Downtown Charlottesville’s Leading Public Intellectual

We’re all guilty of taking ourselves a little too seriously around these parts; not just, but in Charlottesville as a whole. To that end, man-about-town Matthew Farrell has penned a letter to both The Hook and C-Ville Weekly requesting that they provide him with a title. (“Man-about-town” was the best that I could come up with.) Matthew has proclaimed himself to be “Downtown Charlottesville’s Leading Public Intellectual,” and accepts all of the rights and responsibilities that accompany that. Read on to see his letter in whole, which I find really quite funny, and hope that others will enjoy equally.

From: Farrell, Matthew

Sent: Tuesday, August 06, 2002

To: ‘Hawes Spencer (The Hook)’; ‘Cathy Harding (The CVILLE)’

Subject: ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES: an timely arrogation.

Fine day to you all!

Apologies for the informal (‘e’ always is) nature of this communication.

I suppose the realization had been gradually dawning on me for some time. While, though, yestreen flicking playing cards into a straw boater across the room in my penthouse-Altamont digs, feeling the gentle and substantial clarity and warm-wellness of a few carefully-chosen gin cocktails suffusing through my spirit, I was suddenly stirred by an insistent dimly audible voice from everywhere.

As you know it has been my calling these twelve years to serve downtown as its token dandy and rake, a boy-about-town placeholder in a public space requiring such a figure.

With broad national cultural changes ushered in by the new century, and certainly the local cultural narrowing brought on by extending the patronage of Downtown Charlottesville (masses oddly homogenizing not diversifying Downtown), I wonder if this role to which I gave myself with such abandon and earnest civic-mindedness might not be becoming a tad obsolete.

For the first part, nobody today knows anything of the tradition of the urban dandy, the necessity of him and the value to a community; to the rest, the sheer number of transients flowing through the Downtown life makes it difficult to ingrain in the public mind by a pattern of studied appearance and indolent appreciations what they en masse must see and observe, who have as a body so many distractions from civic concentration.

With these thoughts congealing, I had been casting about for something I could be or do to continue my pattern of selfless and committed service to this town and its people I love more than anyone or anything.

It was then this sweet yet low voice last night, speaking as if across all time and through all matter, finding me at-home in my tower above the Downtown, that made me to know the path.

I realized then at its urging that I must rise to fill an urgent void, that I must again estop the dike, that again I must needs for the good of this community stretch myself as a coat to cover the puddle, that Charlottesville might cross unsoiled.

The national magazine media, and of late its television and newsprint incarnations, are a-swell with the talk. They all cast about for a name, and choose largely in affirmation of some self-proclamation. For as with so many things of suspect probity, of plausible dubiety, who but one could proclaim to be one.

To wit: in the spirit of self-sacrifice, and in continuation of my substantial commitment to and practice of public service in Downtown Charlottesville, I proclaim myself to be, and would ask that in future editions you so refer to me, “Downtown Charlottesville’s Leading Public Intellectual”.

That said, I am certain you will see both the aptness of myself to fill this role, and the necessity of that someone fill this role. Who indeed else could? The University has them in dozens, who with the stroke of a pen or the drop of a phrase name and claim themselves Public Intellectuals. And the national media fatuously allows such self-creations (which soi-disant appellations endure a lifetime and write themselves in stone once death darkens). Think here a mile away of Mark Edmundson, Larry Sabato, John Casey. Who have we to stand beside them? Who would offer and who would dare, and who above all, would we support to do so? Who could be so serenely pompous, so perpetually accessible and present, so lazily comfortable in the public’s eye and esteem?

It should be abundantly obvious that politicians must be leading politicians, journalists must be leading journalists, and so on through the vocational ranks. It takes a chameleon, a person of infinite guile and mutility, a person of a flexibility and facility of mind and being, a person of infinite gall and infinite audacity, of limitless capacity for public self-texturing, posturing, a person without other overarching designation or role, to both proclaim to be and live the life of “Leading Public Intellectual”.

Brevo, I am now “Downtown Charlottesville’s Leading Public Intellectual”. I will make occasional vague cultural proclamations, occasionally challenge the proclamations of leading public intellectuals from elsewhere, occasionally meet with other leading public intellectuals from elsewhere, and otherwise uphold the distinction to the best of my abundant or adequate ability, with appropriate pomposity, loftiness of purpose, self-significance, and amorphous/ambiguous opining.

