For many of you, learning that Cornel West considers himself “a bluesman in the life of the mind, and a jazzman in the world of ideas” will be sufficient grounds for dismissing him as a deeply silly man. Does this statement even work as a metaphor? And is there any way to read it in which West is not being condescending not only to the two American musical genres he mentions, but also to the life of the mind and the world of ideas?
But anyway, as Scott McLemee points out in his fantastically nuanced and well-written take-down of West’s latest book, Brother West, there is reason to mourn what once was:
“Cornel West’s work was once bold, challenging, exciting. The past tense here is unavoidable. His critical edge and creative powers might yet be reborn (he is 56). But in the wake of his latest book, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, this hope requires a considerable leap of faith. Published by Hay House, the book also bears a second subtitle: “A Memoir.” It is the most disappointing thing I have read in at least a year.”
For your enjoyment, the sight of West engaging in what he thinks self analysis looks like:
“The basic problem with my love relationships with women is that my standards are so high — and they apply equally to both of us. I seek full-blast mutual intensity, fully fledged mutual acceptance, full-blown mutual flourishing, and fully felt peace and joy with each other. This requires a level of physical attraction, personal adoration, and moral admiration that is hard to find. And it shares a depth of trust and openness for a genuine soul-sharing with a mutual respect for a calling to each other and to others. Does such a woman exist for me? Only God knows and I eagerly await this divine unfolding. Like Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship in Emily Bronte’s remarkable novel Wuthering Heights or Franz Schubert’s tempestuous piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat (D.960) I will not let life or death stand in the way of this sublime and funky love that I crave!”
It’s not you, it’s him! Although, it could be you! Also, he reads stuff like Wuthering Heights and listens to stuff like Schubert’s Sonata No. 21 in B flat (D.960)-care to see his etchings? And what exactly are the implications of his intention “not [to] let … death stand in the way” of said “sublime and funky love”?
I saw West speak at Bard College in the early nineties and can scarcely remember leaving a lecture as fired up and excited about ideas as I was after that one. I can’t imagine crossing the street to see him speak now.