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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cornel West on Power & Freedom in America today & in Jane Austen’s novels

Cornel West, who has been a leading African-American advocate for social justice for many years, is in the news again today, as he so often is when he’s needed because of a tragic denial of racial justice in our society:

I wish I were in NYC, I’d go to hear him speak tonight in that church on W 86th Street, but I do urge anyone reading this who lives in NYC to go. He is a dynamic, brilliant and poetic public speaker, and his is a voice and mind I’d want to hear on this, the most important, pressing social issue in America today---the unending Gothic nightmare inflicted on people of color by our sadly deficient criminal justice system.

And it is not unrelated to the above, that he is also, as many Janeites know, an avid lifelong Janeite, who gave a great plenary address at the 2012 JASNA AGM in NYC that I attended, entitled “Power & Freedom in Jane Austen’s Novels”. It was really wonderful, and so I am very happy to see that JASNA has now put up  links for audio of his talk, AND ALSO of the Q&A that followed it, here:

I urge you all to listen to his entire talk, it was very thought provoking, and he has his own very personal and interesting take on JA, one that I resonate with closely, but could only dream to present so eloquently.

As I watched and listened that day, several questions came to my mind that I wanted to pose to him, but one in particular, and fortunately for me, my raised hand (among the many that wished to ask him questions) was recognized. And so now you can hear my question, and Cornel West’s answer, at about half-way through the Q&A.

For those who would prefer not to listen, or can’t access the audio link, here is a transcription of my Q and his A. Because the audio was spotty at times as I listened on my computer, I could not faithfully capture every word in his reply to me, but I got nearly all of it, and got the gist (but there is no way to transcribe his rich Austenesque laughter):

Me: “Professor West, you’ve been a great voice for the Occupy Movement during the last year or year and a half, and I’ve had a lot of arguments with Janeite friends, because they think she would have been against the Occupy Movement, and to me it’s so painfully obvious that she would have been in the front line of the satirists, who would have been mocking the 1% and praising the 99% making themselves heard. What do you think?”

Cornel West: “... this is true for most great artists--her capacious spirit would be one, she would be writing satirical critical profoundly humanistic  readings of both Wall Street, but also we Occupiers—‘cause that’s a RICH subject for a novel. Oh, comic novel? Come see us (with the tents, you know what I mean?) .
But that’s what artists do, they don’t just do propaganda or didactic, it’s showing the humanity in these various contexts, and acknowledging the degree to which we’re all cracked vessels, and there are structures of domination, there are various forms of oppression, and those who resist ought to resist in the spirit of both strength and fortitude, but also humility, because we’re gonna fall on our faces.
But I appreciate your kind words, brother, absolutely. “

I love his answer, and entirely agree with him—while I believe JA would have taken her hardest and sharpest potshots at the hypocritical 1%’ers like Mitt Romney, she would indeed have also been fair and balanced, in a real (and not a Fox-News way), and would therefore also have shown the foibles even of those who were on the right side of this great moral, social & class divide.

And I am quite certain that if JA were alive today and living in NYC, she would be there in the audience at Cornel West’s address tonight, taking a lot of mental notes, and then working it all into her novels in some extraordinarily inventive way that would do justice to his great oratory and moral clarity.

Or maybe…she’d have been doing it as the replacement for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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