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Composition and Cornel West

Notes toward a Deep Democracy

Keith Gilyard

Publication Year: 2008

Composition and Cornel West: Notes toward a Deep Democracy identifies and explains key aspects of the work of Cornel West—the highly regarded scholar of religion, philosophy, and African American studies—as they relate to composition studies, focusing especially on three rhetorical strategies that West suggests we use in our questioning lives as scholars, teachers, students, and citizens.

In this study, author Keith Gilyard examines the strategies of Socratic Commitment (a relentless examination of received wisdom), Prophetic Witness (an abiding concern with justice and the plight of the oppressed), and Tragicomic Hope (a keep-on-pushing sensibility reflective of the African American freedom struggle). Together, these rhetorical strategies comprise an updated form of cultural criticism that West calls prophetic pragmatism.

This volume, which contains the only interview in which Cornel West directly addresses the field of composition, sketches the development of Cornel West’s theories of philosophy, political science, religion, and cultural studies and restates the link between Deweyan notions of critical intelligence and the notion of critical literacy developed by Ann Berthoff, Ira Shor, and Henry Giroux. Gilyard provides examples from the classroom to illustrate the possibilities of Socratic Commitment as part of composition pedagogy, shows the alignment of Prophetic Witness with traditional aims of critical composition, and in his chapter on Tragicomic Hope, addresses African American expressive culture with an emphasis on music and artists such as Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and Kanye West.

The first book to comprehensively connect the ideas of one of America's premier scholars of religion, philosophy and African American studies with composition theory and pedagogy, Composition and Cornel West will be valuable to scholars, teachers, and students interested in race, class, critical literacy, and the teaching of writing.



Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Even modest projects have their communal aspects. I thank Cornel West again for helping to set me flowing on this particular initiative. I am also appreciative of his nonpareil assistant, Maryann Rodriguez, for handling my visit to Princeton University with generosity and grace. ...

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1. Flight West

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pp. 1-6

In 1998, I settled onto a propeller plane heading from University Park Airport to Philadelphia. The passenger strapped in the window seat next to me was Cornel West, who had spoken the previous night at Penn State. Even before takeoff, he was already intently reading a book in preparation for an upcoming debate with the author to take place at Harvard University. ...

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2. The Roots of a Deep-Democratic Project

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pp. 7-26

Before considering more explicitly the link between deep democracy and rhetorical education, it is helpful to trace the roots of the idea in the earlier writings of Cornel West so we can ascertain how he has come to promote the discursive strategies he dubs Socratic commitment, prophetic witness, and tragicomic hope. ...

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3. Socratic Commitment and Critical Literacy

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pp. 27-51

Connected to Deweyan speculations about critical intelligence, “critical literacy” took hold as a term in composition studies during the 1970s as the work of Paulo Freire gained ascendance and was engaged by scholars like Ann Berthoff, Henry Giroux, Donaldo Macedo, and Ira Shor.1...

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4. Tracking Prophetic Witness

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pp. 52-76

Flowing from a wellspring of deep democratic energies, prophetic witness, according to Cornel West, “consists of human deeds of justice and kindness that attend to the unjust sources of human hurt and misery. It calls attention to the causes of unjustified suffering and unnecessary social misery and highlights personal and institutional evil, ...

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5. Tragicomic Hope in Democracy

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pp. 77-98

Cornel West defines the tragicomic as “the ability to laugh and retain a sense of life’s joy—to preserve hope even while staring in the face of hate and hypocrisy—as against falling into the nihilism of paralyzing despair” (Democracy Matters 16). In an American context, this psychic technique is anchored to a blues sensibility ...

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6. Landing Song

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pp. 99-122

When I sat in a graduate seminar at Columbia University more than thirty years ago, our guest Toni Morrison told us that we should all become better poets than Homer because we get to read Homer while he doesn’t get a chance to read us. My ambition never ran that high. Working in the Odyssey Program was probably the closest I will ever get to Homer. ...


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pp. 123-136


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pp. 137-152


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pp. 153-159

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Author Bio, Back Cover

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pp. 175-176

Keith Gilyard is Distinguished Professor of English at the Pennsylvania State University, where he teaches courses in composition, rhetorical theory, and literature. His books include Voices of the Self: A Study of Language Competence, for which he won an American Book Award; ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780809387007
E-ISBN-10: 080938700X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809328543
Print-ISBN-10: 080938700X

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2008