Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

After Modernity

Cornel West ( 1953-) was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is said that the two important influences on West in his youth were the Baptist church and the Black Panthers. He studied at Harvard (where he earned magna cum laude honors), then at Princeton, where he encountered Richard Rorty during his doctoral studies. West taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, then at Yale. He now teaches at Princeton, where he continues to be a leader in making its African-American studies program one of the best in the country. West's books include Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity ( 1982), Prophetic Fragments ( 1988), The American Invasion of Philosophy ( 1989), and Race Matters ( 1993). The selection is from his contribution to Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures ( 1990), which he edited with Trinh T. Minh-ha and others.


The New Cultural Politics of Difference

Cornel West ( 1990)

In these last few years of the 20th century, there is emerging a significant shift in the sensibilities and outlooks of critics and artists. In fact, I would go so far as to claim that a new kind of cultural worker is in the making, associated with a new politics of difference. These new forms of intellectual consciousness advance reconceptions of the vocation of critic and artist, attempting to undermine the prevailing disciplinary divisions of labor in the academy, museum, mass media and gallery networks, while preserving modes of critique within the ubiquitous commodification of culture in the global village. Distinctive features of the new cultural politics of difference are to trash the monolithic and homogeneous in the name of diversity, multiplicity and heterogeneity; to reject the abstract, general and universal in light of the concrete, specific and particular; and to historicize, contextualize and pluralize by highlighting the contingent, provisional, variable, tentative, shifting and changing. Needless to say, these gestures are not new in the history of criticism or art, yet what makes them novel--along with the cultural politics they produce--is how and what constitutes difference, the weight and gravity it is given in representation and the way in which highlighting issues like exterminism, empire, class, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, nation, nature, and region at this historical moment acknowledges some discontinuity and disruption from previous forms of cultural critique. To put it

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Excerpt from Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Cornel West, eds., Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures ( Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), pp. 19-32.

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