Cornel West
Cornel West
The Cornel West Reader
ISBN: 0465091091
The Cornel West Reader
An invaluable introduction to the writings of one our most prominentand prolific public intellectuals. West (Restoring Hope, 1997, etc.) is one of those rare African-American scholars who has been able to break out of the Black Studies ghetto not only in the academy but also in his widely and often popularly published work, as this hefty anthology plainly attests; at the same time, he asserts the continued power of Marxist thought without being confined to the only slightly less restrictive pigeonhole of socialist theory. He is as comfortable writing on William James and Josiah Royce as on Antonio Gramsci and Martin Luther King. And this retrospective collection certainly validates his stated desire ``to lay bare the basic structure of my intellectual work and life.'' Although much of the material has been published in book form before, West manages to put the pieces together in revealingly and economically thematic chunks. Those who find his technical and philosophical writings daunting will appreciate his more accessible interviews, including discussions with Bill Moyers, Anders Stephanson, and George Yancey (although a lengthy discussion of Georg Lukacs may leave most non-Marxists behind). Unfortunately, West does himself no great service with an introduction that is pompous, ponderous, and parodically self-satisfied. And while he refers to himself there as a ``Chekhovian Christian,'' West seems to have missed the dry humor that underpins much of Chekhov's best work, whileunderstandablyeschewing the rueful resignation of the Russian's plays. At his best, however, West is a lucid and serious thinker and an elegant and often impassioned writer, as this generous helping of his work reminds us. Skip the introduction and read the rest. —Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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TRANSCRIPT
The Cornel West Reader
Program Air Date: February 22, 2000

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Cornel West, you know why we're running that.
Professor CORNEL WEST, AUTHOR, "THE CORNEL WEST READER": Indeed, indeed.
LAMB: I know you did not know that we were going to run it. Who is that?
Prof. WEST: I had no idea. That's the great John Coltrane. It's hard to even mention his name, given the depths of his spirituality and artistic virtuosity. And...
LAMB: Here he is...
Prof. WEST: ...the album of 1959-'60, "Giant Steps," just after he had left Miles' quartet and formed his own quartet is one of the heights of, I think, cultural life in American civilization in the 20th century, actually.
LAMB: Now you've mentioned Coltrane many times in the book.
Prof. WEST: Yes, indeed.
LAMB: And Chekhov.
Prof. WEST: Absolutely right.
LAMB: First, why Coltrane? You--you talk about you're going to teach Coltrane.
Prof. WEST: Absolutely. Well, I'm writing a book on Chekhov and Coltrane, actually. But Coltrane, for me, is a--a culminating figure in a very rich tradition of blues and jazz. A blues that injects a blue note into Western history, into Western musical harmony, a note of dissonance, disturbance, defiance, wrestling with darkness, but always sustaining a sense of endurance and stamina, rooted in a deep love of self and a love of others. And be it a Ma Rainey, be it a Billie Holiday, a Sarah Vaughan, a Miles Davis, The--Thelonious Monk or John Coltrane, you have this story of a people, who up against institutional terrorisms--slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, police brutality--still forge a sense of self with integrity and dignity. That's what I hear in John Coltrane.
LAMB: Here--here's a little bit more from this album, and John Coltrane died when?
Prof. WEST: He died in 1967. He was 40 years old, same age as Franz Ch--Kafka, actually.
LAMB: And--and what are you hearing right here?
Prof. WEST: Well, here, you get the lyrical--the kind of a deep, lyrical--what he--he vocalizes a European instrument, the saxophone, but it's expressing both a spirituality rooted in black struggle, but reaches out for the struggle of others, be they in Russia, be they in Kurdistan, be they in Greece, be they in Guatemala, be they in Chile. One has to be silent in the face of that kind of depth, actually.
LAMB: Did you ever know him?
Prof. WEST: No, I never did. I never did. But I kn--I--I have access to the tradition, you know, the same tradition of--that--that links one to--in the popular level of Curtis Mayfield, who just passed, Stevie Wonder or Wynton Marsalis.
LAMB: You're going to teach him?
Prof. WEST: Yes, indeed. But as...
LAMB: At Farber.
Prof. WEST: ...a historical figure; that is to say, as somebody who represents something that is both quintessentially American and quintessentially African-American.
LAMB: Now the second person I mentioned--because he also is mentioned quite often; actually, more often than Coltrane--is this man right here.
Prof. WEST: Exactly.
LAMB: Anton Chekhov. Who was he?
Prof. WEST: Yeah. He died at 44 years old in 1904. He wrote "The Three Sisters," I think the greatest play of late modernity, first performed in January of 1901, the first month of the century. I still hold the century begins in 1901, rather than 1900. But Anton Chekhov is, I think, the towering literary figure of the--of--of late modernity. And what I mean by that is, is that what he actually was able to do is to force us to ref--wrestle with inescapable disillusionment, disappointment, disheartenment, and yet still be able to, like Coltrane, compassionately endure, to look the nullity of who and what we are, to look at the absurdity of--of so much of our history and still sustain ourselves as struggling, shuddering, suffering agents in the world.
LAMB: Now here's your--the cover of your book. Did you ever notice the resemblance?
Prof. WEST: You know, some people have--have--have--have said that. I--I didn't really notice. I think Chekhov much more handsome, though. And I think I've probably got a little bit more style than he does, coming out of black tradition. But that's a compliment. That's--that's a great, great compliment. He--medical doctor. He says he's got two commandments: help the poor and honor the Fourth Commandment, his father and his mother. And Chekhov--he was agnostic, Christian, but his understanding of--of love, compassion, justice is deeply shaped by his Russian Orthodox background, actually, absent of...
LAMB: And he lived what...
Prof. WEST: 1860 to 1904. Yes.
LAMB: What's this? What's in here? Lots of pages to start with.
