Since 2013, the Read-In Series is a collaboration between the Willem de Kooning Academy and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, for the minor Critical Studies. During this yearly program of the WdKA, students are encouraged to sharpen their personal vision on the social relevance of art and culture through confrontations with theories, concepts and analytical methodologies from Philosophy, Humanities and Social Sciences. The Read-In Series consists of four close-reading sessions followed by a symposium organized with and by the students of the minor.

The sessions and symposium will take place with the support of Robin van den Akker (Continental Philosophy and Cultural Studies, Erasmus University College), Esma Moukhtar (Critical Studies, Willem de Kooning Academy), Yoeri Meessen (Associate Director Education & Public Affairs, Witte de With), and Docus van der Made (Education Assistant, Witte de With). Critical Theory classes will take place in advance and in between Read-In Sessions to prepare for and to frame the texts to be read.

The final symposium is free for students of the Willem de Kooning Academy. Students from other schools and others who are interested are welcome after registration. For more information please contact [email protected].

Read-In Series 2017: LOVE

The central theme of the 2017 Read-In Series is love. Love is one of those everyday phenomena of which we all have an intimate, intuitive understanding, but that is – at the same time – very hard to define clearly and grasp conceptually. It also is a phenomenon that is deemed a deeply personal matter and a rather sentimental issue worthy, perhaps, of gossip, but certainly not of public intellectual debate. However, as Hardt and Negri note in Commonwealth it would be unwise to leave love to the priests, poets, and psychoanalysts. Love is an essential concept for philosophy and politics, and the failure to interrogate and develop it is one central cause of the weakness of contemporary thought.

During the 2017 Read-In Series we therefore discuss the notion of love, and its many uses and abuses, following the four spheres of social life as put forward by the Dutch philosopher René Gude (1957-2015), the very first ‘Thinker of the Fatherland’ (‘Denker des Vaderlands’): The personal sphere, the public sphere, the private sphere, and the sphere of politics.

Read-In #1 – Personal Sphere

Text: Laurent Berlant, ‘Cruel Optimism’
Tuesday 10 October 2017
Location: Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam.

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies — Aristotle

In the first session, we re-evaluate the ideal of romantic love in which two persons fall in love and voluntarily decide to spend an intimate moment together (which ideally stretches, in modernity, to a life time – ‘till death do us part’, as it were – and has often been coupled to the ideal of the heterosexual, monogamous relation at the core of the bourgeois nuclear family).

We will read the first part of Lauren Berlant’s text ‘Cruel Optimism’ (2011). In short, Berlant argues here that we are too easily too attached to an object or person of desire by projecting fantasies, promises and needs onto it with too high hopes that might not have much to do with the one we think we love. And this critical view on attachment could also have consequences for our ideal of romantic love.

Read-In #2 – Political Sphere

Text: Hannah Arendt, ‘The Public Realm: The Common’
Tuesday 24 October 2017
Location: Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam.

If we – and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others – do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. — James Baldwin

In the second session, we take a closer look at the role of love in the sphere of politics by way of The Human Condition, the magnum opus of Hannah Arendt. She argues against any role of love in democratic deliberation, public discussions and political decision-making. ‘Love is a political vice’, according to her. We set out from a letter she once wrote to James Baldwin in reaction to a famous essay in The New Yorker in which the latter made the case for the importance of love in overcoming the racial segregation, and mutual emphasis on skin colour (by both black activists and white supremacists), in the US in the 1960s. This, by the way, clearly resonates with our own historical moment.

Read-In #3 – Public Sphere

Text: Slavoj Žižek, ‘The Double Blackmail’ and ‘The limits of neighbourhood’
Tuesday 7 November 2017
Location: Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam.

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ — The Bible, Galatians 5:14

In the third session, we discuss the role of love in the public sphere by revisiting the Christian adage ‘Love Thy Neighbour’, which calls for a radical compassion with, and even love for, those who are one’s neighbours (in the sense that they are relatively close in a geographical sense, but relatively distant, foreign even, in a social sense). This is particularly relevant in the context of today’s discussion about our attitude towards refugees. We read a recent text by Slavoj Zizek in which he discusses the limits of neighbourliness and the so-called “double black mail” of a contemporary debate that frames the refugee crisis as either a question of ‘open’ or ‘closed’ borders.

Read-In #4 – Private Sphere

Text: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, ‘De Singularitate 1’ and ‘Intermezzo’
Tuesday 21 November 2017
Location: Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam.

Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. […] Modern Industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organised like soldiers. — Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

In the fourth and last session, we discuss the role of love in the private sphere; i.e. the sphere of work and the economy at large. This is perhaps the most counter-intuitive sphere in which to squarely place love. Are labour and markets not mostly associated with rationalized processes, calculated efficiency and cold monetary transactions? Yet it is precisely in this private sphere that the notion of love, as a descriptive and normative term, has of late been put to productive use by way of the Marxist autonomist tradition. We read a selection of texts from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s classic Commonwealth (2009) to find out why, exactly, love is such a crucial notion to both understand work in the 21st century and create a politics that can alter the capitalist mode of production.

Read-In Symposium

20 January 2018 (2 pm)
Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art