Sunday, May 13, 2012
West's books began to be published in the early 1980s, but he wrote many of them in the late 1970s. During his mid-twenties, he left Princeton, returned to Harvard as a Du Bois fellow to finish his dissertation, and then began his first tenure-track teaching job as an assistant professor of philosophy of religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. While a Du Bois fellow, West married and had a son, Clifton. Both this marriage and a later one ended in divorce.
While teaching at Union, West concerned himself with "the major national progressive multiracial and religious activity in the country in the 1970s." He also traveled to Brazil, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Mexico, Europe, and South Africa, where he saw and involved himself with intellectual and political progressive movements "reminiscent of our 1960s." In the early 1980s, West encountered Michael Harrington's Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), an organization that shaped the version of democratic socialism he would subsequently promote. West described the DSA in Ethical Dimensions as "the first multiracial, socialist organization close enough to my politics that I could join."
West wrote The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought during his time at Union, but it wasn't published until 1991. In the book, he traced Karl Marx's intellectual development to reveal how Marx incorporated the growing consciousness of history in modern thought with values of individuality and democracy. West combined his interests in Marxism and religion in his 1982 book Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, in which he shows the potential in prophetic Christianity--and especially in aspects of the black church--for meaningful opposition to racism and oppression.
In 1984 West assumed a post at the Yale Divinity School that eventually became a joint appointment with the institution's American Studies Department. He participated in a campus drive for clerical unionism and against Yale's investments in South African companies and was arrested and jailed during one campus protest. West viewed his political actions at Yale as "a fine example for my wonderful son, Clifton," who had become a progressive student body president in his predominantly black middle school in Atlanta. The Yale administration punished West by canceling his leave and requiring him to teach a full load of two courses in the spring of 1987.
Before his leave was canceled, West had already arranged to teach African-American thought and American pragmatism at the University of Paris, so in order to fulfill his responsibilities to both schools, he commuted to Paris for his three courses there while teaching his two courses at Yale. He also served as the American correspondent for Le Monde diplomatique at Yale. In 1988, West returned to Union; one year after that move, he accepted a position at Princeton University as professor of religion and director of the Afro-American Studies program. West continued to write and edit books on philosophy throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. In his 1985 publication Post-Analytic Philosophy, which he edited with John Rajchman, West reflected on the crisis in American philosophy. Prophetic Fragments, an essay collection published in 1988, is considered a tome of contemporary cultural criticism, addressing such subjects as theology, sex, suicide, and violence in America today. In 1991's Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life, coauthors West and bell hooks limit themselves to the problems of creating black male-female dialogue and an effective black intellectual community while suggesting practical solutions to communication problems.
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Princeton professor Cornel West was arrested when he spoke outside D.C. Superior Court on Oct. 17. But even as he was being led away in handcuffs, West told the crowd, "We have no quarrel with the police. They are working people, part of the 99 percent, too."
At age 17, West enrolled in Harvard as an undergraduate. By taking eight courses per term as a junior, he was able to graduate one year early, achieving magna cum laude in Near Eastern languages and literature. While there, he once wrote a spontaneous 50-page essay to work through the differences between Immanuel Kant and George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's conceptions of God. He even dreamed of philosophical concepts taking form and battling one another. According to Boynton, government professor Martin Kilson called West "the most intellectually aggressive and highly cerebral student I have taught in my 30 years [at Harvard]."
West credited his time at Harvard with fueling a reexamination of his world views; over those three years, he surveyed his own thoughts and actions and pursued a rigorous study of new ideas. In class, he developed a passionate interest on the effects of time and culture on philosophical thought and historical actions. Outside of class, he participated in a "breakfast program" group in the Massachusetts village of Jamaica Plain, took weekly trips to Norfolk State Prison, and worked with the Black Student Organization, which was responsible for the 1972 takeover of Massachusetts Hall to both protest Harvard's investments in Gulf Oil and show support for liberation forces operating in the southwest African country of Angola. But West attributed his greatest intellectual influences on political matters to a variety of philosophers such as nineteenth-century Serbian political writer Svetozar Markovic. He continued, however, to recognize the limits of "book knowledge" and to value dedication in action.
After Harvard, West began pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at Princeton University. There, he discovered that the values most precious to him were those of individuality and democracy. In the introduction to Ethical Dimensions, he defined individuality as "the sanctity and dignity of all individuals shaped in and by communities," and explained democracy as a way of living as well as a way of governing. The work of Richard Rorty, a philosopher at Princeton, also impressed West. West called Rorty's attention to history "music to my ears" and subsequently developed his own vision of Rorty's favorite philosophical tradition--American pragmatism--in his 1989 book The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism. In this book, West defined his own version of pragmatism, called "prophetic pragmatism," which he believes is vital in promoting the formation of a democracy that both recognizes and extols the virtues of individual morality, autonomy, and creativity. Philosopher K. Anthony Appiah, writing in Nation, considered the book "a powerful call for philosophy to play its role in building a radical democracy in alliance with the wretched of the earth" and deemed West possibly "the pre-eminent African-American intellectual of our generation."
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West, Cornel (b. 1953), essayist, public speaker, social activist, and major figure in African American academia. Cornel West was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on 2 June 1953. His mother was an elementary school teacher who later became principal; his father, a civilian administrator in the air force. Both of his parents attended Fisk University. The family, including West's brother, Clifton, moved often. They eventually settled in a middle-class African American neighborhood in Sacramento, California. West graduated with a degree in Near Eastern languages and literature from Harvard University. He received his doctorate in philosophy from Princeton University. As director of Princeton's Afro-American Studies Program from 1988 to 1994, and as a professor in Harvard's Department of Afro-American Studies since 1994, West is one of several high-profile scholars who have strengthened African American studies programs. He has taught at America's most prestigious universities and has lectured at many others. The blend of skills and styles employed by West inspires adjectives from his admirers and critics; unadorned nouns seem unable to capture his complexities.