Prof. WEST: Well, it's--it's--it's a testament of a particular human being, of a particular brother who's trying to make sense of the world and leave the world just a little bit better than when he found it when he makes his exit. Very much a product of--of the black church, product of a loving black family, a mom, a dad and my older brother and two younger sisters. Deeply empowered by Harvard College, Princeton University and philosophy. And highly privileged, in terms of being able to have access to time to write and lecture, run my mouth around the country. But in the end, I think I--I'm still first and foremost a blues man in the life and the mind; first and foremost, a jazz man in the world of ideas. And what I mean by that is always keeping track of the unjustified suffering in the world, the unnecessary social misery; keeping a limelight on the plight and predicament of what Frantz Fanon called the wretched of the Earth. How do we broaden the scope of human dignity? I guess that's what I'm after.
LAMB: I picked up--picked up the Baltimore Sun a couple of weeks ago, and they had a picture of you in there. They had a feature article. And under the cut line, it said, `The fifth most popular professor at Harvard.' Where do they get that fact?
Prof. WEST: Oh, I teach a course. I teach an introductory course, Afro-American Studies 10. And we have about 400 students or so, and it's the fifth most popular course at--at Harvard College. I think that's probably what they have in mind.
LAMB: And what determines whether it's popular?
Prof. WEST: Just the number of students. No, I--I--I teach a course which is not part of the core curriculum, so I think, actually, if it was part of the core curriculum, I could have about 700 or 800, but I don't like to have my course required as part of the legacy of the '60s that I'm a part of. I'd rather have the students choose, as it were. But again, it's really--you know, popularity is superficial. I want to be able to engage in the grand calling of a Socratic teacher, which is not to persuade and convince students, but the unsettle--to unsettle and unnerve and maybe even unhouse a few students, so that they experience that wonderful vertigo and dizziness in recognizing at least for a moment that their world view rests on putting, but then see that they have something to fall back on. It's the shaping and forming of critical sensibility. That, for me, is what the high calling of pedagogy really is.
LAMB: Basic Books, Civitas Books. Civitas is what?
Prof. WEST: Civitas is a--is actually a particular slice of Basic Books. I was very blessed to have a dynamic editor in Tim Bartlett, who suggested this idea to me. I had really actually never even contemplated the idea of bringing together different slices of the--the 14 books I've actually written and then the other six that's edited. And he said, `No, I think this is the time.' I said, `Well, I'm only 45 years old.' I'm 46 now. And I've always been'--I mean, I've already been accused of being a little bit too premature in--in--in--in--in trying to bring together some--some of my own reflections and even been accused of being a little bit too centered on--on my own projects. I said, `That's the last thing I need is a--a Cornell West reader.' He said, `No, I think he's necessary.' I said, `Well--sure, let's see. Let's see.' And it's actually worked very well.
LAMB: So what's the--the range of years here.
Prof. WEST: Nineteen--I think the first essay on Nietzsche was 1981 up to 1999. So we got about 18 years.
LAMB: Now as you know, there are all kinds of things in here. Interviews that you've had with friends and colleagues. There are articles that you've written and critiques of everybody from Jackie Robinson to Julianne Malveaux.
Prof. WEST: Oh, yes. Yeah.
LAMB: Plus, there's lots of philosophy and--and...
Prof. WEST: That's true.
LAMB: ...I--I must tell you, I'm going to read for this generalist here, a--a couple of lines and...
Prof. WEST: Sure.
LAMB: ...just--because there are times when you--you know...
Prof. WEST: Just kind of take off...
LAMB: ...you go away. Yeah, I--I...
Prof. WEST: ...and--yeah. Yeah, I know. It's true.
LAMB: ...here--but here--this is the--number seven--this is the 17th chapter.
Prof. WEST: Uh-huh.
LAMB: "The Political Intellectual." It was written in 1987. You're talking about John Dewey.
Prof. WEST: Yeah.
LAMB: First of all, who is John Dewey?
Prof. WEST: The great John Dewey. He was the greatest social philosophy produced in America. He was born in 18--the same year, actually, as Darwin's origins, 1859. And he died June 1, 1952. He lived a long time.
LAMB: And you write--this is in an interview with Anders Stephanson.
Prof. WEST: Anders Stephanson, my good friend, who's a distinguished historian, professor at Columbia University.
LAMB: OK.
Prof. WEST: Yes.
LAMB: `When philosophers talk about pragmatism'--you're going to have to help me through some of this...
Prof. WEST: Uh-huh.
LAMB: ...they are talking about Charles Pierce, William James and John Dewey--`for me, it is principally Dewey, three thesis are basic. One, anti-realism in an--ontology...'
Prof. WEST: Yes.
LAMB: `...so that the correspondent's theory of truth is called into question and one can no longer appeal to reality as a court of appeal to adjudicate between conflicting theories of the world.'
Prof. WEST: Yes.
LAMB: `Two, anti-fundamentalism in epistemology so that one cannot, in fact, invoke non-inferential, intrinsically credible elements and experience to justify claims about experience.'
Prof. WEST: Gotcha.
LAMB: `And three, detransindentalizing of the subject, the elimination of mind itself as a sphere of inquiry.'
Prof. WEST: Absolutely. Three very crucial moves. But keep the...
LAMB: What are you saying? I mean, talk to a C student here. Prof WEST: Right. No. See, what--what we're saying is--is we--we can start with C.I. Lewis, the great C.I. Lewis. He says that pragmatism is the doctrine that all problems are, at bottom, problems of conduct, that all judgments are implicitly judgments of value. And just as there's no valid distinction between the theoretical and the practical, there is no separation between a quest for truth and the justifiable ends of action. What does that mean? That means that social practice sits at the center of how we understand our quest for truth, our quest for knowledge, our quest for the good, our quest for the beautiful and the attempt to look for something other than contingent, shifting changes, social practices, to look for something other than social practices, that allows us to adjudicate between conflicting views of the world--Right?--is called into question.

