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Brother West

BOOK: Brother West
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BROTHER WEST

S
ELECTED
B
OOKS
BY C
ORNEL
W
EST

Hope on a Tightrope: Words & Wisdom

Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism

The Cornel West Reader

Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America
(edited by Kelvin Shawn Sealey)

Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America

Race Matters

Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American
Revolutionary Christianity

The American Evasion of Philosophy:
A Genealogy of Pragmatism

Prophetic Fragments

The War Against Parents: What We Can Do for America’s
Beleaguered Moms and Dads
(with Sylvia Ann Hewlett)

Jews & Blacks: Let the Healing Begin
(with Michael Lerner)

Please visit: Hay House USA:
www.hayhouse.com
®

Hay House Australia:
www.hayhouse.com.au

Hay House UK:
www.hayhouse.co.uk

Hay House South Africa:
www.hayhouse.co.za

Hay House India:
www.hayhouse.co.in

BROTHER WEST

LIVING AND LOVING OUT LOUD

A MEMOIR

CORNEL WEST

with David Ritz

S
MILEY
B
OOKS

Distributed by Hay House, Inc.

Carlsbad, California • New York City
Sydney • London • Johannesburg
Vancouver • Hong Kong • New Delhi

Copyright © 2009 by Cornel West

Published in the United States by:
SmileyBooks

Distributed in the United States by:
Hay House, Inc.:
www.hayhouse.com

Published and distributed in Australia by:
Hay House Australia Pty. Ltd.:
www.hayhouse.com.au

Published and distributed in the United Kingdom by:
Hay House UK, Ltd.:
www.hayhouse.co.uk

Published and distributed in the Republic of South Africa by:
Hay House SA (Pty), Ltd.:
www.hayhouse.co.za

Distributed in Canada by:
Raincoast:
www.raincoast.com

Published and Distributed in India by:
Hay House Publishers India:
www.hayhouse.com

Send inquiries to:
SmileyBooks, 250 Park Avenue South, Suite 201, New York, NY 10003

Design:
Nick Welch

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following for use of their photos: The Cornel West collection; Union Theological Seminary Records at The Burke Library (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York City; M. Stewart; Isaac Singleton, Spotlight Productions, Inc./The Smiley Group, Inc.; Brian Wilson and Denise Applewhite/Princeton University; Spelman College Office of Communications; Luv One; Marcellus Brooks; Jim Summaria; Antoine Medley; and Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry, Sr.

“Pastoral Prayer”:
Copyright 1956 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; copyright renewed 1986 Coretta Scott King. Reprinted by arrangement with The Heirs to the Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., c/o Writers House as agent for the proprietor New York, NY.

“In Memory of W.B. Yeats”:
© 1939 by W.H. Auden • Reprinted by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Music Credits in back.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic, or electronic process, or in the form of a phonographic recording; nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or otherwise be copied for public or private use—other than for “fair use” as brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews—without prior written permission of the publisher.

The opinions set forth herein are those of the author, and do not necessarily express the views of the publisher or Hay House, Inc., or any of its affiliates.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

West, Cornel.

Brother West : living and loving out loud / Cornel West with David Ritz.

   p. cm.

ISBN 978-1-4019-2189-7 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. West, Cornel. 2. West, Cornel—Political and social views. 3. African American intellectuals—Biography. 4. African American scholars— Biography. 5. African American college teachers—Biography. I. Ritz, David. II. Title.
E185.97.W56A3 2009
378.1’2092—dc22

[B]                                                                 2009009735

ISBN:
978-1-4019-2189-7

12  11  10  09     4  3  2  1

1st edition, October 2009

Printed in the United States of America

For my precious parents
Clifton and Irene West

And my beloved brother and sisters
Clifton, Cynthia, and Cheryl

C
ONTENTS

PART I: A SHILOH BAPTIST KIND OF BROTHER

On the Move

January 1, 1961

My Change

The Bridge

Curve Balls

Negative Capability

PART II: A PHILOSOPHER WITH A GROOVE

Albert Einstein and Malcolm X

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

What’s Going On: Ludwig Wittgenstein and/or Al Green?

David Hume and Arthur Schopenhauer in the Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Big Block

Brother Wash

Moonlight Over Manhattan

“Think”

Trane

Make Up to Break Up

PART III: RACE MATTERS

Elleni

Prophetic Fragments

“The Way You Do the Things You Do”

African Dreams

Race Matters

The Dream Team

What Matter of Man?

What Happened to the Squeegee Folk?

