Writings of the general word's body

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chistopher Hitchens 1949-2011

Above, the Christopher Hitchens memorial page by Vanity Fair, which announced his death from oesophegeal cancer yesterday. British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was quoted by the BBC as saying, "Christopher Hitchens was everything a great essayist should be: infuriating, brilliant, highly provocative and yet intensely serious."

My longish tweet, posted yesterday

Yes, Christopher Hitchens could be infuriating. I was a major Dianaphile. Yet, no more than about a year after her death, Hitchens had a programme on British television that ran against the mood of the time.

Unlike Camille Paglia's reverential, icon-making 'Diana Unclothed' aired before the death of the Princess of Wales - Hitchens tore Diana to shreds. He didn't stop there; he poo-pooed the outpouring of grief of the British public over the late princess as one of the embarrassments of the age, a new low in the culture.

Here I was watching this while still wearing my cloak of mourning for Diana. I couldn't believe it. I saw Hitchens' programme as one of the first strikes in the Diana Demystification project that held sway in British society in the years to follow, a not entirely unsuccessful one.

We were subjected to the revisionism that would have Diana's adoring millions believe that their affection for her was grossly misplaced. Dianaphiles became muted voices, the way was paved for the grudging acceptance, or indifference to Camilla Parker-Bowles. Diana had gone to her tragic grave. The world moved on.

But watching Christopher Hitchens marshall his argument all those years ago, I was astonished at the gall of the man. He even had the Bee Gees' song 'I Started A Joke' play in one segment. Diana started the world laughing, then crying; oh if only she knew that the joke was on her - was the point. What about respect for the dead? I kept wanting to ask.

Oh but the brilliance with which he argued his case. I hated Christopher Hitchens' argument, but I loved the way he argued it; and watched, riveted, to the end.

It's impossible to get round to reading all the worthy material that's been published on Hitchens in the last 24 hours alone. Of the few that I've read, I loved Ian McEwan's the most.

Christopher Hitchens: 'the consummate writer, the brilliant friend'

The next morning, at Christopher's request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker's biography of Chesterton. Whenever people talk of Christopher's journalism, I will always think of this moment.

Consider the mix. Chronic pain, weak as a kitten, morphine dragging him down, then the tangle of Reformation theology and politics, Chesterton's romantic, imagined England suffused with the kind of Catholicism that mediated his brush with fascism, and his taste for paradox, which Christopher wanted to debunk. At intervals, his head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line. His long memory served him well, for he didn't have the usual books on hand for this kind of thing. When it's available, read the review.

I shall.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I too, loved the Ian McEwan's tribute piece. I absolutely loved Mr. Hitchens' mind, I followed his articles and writings religiously. I never agreed with him on anything, and I always had the feeling that he became more controversial for self promotion. Even then, as much as I loathed his arguments, I loved the way he argued. What a loss in so many ways.