I first watched Astra Taylor’s brilliant film ‘Examined Life‘ a year or so ago. I was initially drawn to it as it contained a segment by the mercurial philosopher and social critic Slavoj Žižek. I had of course heard of Cornel West, the American philosopher, academic, activist, author, but had not read any of his publications.
I say that Examined Life is brilliant, partly because it focuses on the thoughts of key critical thinkers, like Žižek and West, but also Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt and Judith Butler. But perhaps more than the content of each individual’s thoughts is the fact that by their very actions they are pulling philosophy out of academic journals, textbooks and classrooms, and put it back where it should be – on the streets. Taylor accompanies these thinkers through places and spaces that hold particular resonance for them and has helped them formulate their ideas.
For West, driving through Manhattan stimulates his critical thinking and sees him comparing philosophy to jazz and blues, reminding us how invigorating and exciting a life of critical thinking can be. Furthermore, he encourages us to adopt philosophy as a critical disposition, informing and shaping our lives and intellectual development. West’s drive to highlight philosophy’s power to transform the way we see our self and how we fit in to the world around us, is essentially a microcosm of Taylor’s documentary.
You can watch Cornel West’s thought-provoking contribution to ‘Examined Life‘ here: