhere, in our neoliberal times. Yet, thankfully, its specter still haunted its classrooms, and I read up on, especially, the work of the British cultural critic Raymond Williams. In his essay collection Culture and Materialism (1980; 2005), he argues that the arts, and culture in general, cannot be analyzed in isolation, but rather must be studied in relation to their social and economic conditions. “When we find ourselves looking at a particular work, or a group of works, often realizing, as we do so, their essential community as well as their irreducible individuality, we should find ourselves attending to the reality of their practice and the conditions of the practice,” he writes with typical elegance. (page 48)

Frederic Jameson. Valences of the Dialectic. First published in 2009. London and New York: Verso, 2010.

It was, and still is, a valuable lesson for art critics and cultural theorists alike, and it is one echoed in the writings of Frederic Jameson, most famously, of course, in his Postmodernism book. What attracts me most to Jameson, however, is his insistence, as stubborn as it is consistent, on dialectical criticism. When I took up my first post as an academic on a philosophy faculty, my colleagues were engaged in many of the cutting-edge debates in continental philosophy that were highly critical of, and parted with, the dialectic in favor of philosophers of note such as Foucault and Deleuze and relational thinkers such as Latour and Sloterdijk. Meanwhile, my reading habits drifted more and more to the tradition of Western Marxism––Benjamin, Bloch, Adorno, Lefebvre, etc. I highly valued the former, yet was not capable of letting go of the latter. The result was, evidently, some kind of intellectual crisis. Jameson, especially in his masterful Valences of the Dialectic (2010), shows how it still is possible, and very much intellectually legitimate and rewarding, to work within the dialectical tradition after, as well as with, Derrida cum suis.

Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. The Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014

Recently, I have been deeply impressed with Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014) and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014), which, when read in conjunction, form both a very convincing critique of neoliberal globalization and a passionate rallying cry to start changing the ways in which we have organized our societies. For if we don’t, we are heading––in 10 or 20 years or so––towards a clusterfuck of world historical proportions in which wealth is concentrated at the top 1 percent of the pyramid, whilst rising sea levels and tropical storms crumble its base, where the rest of us reside. It is in the light of these developments that our children, and our children’s children, will judge all of our work today.