Community & Government

The Impact of Music on Humanity

Cornel West

Lesson time 07:07 min

In this lesson, Cornel explains how human beings can use music to process grief and how doing so can enable us to move forward.

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Topics include: Processing Grief Through Music


[MUSIC PLAYING] - One of the great figures in the early modern philosophical tradition was named Giambattista Vico. He wrote a text called "The New Science." It was Vico who began his text with humando, with burials. So it begins with corpses. And the question becomes, for him, what are human beings going to do with the corpses of their loved ones? And the first thing he says they do is they engage in guttural cries. They engage in visceral groans. They don't have a language. The catastrophe is so overwhelming that they cannot come up with an articulate discourse of words. It's something that's beneath the words, you see. And then that moves into either silence because you don't wanna say nothing. Sometimes the very uttering of the words, not just inadequate. It might even denigrate the reality of the loss. So you just honest. Ain't got nothin' to say. But then comes song. Somebody sang a song. How you goin' distance us from the grief long enough so that we can keep on going? We can't remain silent forever. We can't engage in guttural cries forever. What we gonna do? [MUSIC PLAYING] The 1830's the first time Black people in America ever came together as a public in the National Convention Movement, Philadelphia. Henry Highland Garnet stepped up to the lectern, and he only had one leg. He's leaning on his crutch, and he says, Black people, we must never confuse our situation with that of the Israelites of the Old Testament. For us, Pharaoh is on both sides of the bloody red seas. Somebody says, both sides? Everywhere you look, it's Pharaoh? That's right. Sometimes, Pharaoh might even be Black. But they've accommodated themselves to the white power structure. And you could imagine somebody in the audience saying, this is gettin' too dim and grim for me. Could somebody sing a song? Just hum. Sing a song. Allow us to come to terms with this kind of grimness. That's what Vico was talking about, you see. Because if you're gonna deal with history, you're gonna deal with time. If you're gonna deal with time, you're gonna deal with vanishing bodies into graves. And if you're gonna deal with vanishing bodies into graves, you're gonna have to come up with resources to deal with loved ones in those graves. And so you got the cries and the moans and the groans and the transfiguration of the suffering into either silence or sonic expression. And then you have discourse with words, see. So Vico says philosophy comes later. Even science comes later because science ain't got nothin' to say about the significance of the dead. It's just the coming and going and the perishing that takes place. But no. You say, when you a human being in time and space, this is not just the death of a cockroach. I know, again, we might have folk who have deep solidarity with cockroaches, so I don't want to downplay the ways in which their imagination might be real. But for the most part, the death of that cockroach is not quite th...

About the Instructor

Cornel West is one of the most profound, diverse, and intellectual thinkers of our time. Now he’s inviting you into the depths of his brilliant mind to teach you how thinking like a philosopher can help you navigate your personal relationships, your decision-making, and your everyday life by looking at the world from a completely different point of view.

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Cornel West

Distinguished philosopher Cornel West teaches you how to think more deeply, connect more closely, and live a more fruitful and meaningful life.

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