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An Interview with Cornel West

January 26, 2012

Eduardo Mendieta in The Immanent Frame:

Cornel West, Class of 1943 University Professor at Princeton University, is among the most prominent public intellectuals of our time. “Bluesman in the life of the mind and jazzman in the world of ideas,” as West often describes himself, he is the author of numerous books, including The American Evasion of Philosophy, Race MattersThe Cornel West Reader, and Democracy Matters. Along with Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, and Charles Taylor, West participated two years ago in a major public symposium c0-sponsored by the SSRC.

Eduardo Mendieta: Brother West, what is philosophy and do you think we need a new definition of it today, in light of what we can call, in shorthand, a globalized planet?

Cornel West: I would want to conceive of philosophy as grounded in the very long humanist tradition that is the best of the West, which is open to the East and North and South. But what I mean by that is that I begin with “humando,” which means burial. I begin with the humanity and the humility, which are very different than the biological species homo sapiens. Humanity versus homo sapiens—very different things. We are biological creatures, we are animals, no doubt, but when you talk about “humando,” you’re talking about that particular kind of animals who are aware of their impending extinction, who have the capacity to be sensitive to catastrophe and disaster and calamity and profound crisis. The question for me is, how do we love wisdom—philosophia—in the face of impending catastrophe, given the kind of thinking, loving, caring, laughing, dancing animals that we are?  So, it’s a very, very historicist, contextualist, fallibilist, concrete, fleshified conception of philosophy. [More]

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