To the end of presenting a solid front, and providing Our Beloved Charlottesville with its very own, and now culturally necessary, “Leading Public Intellectual”, I would ask that the two of you recognize and support me in this effort. Please when it is necessary or condign to refer to me in your respective publications, append the titular “Charlottesville’s Leading Public Intellectual” to my name or any other reference to me.

I will be sending out informal notice to several leading public intellectuals in the University community, just to let them know that I will be acting as their opposite number downtown. When distinguished leading public intellectuals visit from other towns, cities, states, countries, I will endeavor to drop them each a card just to let them know that I am available here to greet and discuss heavy matters in light ways with them. I will dutifully accept the keys to the City, or other proferred honoraria as my well-wishers amass such offerings.

Know my dedication to and humility in serving Downtown, and to you each my gratitude and respect.

Matthew S. Farrell

Downtown Charlottesville’s Leading Public Intellectual

19 thoughts on “Downtown Charlottesville’s Leading Public Intellectual”

  1. what’s with this guy? Is this the odd little dude is see strutting down the mall dressed like a sockless gangster? He sure does strive for attention!

  2. Our own dear Emperor Norton, Matthew Farrell has in fact already been performing the duties of this position for many years without formal recognition. I suggest that his new occupation be fully sanctified by a visible badge of office, such as a purple sash festooned with shining medallions and striped ribbons.

    I also suggest that Mr. Farrell, Downtown Charlottesville’s Leading Public Intellectual, be recognized by the Chamber of Commerce and the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation for the purpose of promotion and tourism. Farrell-themed postcards, collected quotes and coloring books should all be made available to visitors.

  3. Too bad that the Cville Weekly wouldnt dare to print Farrell’s (Downtown Charlottesville’s Leading Public Intellectual) proclamation nowdays. They dont touch anything interesting or fun anymore. Whatever. The Hook will probably print it and anyone who’s anyone will read it here and know that the Cville Weekly chickened out as usual.

    On a more personal note, my cat died when I was 11. I’ve never really been able to let go.


  4. A stray cat had kittens in my daughter’s bedroom last week. Want one to help you deal with your loss?

  5. Even though I frequent the downtown mall, I had never heard of this guy. No idea if the picture does him justice or not. Apparently, there’s a dearth of on-line information about him, though he does appear to somewhat frequently comment on various message boards.

  6. We let it in and fed it so it’s not really a stray anymore. It’s going to the vet to get its shots and to get spayed. It’s a real nice cat and I’m sure the kittens will be just as friendly. Don’t you want one?

  7. Pretentious? Have you ever actually talked to him? He’s by no means pretentious or stuck up. As far as intellectual wanking in concerned, I suspect that the toungue in cheek aspect of his letter just went way over your head.

    I think that you’re just jealous of him because he has spiffier clothes than you do.


  8. I suggest you provide to all your particular brand of dictionary, whenever you are driven to impart the heavy matters you adequately amassed, with perfect pomposity, as I can’t find many of the words you use. Is “Brevo” to mean “brièvement”, or is it simply a typo for “bravo”?

    To the end of smothering any and all misunderstanding, I am one of your [undoubtedly numerous] well-wishers. Hopefully, your response will not establish concrete ground for a potentially morphing opinion!

  9. I suspect that the toungue in cheek aspect of his letter just went way over your head.

    Irony is in such short supply these days, thanks for providing me with some. You made the very mistake you think I made. :)

  10. Sure after all these years, Charlottesville finally gets a (LPI)Leading Public Intellectual and it turn’s out to be a white guy! Just goes to so you that the New South has not gotten that New after all. In the Name of Al Gore and the little people there must be a recount.

    We can all help by nominating our own LPI.

    My nomination: Kevin Cox- He asks tough questions of public official and he’s got FREE kittens!

  11. Thanks but, "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination" because It might cut into my TV time. I’d rather watch The Simpson’s.

  12. Riigght….

    And Smoking Joe (you know, writing in front of Higher Grounds), Doyen des Belles-Lettres and All-Around Laureate Emeritus.

  13. If by spiffy clothes you (RE: Guest) mean a combination of rolled-up cuffs the likes of which i haven’t seen since the mid-80’s and a bow tie, then i guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on what constitutes stylish men’s fashion.

