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Pragmatism’s Tragicomic Jazzman

A Talk with Cornel West

Miriam Strube

Pages 291 - 301


In this conversation Cornel West, one of the most versatile and provocative neo-pragmatists, discusses the social, political, and cultural foundations for pragmatism, going back to what he calls the spiritual godfathers, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He also explores his own version, prophetic pragmatism, as a form of cultural criticism and social activism that is foremost concerned with everyday people and the underserved. In this context he turns less to classical pragmatists and more to Alain Locke, W. E. B. Du Bois, Randolph Bourne, Josiah Royce as well as to Ralph Ellison, Herman Melville, and Toni Morrison, whom he sees as sharing elements of either his tragicomic or his anti-imperialist version of pragmatism. Beyond offering insights into philosophical and literary writers, he talks about pragmatist philosophy in policy making and politics, especially in regard to Barack Obama, and about popular culture. West here considers jazz as both symbolic democratic action and pragmatic in being flexible, fluid, and not tied to dogma but to a Love Supreme.


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