Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: An Appreciation

This is crazy. I just happened to be reading Christopher Hitchens’ recently released collection of essays, “Arguably,” when I found out he died today from complications from throat cancer. Christopher Buckley on the back cover cites Hitchens as “the greatest living essayist in the English language.” Now I have to regretfully disagree.

If I were modeling a pompous villain who justly gets his come-uppance for a novel I am not equipped to write, I would have no further to look than Hitchens. You simply could not get away from this insufferable unquotidian wanker. Leave your TV on for five minutes - the Shopping Channel, Lifetime, anything - and the ubiquitous and misanthropic Hitchens would materialize in all his Caliban glory, cortex fully loaded, glottis engaged, lips ablaze.

I think he was required to register his vocabulary with the police.

One of the joys of not having a TV these past 18 months was no Hitchens. But then a week or so ago his book miraculously materialized in my home. To me, this proves the existence of God. If I didn’t put the book there, who did? I’m sure if the militantly atheistic Hitchens had been confronted with the evidence, he would have recanted on the spot and taken up Holy Orders or something.

Okay, my brother dropped it off, but - surely - my brother had to have been working through God.

And therein lies the glory of Hitchens. Love him or loathe him, he had zero tolerance for sloppy thinking, a standard he ruthlessly applied to himself. Say what you want, this is a man who never insulted our intelligence by showing up to a gun fight with a knife.

Hitchens was always at his best in righteous indignation mode, whether in attacking Bill Clinton or Henry Kissinger or Mother Teresa. This from an essay, “Old Enough to Die”, an impassioned and carefully reasoned Philippic against sending kids to the death chamber:

So a sober panel of robed figures, calmly reviewing the life-or-death case of a disturbed child, determines in writing that said child may be “factually” or technically innocent, but further determines that this is not really any of its business.

A little later: “This February, Sellers was led out of his cell and put down like a diseased animal.”

Ah, the Hitchens I love.

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