In the latest issue of Theory & Event [sub. req.], a conversation between David Kyuman Kim and Cornel West from a month before the 2008 presidential election:

DKK: … Very few would deny that we’re living not just in the midst of a catastrophe but multiple catastrophes. We have financial catastrophe. We have Wall Street with the banking crisis. We have political, military, and humanitarian catastrophes with wars on multiple fronts. And frankly we have a moral catastrophe, where we as a nation have legitimated the use of torture such that we seem to have lost the ability to say “no” to it. So it seems to me that a catastrophic element has found its way into multiple spheres as well into our moral and ethical responses. This leads me to the question: what kind of politics emerges out of all of this? …

CW: Now I think in many ways the fact that we have to talk about the catastrophic forces us to acknowledge a fundamental shift in the focus of much of political theory. The pragmatists talk about the problematic, but no, we’re dealing with the catastrophic. Liberal political theorists want to talk about various incremental forms of inclusion, but no, we’re talking about the need for fundamental transformation. So that when you actually look at those who have been wrestling with the catastrophic—and from the European traditions of course it would be Walter Benjamin and his angel of history—it would be that perception of the pile-age of wreckage upon wreckage. It would be Benjamin’s eighth thesis on the philosophy of history in which he writes that the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency is the norm not the exception. So that the issue of poor people—and especially the issue of poor black and brown and red people—has always already been catastrophic. … But the question becomes: what did those people who proceeded from the catastrophic have to say? What did they think, what did they recommend? Of course Sheldon Wolin would be a grand example and exception to the dominant discourse in political theory in that he understands the gravitas of the catastrophic. That’s a rare thing among the political theorists. It really is.

Read more at Theory & Event.