    To my main point:

    It’s not that I don’t ‘get it’. I do and it’s just pathetic really. It might not be if the author of the letter were not so obviously, and for some reason that only he seems to know, obssessed with establishing his own authentic intellectualism over against the inauthentic intellectualism found in the university community. He must have some beef with the academic world not completely reducible to a distant disdain for the pretension and irrelevance that do, sometimes (but not all the time), mark that world. Who knows why, but it is apparent if anyone has been following his "work" the last 8 months (in the hook, the declaration). In all of these pieces there is something on display that is hard to watch — kind of like the kid who does something that causes his friends to turn away (literally or metaphorically) in embarassment. He sneers, he degrades, he oversimplifies. Which is why his public self-displays are pathetic — and not funny or ironic, but simply: bitter and angry and filled with barely-disguised hate. Why don’t you give us all a break from your self and satisfy your narcissism in private for awhile — a year or so should be sufficient?

  14. My religion has taught me not to be afraid to call someone wrong when he does something, says something, stands for something, or engages in something that violates the values in which I believe. Without going into all the gory details, let’s just say that I oppose Matthew Farrell’s invectives because they are malicious. I oppose them because they are bloodthirsty. And I oppose them because they will expose and neutralize Matthew’s enemies rather than sit at the same table and negotiate quicker than you can double-check the spelling of "hydrometallurgically". I wish I could say this nicely, but I don’t have much tolerance for what I call intemperate tax cheats: After hearing about his diabolic attempts to gain a virtual stranglehold on many facets of our educational system, I was saddened. I was saddened that he has lowered himself to this level. Those of us who are still sane, those of us who still have a firm grip on reality, those of us who still suspect that I avoid the most brainless rabble-rousers you’ll ever see like the plague, have an obligation to do more than just observe what Matthew is doing from a safe distance. We have an obligation to end Matthew’s control over the minds and souls of countless people. We have an obligation to provide an atmosphere of mutual respect, free from escapism, alarmism, and all other forms of prejudice and intolerance. And we have an obligation to advocate concrete action and specific quantifiable goals.

    Now, I’m going to be honest here. As long as the beer keeps flowing and the paychecks keep coming, his apostles don’t really care that he easily impresses his co-conspirators using big words like "anthrohopobiological". But it goes further than that; those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Of course, if Matthew had learned anything from history, he’d know that all he really wants is to hang onto the perks he’s getting from the system. That’s all he really cares about. No one can deny that the problem of ribald dweebs serves as an excuse for Matthew to express his own hostility and frustrated need for power, yet now that I’ve been exposed to Matthew’s expedients, I must admit that I don’t completely understand them. Perhaps I need to get out more. Or perhaps I have a New Year’s resolution for Matthew: He should pick up a book before he jumps to the bitter conclusion that cultural tradition has never contributed a single thing to the advancement of knowledge or understanding. This makes the issue an even greater tragedy for a variety of reasons. For instance, if I seem a bit infantile, it’s only because I’m trying to communicate with him on his own level.

    As I remove the veil of ignorance I have lived behind, I find that Matthew is terrified that there might be an absolute reality outside himself, a reality that is what it is, regardless of his wishes, theories, hopes, daydreams, or decrees. Several things he has said have brought me to the boiling point. The statement of his that made the strongest impression on me, however, was something to the effect of how he holds a universal license that allows him to dig a grave in which to bury liberty and freedom. Sure, Matthew talks the talk, but does he walk the walk? It’s an interesting question, and its examination will help us understand how Matthew’s mind works. Let me start by providing evidence that Matthew proclaims at every opportunity that he’d never make it impossible to disturb his primitive gravy train. The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks. I may be beating a dead horse here, but I do want to point out that in a tacit concession of defeat, he is now openly calling for the abridgment of various freedoms to accomplish coercively what his blasphemous *****-and-bull stories have failed at. My goal for this letter was to encourage our spirits to soar. Know that I have done my best while trying always to debunk the nonsense spouted by Matthew Farrell’s bedfellows. Let an honest history judge.

  15. > I think that you’re just jealous of him

    > because he has spiffier clothes than you do.

    actually, will used to have once of his jackets.

    it gave him super-powers, but he had to give it back.

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