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'Decline of the West'

Scott McLemee defenestratesCornel West's new memoir:

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!”

A few pages later, McLemee reports, we learn that West is divorcing for the fourth time.

By Ezra Klein  |  December 2, 2009; 12:01 PM ET
 
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Comments

While this was a little entertaining, it's really more about the writer than about West I suppose. People project.

It's through a lens darkly.

But I am reminded of that quote to the effect one must perfect one's life or one's work.

If West chooses difficult women or has impossible standards or whatever doesn't tell us much about his ideas. Instead those ideas will continue to be valid or invalid on their own, etc.

Posted by: HalHorvath | December 2, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Larry Summers that Cornel West is infuriating, although I also find Larry Summers infuriating.

Posted by: bmull | December 2, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

@HalHorvath: Ezra linked to a review of a memoir, so it's fair game to talk about West's character. And it's clear to anyone who's seen one of West's many TV appearances that he revels in his celebrity, to the detriment of his scholarship.

Posted by: mistermix | December 2, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Cornel West reminds me of Newt Gingrich -- one of those self-infatuated guys inexplicably treated as profound by some but who upon even remotely close reading always cause me to snicker.

Posted by: ostap666 | December 2, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Generally, folks we see appearing on talk shows tend to be irritatingly egotistical. It's so normal we've forgotten our first impressions from long ago. Perhaps West is irritating only because it is more obvious in his case. He precipitates a broad revulsion we all feel towards various talking heads.

Posted by: HalHorvath | December 2, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I must respectfully disagree. At no point was Professor West thrown out of a window.

The review was dead on though.

Posted by: itinerantpedant | December 2, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

*Generally, folks we see appearing on talk shows tend to be irritatingly egotistical. It's so normal we've forgotten our first impressions from long ago. Perhaps West is irritating only because it is more obvious in his case. He precipitates a broad revulsion we all feel towards various talking heads.*

West is supposed to be an educated, insightful philosopher who has interesting things to say and tell us about when it comes to large issues; more than simply a talking head who gets invited to come onto Hardball because he lives in DC and has free time. The funny thing about the comparison between West and Gingrich is that West is the person that Gingrich *wants* to be. The problem is that the idea of Cornell West turns out to be a lot more interesting and compelling than the reality of Cornell West.

Posted by: constans | December 2, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

itinerantpedant FTW.

Posted by: jeffro20 | December 2, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

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