The aim of my essay was not to measure reputations, as Martin Kilson claims The aim was to assess how reputations get measured these days. The essay grew from my dismay at how the conceits of celebrity journalism have increasingly garbled public presentation of ideas and politics. The garbling occurs on many fronts, but it has been especially damaging in the coverage of two overlapping areas: the new pop world of postmodern academia and the writings of the so-called “new black intellectuals.” I mentioned the first in passing, but concentrated on the second, where I believe the intellectual and political stakes are much greater.
Near the essay’s conclusion, I discussed the recent controversy over Cornet West’s writings, as an example of how, paradoxically, even tough-minded critics who try to look beyond the celebrity hype can wind up getting misled. What Kilson describes, with some highly selective quotations, as my attempt to launch “a kind of a...
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