Booknotes, Tuesday, February 22, 2000
Cornel West discusses The Cornel West Reader.
An invaluable introduction to the writings of one our most prominentand prolific public intellectuals. West (Restoring Hope, 1997, etc.) is one of those rare African-American scholars who has been able to break out of the Black Studies ghetto not only in the academy but also in his widely and often popularly published work, as this hefty anthology plainly attests; at the same time, he asserts the continued power of Marxist thought without being confined to the only slightly less restrictive pigeonhole of socialist theory. He is as comfortable writing on William James and Josiah Royce as on Antonio Gramsci and Martin Luther King. And this retrospective collection certainly validates his stated desire ``to lay bare the basic structure of my intellectual work and life.'' Although much of the material has been published in book form before, West manages to put the pieces together in revealingly and economically thematic chunks. Those who find his technical and philosophical writings daunting will appreciate his more accessible interviews, including discussions with Bill Moyers, Anders Stephanson, and George Yancey (although a lengthy discussion of Georg Lukacs may leave most non-Marxists behind). Unfortunately, West does himself no great service with an introduction that is pompous, ponderous, and parodically self-satisfied. And while he refers to himself there as a ``Chekhovian Christian,'' West seems to have missed the dry humor that underpins much of Chekhov's best work, whileunderstandablyeschewing the rueful resignation of the Russian's plays. At his best, however, West is a lucid and serious thinker and an elegant and often impassioned writer, as this generous helping of his work reminds us. Skip the introduction and read the rest. Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. (timspalding)
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