Loss

Just to Keep You Satisfied

PART IV: THE MATRIX

The Most Passionate Love

Messin’ with the Wrong Brother

Womb to Tomb

Death, Taxes, and Love

Teachable Moments

“You Are Loved”

Going Away Blues

Nota Bene

Gratitude

Our Collaborative Spirit

Acknowledgments

Music Credits

About the Authors

A
UTHOR

S
N
OTE

This is a work of nonfiction.
Conversations have been reconstructed
to the best of my recollection.

I’m a bluesman in the life of the mind,
and a jazzman in the world of ideas.

— Cornel West

PART I
A SHILOH BAPTIST
KIND OF BROTHER

ON THE MOVE

P
LANE

S DUE TO TAKE OFF
in a few minutes. Awfully tight here in the coach compartment of the big 747, but, as the O’Jays put it, “money can do funny things to some people,” and my money’s been funny for years, so coach will have to do. Coach is cool. It’s a blessing to be on this plane at all. Blessing to be alive. Blessing to be on this journey of love.

I take my phone from my vest pocket and call my blessed mother in Sacramento.

“Off to see Zeytun,” I tell Mama. Zeytun is my eight-year-old daughter who lives in Bonn, Germany.

“You give that beautiful child a kiss for me, son.”

“You know I’m going to do that. Stay strong, Mama.”

I look around the cabin and see that just about everyone is equipped with a laptop computer. Everyone except me. Haven’t caught up with the high-tech world of the instant Internet. I have a bag full of books and a writing pad
.
A good pen is all I need.

It’s enough to bring along volumes of the poets I love best— John Donne, John Keats, Walt Whitman—and the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, whose questioning approach to the deep notions of existence and knowledge help keep me halfway humble. It’s enough to scratch out my ideas on the pad, enough to drift off to sleep and dream unremembered dreams that quiet my mind and relax my body.

A week in Bonn with my precious daughter Zeytun. I can’t wait to see her and give her a hug. Midday walks along the Rhine and thoughts of Karl Marx, who attended the ancient university in this very city and whose attraction to Jesus as a teenager attracted me to him as a graduate student intrigued by the ethical dimensions of feeling and thought.

At the end of the week, it’s back to Princeton. This is my sabbatical year, but I’m returning to my home university for a joyous occasion: “Ain’t that a Groove”: The Genius of James Brown Conference, the first such academic assembly to take the Godfather seriously, that funkafied genius whose “Get Up Offa That Thing” lifted me high during low days at Harvard. I give the keynote address. I acknowledge that JB is integral to the formation of my spirit and my soul. I say that, like all of us, James was a featherless two-legged linguistically conscious creature born between urine and feces. Like all of us, he was born out of the funk and, like the great Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy, he was still-born. JB was abandoned by both parents, saved by an aunt, raised in a brothel, and yet, through it all—or because of it all—the man managed to transform social misery into artistic delicacies of the highest order. His funk raised us and renewed us. His funk got us through.

I’m getting through.

I’m pushing on.

I’m a bluesman moving through a blues-soaked America, a blues-soaked world, a planet where catastrophe and celebration— Frankie Beverly and Maze call it “Joy and Pain”—sit side by side. The blues started off in some field, in some plantation, in some mind, in some imagination, in some heart. The blues blew over to the next plantation, and then the next state. The blues went south to north, got electrified and even sanctified. The blues got mixed up with jazz and gospel and rock and roll. The blues got on the radio, got in the movies and went all over the world. The blues had to grow.

Like the peerless Russian writer Anton Chekhov and the matchless Irish author Samuel Beckett, the bluesmen sing of real-life, here-and-now experiences of tragedy and comedy even as they offer up help. They offer up strategies for survival. They share their coping skills. They get us to dancing and laughing, rapping and exposing the hypocrisy of a soulless and sanitized civilization.

Bluesmen aren’t sanitized. Bluesmen aren’t deodorized. Bluesmen are funky. Bluesmen got soul. The great blues artists—Toni Morrison, Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, Sterling Brown, Koko Taylor, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Lil’ Wayne, Alvin Ailey, Curtis Mayfield, Giacomo Leopardi, Sarah Vaughan, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Muriel Rukeyser, Savion Glover, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Thomas Hardy, Ella Fitzgerald, August Wilson, Mary J. Blige, Jacob Lawrence, Federico Garcia Lorca, Duke Ellington— fight the good fight by doing what they can and moving on.

BOOK: Brother West
3.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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