Friday, December 16, 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens

The death of Christopher Hitchens is hardly unexpected, given his protracted illness, but no less sad. We live in an age where a cacophony of fools spout all manner outrageous opinions for money, so it's a loss when a truly original, uncompromising voice is silenced.

I first came across Hitchens' work around 12 years ago when I discovered a collection of his essays and journalism on the bookshelf of a flat I was sharing. I liked the cut of his jib; the way he interspersed typically spiky, barbed pieces on modern politics with hymns to the joys of drinking and smoking, both of which I was fond of at the time, and both of which contributed to his untimely demise, as he was the first to accept. One of the first things I thought when I read one of his last articles, a painful yet beautiful examination of the agonies and indignities his illness had wreaked on his increasingly fragile frame, was how galling it must be for him to be unable to to have a fag. I doubt that crossed his mind though. If it had, I'm sure he'd have mentioned it.

It was also a delight to discover there was another Hitchens, an antithesis to the one with whom I was familiar. Chris left these shores for the US a long time ago, leaving behind his brother Peter, also a newspaper columnist, essayist and author. I can't think of two more different siblings. In one corner, Christopher, soaked in drink, mischievous, left-wing (in the main), iconoclastic, scathing of the natural order and of tradition. A stark contrast with Peter: puritanical, reactionary, a defender of the natural order and nostalgic for some mythical Golden Age of respect and deference. No wonder they were barely to able to be in the same room as each other. However, both shared a common trait, beyond an ability to write well, and a welcome one in my view (and about the only redeeming one regarding Peter): contrarianism.

It was always a delight to see Hitchens (Christopher) rub people up the wrong way. I wonder if he gravitated towards the US because there were so many more swivel-eyed, right-wing nutters there whom he could poke and jab than over here. Even more satisying, many of them were wore their faith as a badge of honour and, as we know, there were few greater enemies of the organised con that is religion than Hitchens. Of course, he also loved the US. The freedom, the possibility, the energy, which he contrasted with drab old Blighty, weighed down by the damp-encrusted grime of the ages. Though, as he also wrote, he did miss a decent cup of tea.

His contrarianism, or at least his refusal to adhere to rigid ideological lines, led him to some strange places.   His defence of the war in Iraq seemed bizarre to those of us who see it as no more than a rich man's war for oil; even those who supported his view on the rise of 'Islamo-fascism' wondered why he went to to such lengths to argue the case for a war based on such flimsy evidence. But he believed it was right, and while he scorned any belief in gods and other mumbo-jumbo, the one thing he always seemed to have absolute faith in was the right to have an opinion and to disagree, something many of his critics, and the regimes he criticised, were less enthusiastic about.

So tonight I'll raise a glass, though not a cigarette (I only do that these days when led astray by Cara or Yrsa...) to Hitch. The world just became a little more bland, while the hypocrites and liars, the pompous and the greedy, will sleep sounder in their beds, which is hardly a good thing.


Dan - Friday


  1. Last night, as I watched the last of the Republican Presidential Debates in silence (I'd lost my voice and could only gesture at the screen), I at one point actually thought of Christopher Hitchens. I did not realize he'd passed away that day and was wondering what might be going through his unique mind as he watched the not-so-magnificent seven vie for the most powerful leadership role on the planet.

    Had I known he was gone I'd have made sure to give a gesture or two on his behalf, though I'd probably have needed to borrow another pair of hands to do justice to his Hitchslap repartee.

    RIP, good man.

  2. Awwww!
    I knew he was very ill.
    But, like Jeff, I didn't know he was gone.
    I LOVED his writing.
    He made a difference.
    Would that the same could be said for all of us.

  3. Oh, this breaks my heart. The thing I liked best about Hitchens (aside from his prose, which was in a class by itself) was that he pissed off everybody at one time or another, at all points along the political spectrum. In an age in which I think much of the future depends on wholesale abandonment of the old knee-jerk left-right dichotomy, since both sides are so deeply compromised, Hitchens was a model of how to react in the new world: with intelligence, compassion, and humor.

  4. Though not unexpected, I am sad. He always made one think, and smile. I liked his wryness, and observations.

  5. Thanks all. And Tim - you're right, he was an equal opportunities contrarian. He wound up everybody.

    His brother has written this piece. It's wonderful.

  6. No one expects a hero of theirs to die even when the hero has been suffering from a life-ending disease with only one possible outcome.

    So it came as a surprise this morning when I first heard the news that one of my literary heroes had written his last words.

    Intelligence is afforded to so few these days and we have all lost one of the great intelligent thinkers of our time. Opinionated though he may have been, his opinions were based on thinking and written clearly for the world to read.

    He will be truly missed and I am saddened at his passing while others who the world would be better off with them dead, linger on.