Cornel West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. He is a Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He has also taught at Yale, Harvard, and the University of Paris. Cornel West graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. He has written over 20 books and has edited 13. Though he is best known for his classics, Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and for his memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, his most recent releases, Black Prophetic Fire and Radical King, were received with critical acclaim.
Question: Can we end indifference?
Cornel West: Yeah, but the thing about indifference is that it's always a choice that we make, you see. So that if you choose to have an iciness of soul and a hardening of heart and a coarsening of conscience, that leads towards indifference. That's why at the end of Dante's Inferno it's the iciness of Satan. You remember? The coldness. That's a choice. No matter what structures or dominations are in place, we can still choose to care, choose to care -- Sorge, that fundamental category that the Germans talked about, the care. And the bluesman and the blueswoman don't believe in optimism or pessimism, you see. I been down so long that down don't worry me no more; that's why I keep keeping on. The bluesman and the blueswoman are never indifferent. They're full of passion, they're full of caring about something. It could be last night, tomorrow night. It could be the society. Whatever.
You've got to sustain some kind of passion, and therefore the great bluesmen and women from Tony Morrison to white ones like Tennessee Williams to Bruce Springsteen on the vanilla side of town, along with Bob Dylan, or on the chocolate side of town, you know, it could be Leroy Carr or Curtis Mayfield or Aretha Franklin -- they are prisoners of hope. They're neither optimists nor pessimists; they are prisoners of hope because they care. As long as you care, and there's one little precious child out there with sparkling eyes, you've got to do something. And if you don't, the rocks are going to cry out. That's why Coltrane kept blowing his horn, my brother, because if he didn't blow his horn the rocks were going to cry out. That genius cared.
Recorded on: November 3, 2009