What does that mean? That means that, OK, when--when scientists tell us that this table actually consists of electrons and neutrons, they could be right, they could be wrong. We believe them at the moment. In that sense, they're a secular priesthood, very much like the Medieval period, where they believed the priests--whatever the priests told them. We believe physicists. They could be wrong. One hundred and fifty years from now, it'll be very different. Well, we never se--nobody was ever--was able to see neutrons or proutons--neutrons or protons. They're theoretical posits. But they're the best thing we have at the moment, so we appeal to the practices of this scientific community in light of reliable methods that are connecting various trails of evidence that allowed them to make valid inferences, and thereby, draw reliable conclusions. You see? You say, `Fine.' But we're still appealing to the social practices of that community.

Now that doesn't mean tables don't exist. They do exist. There's no doubt about that. They do exist independent of my mind. But we can't ask the table what it is. The table doesn't speak. Nature does not speak. Black holes in the cosmos don't speak. We construct them in the only way we know how, language. What is language? A social practice, you see. So pragmatism here is simply saying, `We are temporal beings. We're historical beings. We are communal beings.' And in our cooperative work together, we try to understand the world. We don't construct the world in the sense of just projecting it in an idealistic way. But we do interpret the world and understand the world, and in the end, that's all we have to go on, you see.
LAMB: Let's go back to the beginning. You were born in what city?
Prof. WEST: Born in the great metropolis of Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 2nd, 1953, Moton Hospital. Same hospital, actually, as the Wilson brothers of the great Gap Band.
LAMB: And what were your parents doing then?
Prof. WEST: Now dad was actually--he was trying to get into dental school, I think, University of Tulsa. And--and mom was a--a homemaker, already in college and on her way to become both a teacher and principal and just recently had a--an elementary school named after her.
LAMB: In Tulsa?
Prof. WEST: In Sacramento. You know, we--we moved.
LAMB: You moved to Sacr...
Prof. WEST: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
LAMB: How long did you live in Tulsa?
Prof. WEST: I stayed in Tulsa just a few weeks, actually. We moved to Topeka, Kansas, and then from Topeka, Kansas, we ended up in Sacramento, my dearly beloved Sacramento, California.
LAMB: But your grandfather was a minister in Tulsa?
Prof. WEST: My granddad, Reverend C.L. West, Metropolitan Baptist Church, was one of the great ministers and pastors of--of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Self-taught, self-educated, and he loved his people.
LAMB: Now I know your--your dad died in 1994.
Prof. WEST: Yeah, dad passed in '94.
LAMB: How about your mom?
Prof. WEST: Absolutely. Mom's stronger than ever. She's got more energy, much more intelligence and wisdom and beauty than I do.
LAMB: Where does she live?
Prof. WEST: She lives in Sacramento.
LAMB: And you mentioned your--your brothers?
Prof. WEST: Oh, yeah. My brother Cliff, who is a--if I could be one-third of the person he is, I would actually be living a--a grand life. He's in Sacramento, too.
LAMB: What's he do?
Prof. WEST: He--well, he does so many things. In computer software, he's a track coach, he's a wise person in the community. He's also an artist and writes music, father.
LAMB: Your other brother?
Prof. WEST: No, he's the only one. He's the only one.
LAMB: Only one. No sisters?
Prof. WEST: And two younger sisters, yeah. We've got wonderful--two sisters. Cynthia, who's marvelous. She's here in Sacramento. And then--and Cheryl. So we've got--my mother's still alive, my brother Clifton and then my sisters Cynthia and Cheryl.
LAMB: What year did you graduate from high school in Sacramento?
Prof. WEST: 1970. John F. Kennedy High School.
LAMB: And then you went to Harvard?
Prof. WEST: Then I went off to Harvard College. Absolutely right.
LAMB: How did you even think about going from--all the way from Sacramento to Harvard?
Prof. WEST: Well, at that time, I just wanted to be--was what to--many considered to be the best. And there's a lot of superb places around. You know, you've got Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Fisk, Morehouse, Howard, University of Chicago. But I said, `Well, no, someone had said Harvard was the best. Let me go spend some time with the best and see what things are like.'
LAMB: How'd you get in? What kind of a student were you at Sacramento?
Prof. WEST: At Sacramento, I was nearly 4.0, student body president, played first violin and was captain of the track--well, the cross-country team and so forth. So I was--I had done some things. I had done some things. No doubt about it.
LAMB: So there was...
Prof. WEST: But 30 years earlier, I wouldn't have gotten in.
LAMB: Why?
Prof. WEST: Well, the racism. You know, the white supremacy still operating. I would have gone to Howard, which still would have--would have been a wonderful education and so forth, but I probably would not have gotten in. It was a social movement of the '60s, especially the--the death of Martin King, the uprisings, the 212 uprisings April 4th, 1968, that opened the doors for someone like myself to--to gain access. But once there, you know, I had to do my job and be disciplined.
LAMB: Were there any black professors at Harvard in 1970?
Prof. WEST: Oh, sure. Martin Kilson, who was my very good friend and mentor, he was there. He was the first tenured professor at Harvard, Martin Kilson in political sc--in the government department.
LAMB: Who was the first philosopher you got interested in?
Prof. WEST: First philosopher? Well, see, I had always read Kierkegaard and Pascal and Montaigne on my own.
LAMB: On your own?
Prof. WEST: On my own. Oh, yes.
LAMB: In high school?
Prof. WEST: In high school, actually, and bookmobile, actually, in the black community in Glenelder, where I--I grew up for most of my childhood, which was a marvelous place to grow up. But I was reading on my own, and so I was just trying to make sense of, you know, this psychic tear of being black in America, trying to make sense of this profound sadness and sorrow that sat at the center, not just of black life, but of human life and how you somehow transfigure it into some joy, how you transfigure it into some sense of pleasure.

And so Pascal and Kierkegaard and Montaigne spoke to that, to that--that sense that I felt. Even as a Christian, I always felt that the cross was much more weightier than some of my fellow Christians put it. You know, most American Christians oppose--resurrection Christians, they went re--resurrection. They want a crown without a cross, whereas I'm much more cross centered. How do you keep the love flowing on that cross in the form of the blood?

Engagement with the dark side, the underside of human history and the human predicament and so forth. And that's what I saw in Pascal. You know, he says, `Christ is on the cross till the end of time.' When I read that line in Pascal, I said, `My God, you know, he understands something about the human condition and he certainly understands something about black people in the United States.'

I mean, here you have the land of dreams and possibility and yet slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination. What's going on? We do love the ideals of freedom, yes. But we're unfree. We love the ideals of democracy, but we're voiceless, you know. James Weldon Johnson in the "Negro National Anthem--Anthem" says, `Lift every voice.' What a democratic ideal.

But we're voiceless for the most part. So when I read Pascal, though he's, you know, 17th century French Jansonist thinker, which is a Catholic--particular kind of Catholic thinker influenced by Calvinistic sensibilities, I said, `He speaks to me, very much so.'
LAMB: What year did you gra--I know you had three years at Harvard. What year was it?
Prof. WEST: Yeah, I finished a year early. It was in 1973.
LAMB: Then what?
Prof. WEST: Then off to Princeton.
LAMB: For how long?
Prof. WEST: I was there for two years, finished up courses, took my exams, went back to Cambridge and began mainly to write literature for a while, mainly reading the Russians, though.
LAMB: Where did you get your doctorate degree?
Prof. WEST: Princeton, yes.
LAMB: "The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought."
Prof. WEST: Yeah. That was a dissertation. That was a dissertation.
LAMB: Do you like Marx?
Prof. WEST: Deeply influenced by my good friend and mentor in Brother Roger Roherty, one of the towering figures not just for--towering philosopher, towering intellectuals of our day.
LAMB: Professor at Princeton.
Prof. WEST: He was my professor at Princeton. But I had so many others. There was Paul Benazerith, who is my good friend. He was a--he is a logician, and we can go on and on, Tim Scanlon, Walter Kaufman, Tom Nagle and others. It was a wonderful place to be, actually, you know?
LAMB: Do you like Marx?
Prof. WEST: Well, the Marxist tradition is, for me, one--is a crucial one because Marx himself put the focus on working people. And he understood that if we're going to understand capitalist markets, we have to understand the power relations between labor and management, between working people and their bosses. And that the power relations are asymmetric; that is to say that the bosses and management have more power than workers and employees. And he knew there was going to be tension and a struggle. And he said, `I want to keep the focus in a very Christian way on the least of these, on those who are catching the most hell.'

