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

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