With great satisfaction Tavis Smiley tells a crowd of apparent admirers how Cornel West is a University Professor at Princeton, "the youngest"?person ever to be awarded such an honor. Not?the slightest hint, in either West or Smiley, of any embarrassment, any awareness of what the real story is (the one we all know), as they repeat such words -- so meaningless or rather, so full of meaning but not in the way they suspect -- as "Harvard" and "Princeton." They want us to take this appointment at face value. Tavis Smiley really believes, and Cornel West really believes -- can they??do they??-- that Cornel West was a professor at Harvard, and then at Princeton, in the same way, for the same reasons, as Erwin Panofsky, or Bernard Lewis, or Paul Freund, or Raoul Bott. I wonder what it is like to be someone on the faculty who, unlike West (and, of course, many others di tutti i colori) deserves to be there, and to walk across the campus, and observe walking across the same campus "University Professor"?Cornel West. Or to be a student watching other students babble on about how "brilliant" are lectures by Cornel West's, how "exciting" he is compared to all the others. What thoughts must go through one's head.
And how will historians of American intellectual life, the ones who write histories of this period, deal with this phenomenon??What will? they say? What can they say??
I won't bother to comment on that cloying repetition of the word "brother" except to note the echoes, presumably undesired, of Joel Chandler Harris.