And, of course, unfortunately, we associate Marx in America with repressive Communist regimes, you see. But Marx himself, in the 19th century, says what? `There will be vast levels of wealth inequality. There will be oligopolies and monopolies at the top that devour more and more businesses with unaccountable concentrations of power and wealth.' How do we ensure the dignity of working people? How do we ensure their voices are he--are heard? Not just through the ballot box, but at the workplace.

Now as a radical Democrat, someone who comes out of the tradition of a Walt Whitman and a W.B. DuBois, I have to take very seriously that Marxist tradition, even as I--as I reject the regimentation and the repression and we--that we rightly associate with Communist regimes in the 20th century. So that's why when I talk about the progressive Marxist theory, that it--there--there are basic needs of working people around the world that remain unmet: housing, jobs with a living wage, health care.

Look at America, 44 million fellow citizens with no health-care insurance. What's going on? The richest nation in the history of the world. Even the more vulnerable are our children; one out of five children living in poverty in the richest nation in the history of the world. That's--that's a disgrace in many ways, you see. Nearly one of out two black and brown children living in poverty in the richest nation in the history of the world. The Marxist tradition simply says, `We have to be able to tell a story about how it is that the levels of wealth inequality are what they are and why it is that too many working people and poor people still don't have access to food, shelter, health care and so on and so forth.'

I mean, you think, for example, Brian, you've got 1 percent of the population in America who own 48 percent of the net financial wealth. That's oligarchy, in many ways plutocratic. And in--in some ways, pigmentocratic, given the history of white supremacy. We've got three billionaires in the world who have more wealth than the bottom 48 nations. The top 225 richest individuals have more wealth than 41 percent of all of humanity. That's 2.7 billion people. And the Marxist tradition says, `Look, we have to be able to tell a story. How do we analyze this?' Not by demonizing other people, but by saying, well, there's something about profit-making that ought to take into consideration much more satisfying basic needs as opposed to simply producing more luxury goods in order to make money, you see. But that's a tough message for America. That is...
LAMB: Let--let me jump through...
Prof. WEST: Yeah.
LAMB: ...because you've got lots of...
Prof. WEST: Yeah, I know. You've got--sure, sure.
LAMB: ...philosophy and lots of your past here.
Prof. WEST: Sure.
LAMB: Let me just jump to a question that--I want you to look 100 years down the road, based on--you call this century--I'll go back and I'm--our ghastly century.
Prof. WEST: Oh, yeah. Unprecedented levels of barbarity and brutality and I would say bestiality, but that's being unfair to the beasts, really. You're talking about 200 million fellow human beings...
LAMB: OK. Just for--just for a second...
Prof. WEST: ...were murdered in this past century.
LAMB: ...jump 100 years from now, the year is 3000.
Prof. WEST: Yeah.
LAMB: Based on what you know, what you've lived, through it all and--and tell us where you think the black human being will be in the world in the year 3000?
Prof. WEST: Boy, that's so difficult to--I mean, because it depends on what we do. So much...
LAMB: Meaning?
Prof. WEST: ...depends on what we do. Well, you and I and Americans, how we relate to Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, indigenous peoples and so forth. I think that we could have a democratic future, and I bank my--my life on fighting for the empowerment of the demos of--of--of fellow citizens here and around the world, that their voices are heard at the highest levels of decision-making processes in institutions that guide and regulate their lives.

But if the democratic tradition fails or if it's weakened, made more feeble, we're in deep trouble because we see authoritarian regimes mediated through the new technologies. Because see I don't fetishize technology at all. You see, the Internet and new forms of communication. These are wonderful breakthroughs, yes, but they're human creations. And all human creations can be used for good or evil. We've got the same hatreds and the same loves, the same insecurities and anxieties, the same possibilities for positive breakthrough. That's true for the radio, TV, Internet across the board. And it's still under the aegis of capital, which is to say its aim still is profit-making.

And therefore, we have to have some democratic accountability to the nation-state or some way in which everyday people's voice can be heard vis-a-vis the voices of the few, you see. So that I think there's real possibility for the hu--hundred--th--100 years from now, 1,000 years from now. But on the other hand, we could have major setbacks. I mean, it could be the case, for example, that--like, for example, 1940, you only had one or two democracies--Right?--because fascism had taken over much of the world. And it could be that we have a brief moment of democratic flowering and then it dries up. And that means that this particular book and my voice would be just a voice in the wilderness.
LAMB: Well, stop there just for a second and talk about...
Prof. WEST: I hope that that's not the case.
LAMB: You're 46.
Prof. WEST: Forty-six-years-old, absolutely right. And glad to have lived that long.
LAMB: Well, just--just talk about what's happened around your world. This is Civitas Books put out by Basic Books, which is owned by Perseus Books, which I believe the gentleman's name's Pearl that owns the whole thing.
Prof. WEST: Right. Right.
LAMB: Would a company like this--Mr. Pearl's a white man.
Prof. WEST: Yes. He's a white brother. Yes.
LAMB: He also did public affairs books and--and--and owns a lot of other things. I mean, Civitas, as I understand it, is run by Skip Gates.
Prof. WEST: Well, he is one of the--well, he's got a--I think he's got a sm--a--a small stake in that particular slice, but that's a slice of a whole host of different slices.
LAMB: Yeah.
Prof. WEST: It's a very complex operation I don't fully understand, actually. But, no, Brother Skip's got a hand in it, yeah.
LAMB: But--but my point i--and he is the--he's running the African-American Studies Program at Harvard.
Prof. WEST: Yeah, absolutely right.
LAMB: Is all this a plus? Is it a big change from when you were there in 1971?
Prof. WEST: Oh, sure. Oh, very much so.
LAMB: And what's--what do you think's doing that? What--what's making it happen?
Prof. WEST: Well, you've got a number of things at work. I mean, one is that, you see, in a market-driven civilization, which we're a part, the commodifications is ubiquitous. That is to say the profit-making, money-taking is ubiquitous. And so the real challenge is, like any other human activity, can that be used in such a way that it accents what I would call non-market values, which has a--the truth telling about commodification, which has to do with organizing and mobilizing people, against some of the deleterious consequences, some of the negative effects of commodification? Because commodification's here to stay. There's no escape. And, actually, there's some good things about it, you know. It produces high levels of productivity, reinforces ingenuity, technological innovation. That's very important.

But the dark side is, what? High levels of any quality and at the personal existential level: isolation; loneliness; what the great Arthur Miller calls `the American disease of unrelatedness'; lack of community; failed intimacy like the American Hamlet, Blanch Dubois, in "A Streetcar Named Desire." So through the market, through commodification, can we engage in truth telling--exposing of lies, bearing of witness--that accent non-market values? But the irony is it's still through the market. It's the only way we can communicate, the only way we can reach out to one another, for the most part, on a broad scale. Now face-to-face and soul-to-soul is still possible, but on a broad scale, you see. So we have to keep a kind of dialectical understanding of commodification.

This book, itself a commodity, no doubt, but critical of the very process; well, that's part and parcel of how, in fact, markets can be used for non-market ends and, at the same time, acknowledging some of the virtues of the market, but also some of the vices of the market.

Now, of course, this text has its own limitations, too, because its--it has its own parochialism. Here I am using a Western European language, right? I'm a New World African who dreams in a European language, dreams in English, right? And that language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and Toni Morrison and Faulkner and others, but that's not the language of Chekhov, not the language of Tolstoy. So there's a certain kind of built-in parochialism that I perennially try to shatter, but I recognize I'm just a human being, so I have some limitations.
LAMB: Do some blacks get mad at you for writing about Chekhov, a white man, and Kierkegaard and Kant and...
Prof. WEST: Oh, sure.
LAMB: ...Haeckel and all these people...
Prof. WEST: Sure.
LAMB: ...and Dewey.
Prof. WEST: Because they have a deep suspicion of, you know, certain Western philosophers. I understand their suspicion, because they've been put down, they've been devalued and dishonored by a lot of Western thinkers--look what Haeckel said about Africa: It had no history.
LAMB: Somebody in here...
Prof. WEST: I mean, it's a...
LAMB: ...called you the leading single black philosopher--maybe in the world--but in the United States, certainly. Do you feel that...
Prof. WEST: Well, that's someone...
LAMB: ...when you go about?
Prof. WEST: No, no, not at all. No, I'm just brother off the block trying to make sense. I mean, a lot of people use these kind of terms, you know, but, no, I don't--I don't--I don't take offense.
LAMB: `Just a brother off the block trying to make sense?'
Prof. WEST: Trying to make sense of--will I love somebody before I die? That's all I'm trying to do. You know what I mean?
LAMB: You give 150 lectures a year, it says in here.
Prof. WEST: Well, yeah, I've got quite a schedule, quite a schedule, very much so, yeah.
LAMB: You're involved in the Bill Bradley campaign.
Prof. WEST: Very involved with my dear brother Bill Bradley, who's just been out in Iowa and New Hampshire and so forth.
LAMB: You're honorary chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Prof. WEST: Part of the great legacy of Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas and my dear friend, the late great Michael Harrington, trying to keep alive, again, this Democratic socialist ideal, which is more the name of a desire for justice than it is the name of a system, and it's hard to communicate to Americans the--the sense that they're--this is a radical Democratic view that accents the role of working people and poor people; the marginalized people, the gay and lesbian people; peoples of color, of disabled, physically challenged people; all those who have been, in some sense, devalued by those who are viewed as normal mainstream. And it's not PC chit chat, because we're talking about some very, very scarred, bruised human beings, but they're not simply victims. They're agents in the world.
LAMB: Is it fair to say, though, in this competitive marketplace that we have that you have been a financial success?
Prof. WEST: That I s--I have been able to make enough money to support my loved ones--my wife and son--and do, of course, anything for Mom--I'd take a bullet for my mother--and--and--and family, too, you're absolutely right. In fact, I have been privileged in an excessive manner. But at the same time, I've had to deal with the cost, you see. I had to deal with the cost, because, you know, one of the most dangerous persons in the world is a self-loving, self-respecting black man who tells the truth about America, you see. So you got the death threats every day, you've got...
LAMB: You've had death threats?
Prof. WEST: Oh, Lord, all the time!
LAMB: From...
Prof. WEST: All the time.
LAMB: Do you know where they're coming from?
Prof. WEST: Well, they come from a variety of different sources and, you know, people keep track of them all the time, you see.
LAMB: Are they all white people?
Prof. WEST: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. A small slice of white supremacist folk out there who've--out of control, you know. But there's a cost that you have to pay, there's no doubt about that. Now would I rather be broke as the Ten Commandments and pay the cost? No, I'd rather have s--ha--have some resources of money. But is it s--seductive to have too much money? Absolutely right. Ab--that's why you have to use it in the right way, you see.
LAMB: Where'd you meet your wife?
Prof. WEST: Met my wife in New Haven. New Haven.
LAMB: Under what circumstances?
Prof. WEST: I was then teaching at the time and--and she was working there. She's Ethiopian. Elena Gay Bramlock, who had just put together this wonderful First International Conference on AIDS, and Anna Sebaba--she's quite a--an activist dealing with the epidemic of AIDS in--on the continent, and so forth. But we met, oh, almost 15 years ago now.
LAMB: How many children?
Prof. WEST: We've got one son. Well, after--my son is actually from an earlier marriage, Clifton. Oh yeah.
LAMB: How old is Clifton?
Prof. WEST: He's 22. He's 22.
LAMB: Is he the fourth...
Prof. WEST: Well...
LAMB: ...or the third?
Prof. WEST: Well, not the fourth, because the middle name is different. See, my grandfather was Clifton, my father was Clifton, my brother was Clifton, but my brother named his son Cornel after me. I named my son Clifton after him, but it's different middle names. They were Clifton Lincoln and he's--he--he--he's Clifton David.
LAMB: And what are they all doing now? The kids.
Prof. WEST: Who, the kids? Who--who's that? Cornel?
LAMB: Your kids, yeah.
Prof. WEST: Well, Cornel's a poet and my son is an aspiring actor.
LAMB: Do they see life any differently than you do?
Prof. WEST: Oh, yes.
LAMB: And--I mean, compared to what you grew up with and the black vs. the white, what do...
Prof. WEST: Absolutely.
LAMB: ...what do they see that's different?
Prof. WEST: Well, one is, is that the--it's harder to sustain the webs of care these days with the families divided and shattered, with the communities much more dispersed. You see, I grew up in a neighborhood. The young brothers and sisters--the hip-hop culture and rap music--say they're growing up in a hood. There's a big difference, you know.
LAMB: What's the difference?
Prof. WEST: Because a hood is social Darwinian space. It's the Hobbes and Warvol against all backstabbing, hard to forge bonds of trust and ties of sympathy. Neighborhood, where I grew up, tremendous care, love, nurture over--overflowing, everybody keeping track of me. You know, Mrs. Durham and Mrs. Burton and my mother and the Reverend Co--Willoughby Cook and Deacon Hinton--all these folks keeping track of me. In the hood, young folk out there, rootless, dangling, deracinated, drifting.
LAMB: Why? What changed?
Prof. WEST: What changed was they don't have enough adults in theirlives. They don't have enough love and nurture that's targeting them. They don't have enough people who are concerned about them, who believe in them, keeping track of them...
LAMB: Why not?
Prof. WEST: ...you see. Well, it's because of their shattered families and communities, for one.
LAMB: Why are they sh--why are the families shattered?
Prof. WEST: Well, for a number of reasons. One has to do with the fact that our--our economy is one in which so many are overworked and underpaid.
LAMB: Why?
Prof. WEST: It's because not enough money is trickling down to working people. So much of the money's hemorrhaged at the top on the professional managers. And I'll give you an example. We got six million families in America where the father and the mother work two jobs between them. Now you have a father and mother who work two jobs, less time with the kids.
LAMB: Each working two jobs?
Prof. WEST: Each working two--and that's growing. Not a lot of talk about it. Now, I mean, Bill Bradley's one of the few that's wanting to talk about this thing. Not a lot of talk about that. You say, `Why?' Because economic boom, we're congratulating ourselves, we're complimenting ourselves on how well the stock market is doing, but when you actually look at the lives of everyday people, especially working people, we find they're overworked, underpaid, wrestling with a timed famine--Sylvia Ann Hewlett and I wrote the book "The War Against Parents" trying to tell the story about this, right? And at the same time, the market culture's come in and completely reshaped the lives of young people: TV, video, film.
LAMB: Of what?
Prof. WEST: It's deeply hedonistic, self-indulgent, pleasure, instant gratification, violence--unbelievable in terms of--not just physical violence, but the psychic violence that creates a coldheartedness and a mean-spiritedness toward one another, and we see this more and more among young people. And Littleton is just the peak of an iceberg in this …
LAMB: Let me ask you about, because in all those episodes like Littleton, there have--I don't know--What?--there are eight or nine in the last couple of years?
Prof. WEST: Exactly.
LAMB: They were all white, all white males.
Prof. WEST: Yes.
LAMB: Does that tell you anything?
Prof. WEST: Well, I mean, one, it means that this is a problem of our beloved children across race, across region, but it also is a function of the press; that is to say that black kids have been dealing with bullets for a long time in junior high and high school, but when black children point guns at other black children, that is less news than when white children point guns at other white children. Unfortunately, that's still the case in our society, you see.

So that what we have a problem here now is a low quality of life of children, in terms of the state of their souls, spiritual malnutrition, existential emptiness, hungry thirsty for something bigger than themselves, but more and more finding themselves obsessed with instant gratification, obsessed with putting others down in order for--for them to feel like they are somebody, you see. And that cuts across race.
LAMB: Go back to your own--this book and what you write in this book. Again, if--if somebody picks this book up, what do y--what--what's the one message you want them to get out of Cornel West throughout this book? And what's the advantage of reading all this?
Prof. WEST: Yeah, the advantage of reading is that there is a connection between cultivating the art of living and fighting courageously for the expansion of democracy. See, the art of living is learning how to die, and what I mean by that is, is that if you're really going to live life intensely, then something in you every day ought to die--some bad habit, some prejudice, some faulty presupposition--so that you're continually involved in a struggle to better yourself, become more mature, more compassionate, more courageous. And we need that compassion and courage and maturity to expand democracy, because in the end, that is still the best ideal that we fragmented, cracked vessels called human beings have been able to come up with.
LAMB: You say that the black means of culture expression is two: music and preaching.
Prof. WEST: Well, historically, because black people were--right.
LAMB: Yeah, I--I wanted to ask you what's happening in the preaching world in the black churches.
Prof. WEST: Oh, yeah, well, that's very, very rich, indeed. And we got, you know, Reverend Gardner Taylor, who's probably the finest preacher in Christendom right now. And we've got Reverend Manuel Scott and Reverend Carolyn Knight. We can go on and on.
LAMB: Do you preach?
Prof. WEST: No, I'm not a--I'm neither ordained, nor licensed, e--even though a lot of people think I am. I'm a layperson, but I'm often asked to--to speak in churches, and I will accept invitations, if I can do that.

But the important thing to keep in mind, though, is that historically, of course, enslaved Africans were not allowed to read. It was against the law. So we brought the rich oral traditions of Africa--we dru--with the drums, which themselves were also outlawed, but we began to clap--and at the same time, w--exposed to European instruments or brought African instruments, so that early on in America, you get this original, indigenous form of cultural expression in spirituals, blues, jazz. But now that we've intera--now that we've been able to gain the right to read after--after the Civil War, we've gone on to f--to produce a very rich literary and intellectual tradition.
LAMB: Let me ask you about some of the things I wrote down that...
Prof. WEST: Sure.
LAMB: ...that's in your book.
Prof. WEST: Sure.
LAMB: Jackie Robinson, he knows that, quote, "money is America's God."
Prof. WEST: Yeah, exactly.
LAMB: Did you know him?
Prof. WEST: No, I didn't. No, I didn't. But, I mean, it echoes the great William James, when he--What is it?--he called `the bitch God of success,' of success in America. What is the American dream? For the most part, mercurated gain and material st--ma--material su--success. I mean, it...
LAMB: Does it ever pull you personally?
Prof. WEST: Oh, sure! It pulls all of us. It pulls all of us, but, you see, Martin King said that his dream was rooted in the American dream, which is a critique of the American dream. We need prosperity. Not a bad thing, if it does not become idolatrous, if it does not become so seductive that--that it constitutes a false security. So we have to come up with new ways of dreaming that includes material resources, but goes far beyond this.
LAMB: Julianne Malveaux, who is an economist and we've had on our show many times.
Prof. WEST: Yeah. Sure.
LAMB: I detect a Chekhovak--a Chekovian strand in her cultural and social criticism. Again...
Prof. WEST: Yeah. Yeah, profound sense of the comic. Profound sense of the comic.
LAMB: You said that Chekhov had 8,000 characters?
Prof. WEST: Eight thousand characters. Unbelievable.
LAMB: And how many years did he write?
Prof. WEST: Yeah. And he wrote from age of 18 until the--a few days before he died.
LAMB: I just got one of the many books you can find on him and the plays...
Prof. WEST: Yeah, he's such a talent. Yeah, such a talent, you see.
LAMB: The first time you ever read him.
Prof. WEST: I first read Chekhov when I was 19 years old, and I could see he had a blue sensibility. How do you keep keeping on with love and compassion, with some sense of justice toward all, but you're wrestling with levels of disappointment and disillusion that will never let you go?
LAMB: `My struggles with the Black Panther Party--I was never a member, but worked closely with them.'
Prof. WEST: Yeah.
LAMB: I just took that out of context.
Prof. WEST: Right.
LAMB: `My struggles with the Black Panther Party.'
Prof. WEST: Oh, yeah, no, the Black Panther Party was very, very important for me in terms of, first, trying to give us a sense of a--analysis of the system, of both the capitalist economy and the system of white supremacy. Now later, we'd have to understand the system of male supremacy, the system of heterosexism and homophobia, but the system. It was not just a matter of individual prejudice when we talked about race. It was a matter of its relation to the workplace, the exploitation of black labor. How do you bring black and white workers together? How do you bring black, white, red, yellow workers together?

My problem early on was that they--they--they trashed the black church, you see. And as a Christian, I thought that was both understandable, but unfair. That is to say there's nothing wrong with being very critical of the black churches--no doubt you've got a lot of black preachers out there doing things they ought not do, but you got a lot of black lawyers, you got a lot of black doctors, a lot of black pharmacists, black professors. Let's be--let's be open-ended in our criticism.
LAMB: By the way, how many black professors are there now in the African-American Studies Program at Harvard?
Prof. WEST: Oh, God, we must have about s--about eight now almost. Yes. And, you know, again, Brother Skip--Professor Gates is--his leadership is such that it's--it's--we're--we're bringing in some high-quality folk. We need more--more women, actually--but bringing in some high-quality folk and, most importantly, constituting a c--intellectual neighborhood. That's what we're after.
LAMB: Can a white person ever teach black studies, or a...
Prof. WEST: Oh, no, we've got a number of black...
LAMB: Yeah?
Prof. WEST: ...a number of white colleagues--oh, very much so--in the department.
LAMB: Do you feel different when you know you're going to be interviewed by a white person vs. a black person?
Prof. WEST: Not necessarily. It depends on who they are, you know. There's a lot of soulful white brothers and sisters, and a lot of black brothers and sisters that need more soul.
LAMB: Do you ever get a--a--an--an interviewer these days, maybe even a white interviewer, that's antagonistic toward you?
Prof. WEST: Oh, sure, I would get antagonism toward black--I mean, interviewed black, white, red or whatever, and some--and--and lack of an--antagonism with black, white, red. It--it's more of a human thing.
LAMB: I guess what I was asking of whether you see racism much--as much today as you used to?
Prof. WEST: Well, it's still around, though. It's still around.
LAMB: But do you see it?
Prof. WEST: Oh, sure, I see it. Oh, very much so.
LAMB: Do you see it in your classes?
Prof. WEST: Not so in the classes, though, I think--I mean, in my class of--of--of--of 400 students, I would guess maybe about 67 percent would be white. And the--the exchanges in dialogues and interactions there are very challenging and humane and so forth. But, I mean, you know, white supremacy's still operating. It's just--it's--it can be more subtle in certain contexts.

But that's less the problem than the ways in which that operation is connected to denying people jobs with living wage and health care and shelter. Somebody like myself, I mean, it's--it's--it's--it's less important because I've been able to ascend to certain levels, you know.
LAMB: In your book of 600 pages, $35, "The Cornel West Reader," this is another quote, "It takes"--you say this: "It takes at least 25 years to"...
Prof. WEST: Yeah.
LAMB: ...and I can't even read my own writing here--"to lay an adequate foundation to do the kind of work one is called to do." What were the thir--circumstances that made you say that?
Prof. WEST: Well, it's because I consider this particular work as a early stage in my life work, because I've really yet to do what I really want to do...
LAMB: Which is?
Prof. WEST: ...you see. What I really want to is to--on the one hand, I want to lay bare the rich depths of the souls of American peoples in general, and black peoples in particular, in regard to our contribution to world civilization; how we wrestle with the sense of the tragic and the comic; what is distinctive about our democratic sensibilities; why are we the most market-driven and the most religiously saturated of peoples as Americans, vis a vis other peoples, you see? And I--we have to do that in a comparative way. That's why I go to the Russians, because the Russians have the richest, deepest, most profound literary tradition of the modern world...
LAMB: Have you been there?
Prof. WEST: ...you see. Never been to Russia. Been there spiritually, intellectually, but never been there physically. Never been there physically. They--they have a--a thickness that--that we don't have in America where--American culture is, one, much newer, of course. You know, it's just been around since 1776, in terms of the nation state. And we have a flow of immigrants who are Americanized, but bring with them very rich baggage, but at the same time, have to learn how to adjust and adapt to the new American ways. And, as Eugene O'Neill, our greatest playwright, pointed out that we tend to be a people who think we can possess our souls by possessing commodities rather than digging deep in our souls.

This is why the blues and jazz is so very important, you see, because it's one of the few examples in American civilization where it doesn't believe the hype about the melodramatic, sentimental stories of the happy ending, nor is it cynical. It tries to tell the truth about America, but also sustain the possibility of America.
LAMB: Earlier, when we opened up with some theme music from John Coltrane in this--this al...
Prof. WEST: Yeah.
LAMB: ...you knew--I did not show you this in advance. You knew this was 1959.
Prof. WEST: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: Do you have everything he's ever recorded?
Prof. WEST: Oh, no, Coltrane was so prolific. Yeah, it was, like, trying to read all of Tolstoy. You know, you'd spend a lifetime. But, I mean, the peaks--and, most importantly, it's not a question of how much, but it's how deeply you have internalized his sensibility.
LAMB: Do you collect music? Do you listen to music?
Prof. WEST: Yeah. Yeah, I do. I do. I've been listening to a variety of music. Coltrane, of course, is at the center. But it's the--I carry Coltrane around with me every day the way I carry Chekhov around with me every day. And it's linked not just to the music as some ornament, some art object, but it's got to become part of your soul. You know, when Chekhov says, `I wake up every morning squeezing the slave out of me so that I will have the real--I'll have, running in my veins, the blood of a real human being,' you see, that's--that's Coltrane and Chekhov, you see. If...
LAMB: And you have an interview in your book, a 1998 interview, with David Smith, the dean of faculty at Williams.
Prof. WEST: Oh, my good friend and--yes, he's a brilliant and wonderful brother and distinguished professor and the dean of faculty. Actually, he's the first black dean of the faculty at Williams College, Williams Co...
LAMB: In Massachusetts.
Prof. WEST: In--in Williamstown. It's a great, great--yes, sir.
LAMB: But--but let me say--let me just read what he said in here: "Your eclecticism"--and he--this is--I--I didn't have the whole quote here. You'll know what I'm talking about. "Your eclecticism reflects"--he says, "Some people say you're eclecticism reflects a kind of shallowness. You are simply a skillful speaker who has borrowed bits of knowledge, haven't mastered any discipline." He was kind of challenging you to--to answer...
Prof. WEST: Right.
LAMB: ...that criticism. Do you get a lot of that?
Prof. WEST: Some of it, sure. I mean, I've got critics who've gone at me tough, and you always must listen to your critics when they're trying to teach and tell you something, even though you also have critics who don't do their homework. They don't really read you that closely. They don't really engage your material. And then, of course, you always have envy operating, which is a sad thing, but that's human. Human--all too human, and so you have to just keep--keep moving and keep doing your work. But you have to be very, very attune to claims that can make you better, they're the sense in which you are only as good as your foes, because if your foes are strong, they make you strong. But on the other hand, you don't demonize them, because they've got their own insecurities and anxieties that they're dealing with and you want to empower them in the same way that they, ironically, can end up empowering you.

But the eclecticism is real. The--I--I'm someone who, like a jazzman, is improvisational, experimental, pulling from around a lot of different traditions. Then people say, `Well, how could you talk about Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louis Armstrong in the same vein?' Well, they're both experimental, improvisational.
LAMB: When you--go back to your class for a second. When you are...
Prof. WEST: Yeah.
LAMB: What lecture in your classes do you find them on the edge of their chair? Which--is there one more than the others?
Prof. WEST: Probably the music lecture. And it's primarily because music in the lives of young people--for many, it's the last form of transcendence. It's a fundamental form of se...
LAMB: From bebop--from bebop to rap? Is that the way...
Prof. WEST: Well, no, we go all the way back from the work songs of slaves, through spirituals, through blues, through jazz...
LAMB: How long do you lecture on this?
Prof. WEST: ...through rhythm and blues. I have a--a week lecture, two hours.
LAMB: Two-hour lecture?
Prof. WEST: Two hours, yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: And you get the most interest?
Prof. WEST: And, of course, we hear the music itself. You know, you turn on Billie Holiday to sing about "Strange Fruit," the Southern tree is bare, that American institution of lynching, and the students--Coltrane blows "Alabama," the students--listen to Monk play "Ruby, My Dear," the students say, `Wow!' A lot of them don't know. Black or white or red or yellow or whatever, they don't know, you see. And by the time you get to Prince, all of a sudden, they're ready to move because they have some acquaintance, you see.

And you say, `Well, this is a rich tradition, you see. The Isley Brothers are inseparable from Billy Eckstine, inseparable from Johnny Hartman.' This is a tradition with a variety of different voices, you see, but is rooted in craft, technique and discipline on the one hand, and wrestling with the dark side of America on the other: pain, suffering, grief, oppression, domination.
LAMB: Which--in the history of the United States, which white male or female do you think--they--they had to take a risk, though, in doing this...
Prof. WEST: Oh, yes.
LAMB: ...were the most sympathetic to changing the racial differences?
Prof. WEST: I would say Myles Horton, the founder of Highlander Center. He was a--just an indescribably courageous visionary white brother from Tennessee. Highlander Center was where Rosa Parks, the great Stoley--Stokely Carmichael, Kwame Toomey--we just lost him two years ago--where Brother Bob Moses, Diane Nash, a whole host of freedom fighters of all colors would--would--would--would spend time at Highlander Center and be sent back...
LAMB: Where--where is it?
Prof. WEST: It's--it's in--it's in Ten--it's in Tennessee. It's in the state of Tennessee.
LAMB: OK, but, what a--what pite--in history, what white politician? Who's the most courageous white politician in history for the race issue?
Prof. WEST: Oh, oh--well, in terms of effect, of course, it would be Lyndon Baines Johnson, even though he underwent a wonderful change from his early years. In terms of sheer courage, it would probably have to--politician. John Brown was not a politician, but he died for black people and black freedom. Politician. Good God Almighty, that's a good question.
LAMB: Were you...
Prof. WEST: It'd probably be--it's hard to say. It's hard to say. I think today, there's no doubt that Bill Bradley takes this issue more seriously than any of the other white politicians, but historically, probably Wendell Phillips. Wendell Phillips, that's who it is--Harvard College, Boston Brahmin, and what a crusader for--for racial justice.
LAMB: Let me take a risk in giving an opinion of what I--I did not find in this book, 600 pages.
Prof. WEST: Yeah.
LAMB: I'm not sure I'm--I'm right about this. You tell me. I didn't find much anger.
Prof. WEST: Mm.
LAMB: I mean, the kind of...
Prof. WEST: Yeah, yeah.
LAMB: ...rhetorical anger you see in speeches and writing. Am I--am--am I right? Or--or...
Prof. WEST: Well, we'd have to distinguish between rage and anger.
LAMB: I'm talking about--that's what I'm talking about, rage.
Prof. WEST: Right, that's--yeah, because the...
LAMB: But why not?
Prof. WEST: I mean, my--my rage tends to be filtered through more positive channels, when it comes to fighting for justice, fighting for more democracy and freedom, you see. But you're right. I mean, for me, you know, anger is the--can be empowering, but it has to be connected to a courage to love and a courage to fight for justice, so it ….
LAMB: Wh--when can you remember ever being angry or at ra--enraged in public?
Prof. WEST: In public? Because I'm--I'm full of rage all the time, but I transfigure it. You know what I mean? And a part, it--I mean, my own Christian sensibility plays a role here, too, because, you know, Christians cannot love people without hating injustice, without having a rage against cruelty. And that's why Jesus goes to the temple and overturns the--the temple of the money changers and ends up on the cross...
LAMB: We got...
Prof. WEST: ...so that the last moment in public--oh, my God! That is hard to say, actually. It's hard to say.
LAMB: What's the next project on your--on your list?
Prof. WEST: Well, I've got a number of books. I've got a book on David Hume. I've got a book on Josiah Royce. I've got a--a book o--on African-American literature, modern Greek literature that I'm writing with a--a fascinating cultural critic. Her name is Alainey--Alainey Maverole Montedue. Maverole Montedue, that's her name. It's a hard thing, 'cause it's Greek. But then I've got the big book on Chekhov and Coltrane I'm working on.
LAMB: When's that out?
Prof. WEST: Many years to come. I've got a lot of work, a lot of growing to do.
LAMB: We're out of time. As we show you the cover of the book--it's called "The Cornel West Reader," put out by Civitas and Basic Books--and we listen to theme music, again from John Coltrane...
Prof. WEST: Oh! I appreciate that.
LAMB: ...thank you.
Prof. WEST: Thank you so very much, though. You're so kind.


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