CORNEL WEST VS RICHARD WRIGHT
foucault at eden.rutgers.edu
Sun Apr 30 01:47:37 MDT 1995
As an ardent admirer of Baldwin AND Wright I particularly liked your
point that the two are philosophically linked. It would go too much against
my heart to slight Baldwin, but I do admit that his retreat in expatriatism
indicates that his purported optimism in embracing Black culture was less
than, or at least different from , West's idealized assessment.
Is the problem of "Black philosophy" not, in some sense, an arcetype
of the revolutionary man ? One lives in, and draws sense of self and soul
nourishment from a society that loves and despises one. The love comes from
the immediate culture of parents, schoolmates, church, "pop" icons with which
identifies. Yet the immediate culture, and the individual are despised by
the larger culture of which they are integrally part. The individual in
these circumstances must live a dual life and have a dual mind. The ego
and soul demand that he quench psychic thirst with swill water, and keep his
faith. The same ego demands that he assert himself against the hate that
blasphemes against his sovereignty and the sovereignty of the just social
order. One is in the land of the Pharoah, and not an Israelite.
Socialism creates a similar condition. By identifying the flawed
logic of social relations as the culprit, we absolve the exploiter but hate
his exploitation. For those subject to racism, the rest of the world must
seem painfully dim-witted. Racism is such an achingly obvious social flaw,
but barbarians can be thought to be people of good will, and barbarism can be
invisible, because their culture is twisted with evil. The socialist tries
to identify the same kind of flaw, but his vision is obscured because the
barbarism transcends all the obvious cultural divisions.
This is, of course why the African-American (i.e., Wright and
Ellison) is so unique in his ability to contribute to the revolutionary
discourse. He is the truly "conscious partisan of the modern, industrial,
and scientific" because his blinders have been off before the modern,
industrial, and scientific even were.
I always wondered why I was a little uneasy about West.
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