Don’t miss the chance to hear the controversial commentator Cornel West in dialogue with other great minds on politics, philosophy and literature, touching in particular on issues of race and identity.  

Our future is greater than our past.

A line from Ben Okri's poem 'Turn on your light'

He is a philosopher and a Princeton University professor.  On top of that, he is an activist, actor and orator. In his youth he had run-ins with the authorities during marches in support of civil rights. His best known books are Race Matters and Democracy Matters. The legendary Cornel West will be in Cambridge at the start of May to take part in wide-ranging conversations with three other people unafraid of tackling big questions.  All events are free and open to the public.

West will engage in a debate with Paul Gilroy on ‘Politics and Race’ (3 May), with Mary Margaret McCabe on ‘Philosophy in the Public Sphere’ (7 May) and with Ben Okri on ‘Literature and the Nation’ (9 May). 
Both Gilroy and McCabe are at Kings College London, where Gilroy is known for his work in postcolonial studies and McCabe for her focus on Plato, one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy. Poet and novelist Ben Okri published his first novel when he was only 21 but made his name with The Famished Road which won the Booker Prize in 1991.

Each of the three dialogues will be chaired by a different respondent who will also guide the subsequent audience discussion. The respondent at the first event will be Stephen Tuck, from the University of Oxford, at the second Constanze Guthenke, professor of classics at Princeton University, and at the third Malachi McIntosh, a fellow at King’s College, Cambridge.

In his acclaimed book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, Gilroy revisits the notion of diaspora as peoples are cut adrift from their cultural source or origin. His own background as the child of Guyanese and English parents informs his views as a social and political commentator and he has spoken out against the criminalisation of the young black community in Britain. 

Raised in Britain and Nigeria, Okri was deeply affected by his experiences as a young man, which included a period of homelessness that he has described as vital to his inner world as a writer. His work weaves together strands of realism, folklore and myth into a narrative that defies categorisation. In an interview he is said to have rebuffed the term magical realism with the argument that “a horse ... has four legs and a tail. That doesn’t describe it".

The line ‘Our future is greater than our past’ was chosen from Ben Okri’s visionary poem ‘Turn on your light’ as an inscription for one of the pillars of the Commonwealth Memorial Gates at London’s Hyde Park Corner, built in 2002 to remember soldiers from the British Empire forces killed in the two World Wars.

McCabe has written a number of books on Plato and published work on other ancient philosophers, including the pre-Socratics, Socrates and Aristotle.  In her book Plato’s Individuals she contradicts the long-held belief that Aristotle was the first to discuss individuation systematically, arguing that Plato was concerned with what makes something a something and that he solved the problem in a radically different way than did Aristotle.

All events will take place from 5.00-6.30pm at the Faculty of Law, Sidgwick Site, University of Cambridge. Free, open to all, no need to book.

For more information contact Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, 01223 761673.

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