Cornel West

I’m looking into Cornel West’s perspective on “funkiness” to support the context-laying for my epic series on Trump’s ascendency. I feel compelled to share this story with y’all, in love, fury and fury of love.

"He begins with anger so we can end with love."

“What is piety?” he asks at the Jewish Museum, working the stage like a tent revival preacher. He stops, holds one hand up like he’s just caught the word by a wing. “It is the acknowledgment of the debt to those who came before, the wind at our backs, the source of the good in our lives. Could be your mama, could be your daddy. Could be your jazz teacher, your dance teacher. If you’re religious like myself it could be God and all of those.” The future, he says—the democracy he dreams of, the democracy we have yet to achieve—demands prophesy, piety “and the poetic. And by poetic I don’t mean a person who writes verses.” He draws the word out like an English don. “I mean what Shelley had in mind when he said poets are the unacknowledged”—he goes into a Westian growl—“legislators of the world! All those who exercise imag-i-nation, and get us outside of our egocentric pre-dic-ament! Give us a sense of awe and wonder! So we become concerned about something outside of our own little bubbles, our own little suburbs, our own little slices of reality, our own little professional managerial spots”—he makes that sound a like a filthy word, then pulls up in a hard pause, hunches down close to the edge of the stage, and whispers slowly—“our own little iron cages.” He stands. “There’s a lot of material toys in the cages. But you’re still in prison. And poets allow us to shatter those bars.”

When the talk is over, West gets down on his hands and knees so he can greet at eye level the fans filing by the stage, alarming and delighting one after another as he swings his arms out from under him—is he going to fall face-first?—only to wrap them around the person in front of him, hugging every potential poet and comrade in turn.