Up to that point in my life, I had never read a book by two highly respected academics/activists – a man and awoman – deep soul-diving into the tempestuous storm of being in America . It provocatively threaded the spiritual, progressive and feminist into an organic definition of Black intellectuality ranging from theology to contemporary music, film, and fashion. It blew me away. I was also introduced to the co-author, bell hooks, at the same time. (Her vision is equally extraordinary which I will one day elaborate on).
In describing his mission in life, Dr. West said:
I am first and foremost a modern Christian person of African
descent in America trying to love my way through the darkness
of an advanced capitalist global system and the thunder of
postmodern market-driven culture. The complex interplay of skepticism
and hope, doubt and faith–in Pascal, Montaigne, Kierkegaard
and Coltrane–is shot through my work. Yet the centrality of
compassion and love in my view locks me into premodern figures
(like Jesus) and modern writers (like Chekhov and Hardy)
– Cornel West Reader (
This brother spits fire! The way he situates himself historically, drawing from Christian, Marxist, and historicist traditions that also involvesocial theories on culture, music, race, and gender is breath- taking.And he does all of this with such flair, conviction and, oddly enough, humor. And what is even more admirable about this brother is that he
doesn’t just sit in some well-furnished office cogitating about this or that–he acts! He embodies what he preaches which sets him apart from most intellectuals.
In the Cornel West Reader, he states:
My painful quest for wisdom is an endless journey that tries to delve into the darkenss of my soul to create a more mature and compassionate person. My political project of deepening democracy in the world is a perennial process of highlighting the plight of the wretched of the earth and broadening the scope of human dignity.”
Yes, his words may be a tad self-indulgent, but the depth and meaning ring clear and should be instructive to all of us. His identification with the prophetic tradition is also interesting. For West, what it means for him to speak from a prophetic tradition “is not to be a prophet or elitist. Rather, it is humbly to direct your strongest criticisms at yourself and then self-critically speak your mind to others with painful candor and genuine compassion” .
(Great interview with Amy Goodman here: