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Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet

In books, culture, ethnicity, government, history, North America, philosophy, politics, religion on January 5, 2013 at 05:24

From: The Supreme Love and Revolutionary Funk of Dr. Cornel West, Philosopher of the Blues by Jeff Sharlet, Killing the Buddha, http://killingthebuddha.com

West has been called “perhaps the preeminent black intellectual of our generation” by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., himself a candidate for that mantle. It might be more accurate to say that West is the preeminent intellectual of our generation, no qualifiers. No other scholar is as widely read, no other philosopher courted by presidential candidates, no other Ivy League professor referenced not just by other academics but by popular filmmakers (The Matrix trilogy, in which West played a bit role, was inspired in part by his work) and musicians (West has collaborated with Prince, Talib Kweli, and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, among others).

West came to his sense of self by way of a peculiarly American convergence of influences. His is not an “only in America” story but an “especially in America” one, part Emersonian self-reliance, part Motown funk. He’s an intellectual mutt in the best sense, a “freestyle, California spirit,” as he puts it, “rooted in gutbucket blues and jazz dispositions.” Even his trademark black suit is layered with influences—beneath jazz and the blues, there’s 19th century Russian literature. “It’s in emulation of Masha,” he says, one of the heroines of his favorite play, Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, a drama of provincial manners set amidst the Russian gentry. West identifies with the lonely woman at the heart of the story. “She’s wearing black, says she’s in mourning.” Her father has just died, she’s trapped in a pointless marriage with a boring man. “But it’s even deeper than that. How do you make deep disappointment a constant companion and still persevere? There is this sense with Masha, when you see her in that black dress, of having a sad soul with a sweet disposition.”

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Reposted with permission from: Killing the Buddha

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