Monday, December 7, 2009

From Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee's What Are the Drums Sayer Booker Part 2? or How Cornel West Spits Game at the Ladies

Brother Cornel is one of my favorite people.

Cornel West is a true renaissance man. If he succeeds or fails, West is always daring to reach--to attempt the act of (re)invention. A laudable trait in my humble opinion. I also admire Dr. West's ability to parlay his not insignificant abilities as a public intellectual for a quite comfortable living. How can one hate on a Rolls-Royce socialist? Tell me. How?

As a great example of the hold Brother Cornel has on some of the youngsters, I will never forget standing in line to see him give a talk at a university that will forever remain nameless. In front of me were some snowflakes (the "affectionate" name given by faculty to undergraduates) who exclaimed, "Cornel West is a god! Did you know he was in the Matrix movies! He is so cool!" I simply smiled.

Yes, like many of you, I too am still waiting for Brother Cornel's return to "serious" academic work. Nevertheless, on a pound for pound basis Cornel is a national asset. Predictably, he is also a great magnet for the haters. That having been said, the following ownage/getting sonned by/taken to the woodshed/Ric Flair cutting of promo by Scott McLemee on Cornel West is the most scathing attack on a Black public intellectual since Adolph Reed's classic essay “What Are the Drums Saying, Booker? The Current Crisis of the Black Intellectual" in the Village Voice circa 1995:

While Scott McLemee clearly disagrees, for my dollar, Cornel's explanation of his sexual appetites and the visions of sensual pragmatism that await the ladies who find themselves in the latter's boudoir easily makes his new book a must own.

Personal note: how can you not like that Oscar Wilde-like wordplay?

Second personal note: I am going to use Brother Cornel's explanation of his love philosophy as my new justification for the virtues of a poly-amorous lifestyle.

Question: Is Scott McLemee fighting out of his weight class? Is Scott going to get knocked out if Cornel responds to his being called out? Will this fight be a TKO?

Enjoy the following excerpts courtesy of Inside Higher ed:

Cornel West’s work was once bold, challenging, exciting. The past tense here is unavoidable. His critical edge and creative powers might yet be reborn (he is 56). But in the wake of his latest book, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, this hope requires a considerable leap of faith. Published by Hay House, the book also bears a second subtitle: “A Memoir.” It is the most disappointing thing I have read in at least a year.


The problem, to be clear, is not that this is meant to be is a popular book, or even that West himself could not be bothered to write it. Brother West offers much evidence that amour propre and self-knowledge are not the same thing. One tends to be in conflict with the other. A memoir will often show traces of the struggle between them.

Not so here. That battle is plainly over. Self-knowledge has been taken hostage, and amour propre curdled into self-infatuation.


If sketchy in other regards, Brother West is never anything but expansive on how Cornel West feels about Cornel West. He is deeply committed to his committed-ness, and passionately passionate about being full of passion. Various works of art, literature, music, and philosophy remind West of himself. He finds Augustinian humility to be deeply meaningful. This is mentioned in one sentence. His taste for three-piece suits is full of subtle implications that require a couple of substantial paragraphs to elucidate.

As mentioned, his romantic life sounds complicated. Brother West is a reminder of Samuel Johnson’s description of remarriage as the triumph of hope over experience. One paragraph of musings following his third divorce obliged me to put the book down and think about things for a long while. Here it is:

“The basic problem with my love relationships with women is that my standards are so high -- and they apply equally to both of us. I seek full-blast mutual intensity, fully fledged mutual acceptance, full-blown mutual flourishing, and fully felt peace and joy with each other. This requires a level of physical attraction, personal adoration, and moral admiration that is hard to find. And it shares a depth of trust and openness for a genuine soul-sharing with a mutual respect for a calling to each other and to others. Does such a woman exist for me? Only God knows and I eagerly await this divine unfolding. Like Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship in Emily Bronte’s remarkable novel Wuthering Heights or Franz Schubert’s tempestuous piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat (D.960) I will not let life or death stand in the way of this sublime and funky love that I crave!”

No doubt this is meant to be inspirational. It is at any rate exemplary. Rendered more or less speechless, I pointed the passage out to my wife.

She looked it over and said, “Any woman who reads this needs to run in the opposite direction when she sees him coming.”

Returning to the book, I found, just a few pages later, that West was getting divorced for a fourth time. Seldom does reader response yield results that prove so empirically verifiable.


macon d said...

Yeah, I read McL's whole review awhile back, and found it very clever indeed. In fact, a bit too ironically clever, given that his main criticism of West is the attention he calls to himself.

sonicage said...

Criticisms of West are valid. But when the public face of populist discourse in the country is the likes of Sara Palin, give me West and his self-indulgent biographies any day.