Friday, November 9, 2012

Philosophy and Politics

[By Jerry Ward]

HBW Board Member Prof. Jerry Ward responds to questions posed on the HBW Blog and Facebook Accounts

Q:  Where can I read more about how Wright employed philosophy in his writing?  Who did he drawn on and what political experiences was he responding to?

A1:  You can read Philosophical Meditations on Richard Wright (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012), edited by James B. Haile, III and The Other World of Richard Wright: Perspectives on His Haiku (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011), edited by Jianqing Zheng.  These books will inform you about Wright’s uses of Western and Eastern philosophies.  To gain some insights about how philosophy was an integral part of Wright’s life and creativity, you should the biographies of Wright by Constance Webb, Michel Fabre, Margaret Walker, and Hazel Rowley.

A2:  An avid reader, Wright drew upon ideas from Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Albert Camus, David Hume, Voltaire, Miguel de Unamuno, Jean-Paul Sartre, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Plato, Martin Heidegger and from philosophical dimensions in the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

A3:  In the writing he produced from 1933 to 1960, Wright responded to American democracy and 
capitalism, Marxism, socialism, fascism, Communism and anti-Communism, Pan-Africanism, and colonialism.  He responded powerfully to how segregation and systemic racism falsified the promises of American democracy and the American Dream, to what World War II exposed about the triangulation of democracy, fascism, and Communism, and to the obligations the Cold War imposed upon aligned and non-aligned nation-states.  Please read The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference (1956) with passionate attention and be surprised by how much Wright understood about the origins of such terrorism as plagues the contemporary disorder of the world.

A4:  As James B. Haile aptly notes in his introduction to Philosophical Meditations, literature and philosophy are not mutually exclusive modes of thinking.  “Formal” considerations as used by professional philosophers, however, exclude Wright from the club.  As an African American intellectual, Wright was cognizant of the philosophical undercurrents in folklore and the blues.  His sustained interests in folk wisdom, political economy, history, human psychology, the nature of ideology, sociology, and philosophy made Wright one of the most astute thinkers among writers of the twentieth century.  Taken as a whole, Wright’s philosophically informed works constitute a model for contemporary critical thinking.

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