Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hitch

I disagreed with him most of the time. But he wrote with intelligence and clarity so I read everything he wrote. His assemblage of words was always as elegant as he was rumpled. Don’t preen and crow as you take Hitchens to task for his views. He’d expect your response to be standard behavior for any self-respecting thinker—and certainly nothing to preen about unless of course, you were offering a robust counter.

We are slowly losing our public intellectuals. Or perhaps we are placing them in locales that are lost to me because I be damned if I can find 'em. I used to watch Firing Line with William F. Buckley when I was a kid and I don’t know exactly why because I really couldn’t grasp fully what they were talking about. But I do remember wanting to watch it because I envied this man who seemed to pop-off the most remarkable words in an almost unintelligible, at least for a kid in South Carolina, square jawed accent. He made me want to learn. I wanted to learn those words and I wanted to get better at grasping ideas and developing opinions. Hitchens did the same for me. And if I'm limited to passing on but one trait-habit-proclivity to my child, I'd want it to be the thirst for knowledge and the openness to accept all viewpoints before settling on hers.
Unwavering. Yep. That’s a proper word for Hitchens. His brother Peter said this about him… “My brother possessed courage to the very end, and if I often disagreed with the purposes for which he used it, I never doubted the quality or ceased to admire it. I’ve mentioned here before C.S. Lewis’s statement that courage is the supreme virtue, making all the others possible. It should be praised and celebrated, and is the thing I‘d most wish to remember."

“The acquisition of knowledge is the unending business of the soul” and I’m in Hitchens’ debt for helping feed my intellect. I generally don’t cower, based on my few experiences, in the presence of famous or powerful people. My problem with authority is such that I think I’m genetically predisposed to become surly as opposed to nervous in such circumstances. I think I’ve told the story of approaching Hitchens at Washington National Airport years ago but indulge me again. I was scared to do so but couldn't...not. And I could barely utter a word. Here’s an email I sent the other day recounting  it…

“Steve
It’s 533am EST and NPR woke me up at 5 with the news. I don't generally get nervous in the midst of public figures but I think I wrote somewhere that when I met Hitchens one day years ago at National Airport, I could barely get "hello" out of my mouth. He gravitated to a little 3 year old LFG who was in my arms and asked me about her. As he walked away I said to LFG..."I hope there will always be a Christopher Hitchens." He turned around and simply said..."thank you."”
I’m already missing the hell out of Christopher Hitchens. I’ve never had a glass of Johnny Walker. And certainly have never had one cut with a splash of Perrier. But I’ll do so sometime this week and simply say…thank you.

ADG II

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very well said! Indeed we are losing our intellectuals these days. It is interesting that you mention Hitchens and Buckley together, while polar opposites in most ways, I have always thought they were two peas in a pod. Some of there biggest rivals/critics were some of their best friends and in the end admirers. Tony Blairs comments on BBC Friday are a case in point. He said that even though he disagreed with him he always left thinking about his (Mr. Blair's) stance differently.

He will be missed.

Littoral Dave

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Wake up, man!

Christopher Hitchens. This is the man who denied God, trashed Mother Teresa, and advocated (on behalf of his beloved Israel) wars against Muslim and Christian countries, which have killed millions?!

Christopher Hitchens was a man of his times, a pseudo-thinker who parroted the conventional opinions of the liberal-totalitarian Establishment.

In his later years, having discovered his Jewish roots, he was identified with the pro-war 'Israel First' Neocons and became a darling of the chickenhawk conservatives.

Hitchens was a conventional Establishment thinker who pretended to be a rebel.

hawkeye315 said...

I was expecting you to have a word or two on Hitchens. Interesting...I, too, when quite young, attracted to Buckley's wit, asked my Mother about the odd sounding host of Firing Line. He spurred my desire to learn about politics and words and I read and watched WFB every chance I could. As WFB's output grew smaller I was encouraged when I re-discovered Hitch in the mid 90's. While they were polar opposites he too re-energized my desire to question, learn, and discover the art of words. His writings and opinions encouraged me to finish my Masters degree. Since his fatal diagnosis I have searched for someone to fill in that empty void...no WFB...no Hitchens...what to do?? what to do??

CD said...

Always appreciated Hitchens' questioning of the perceived status-quo, adding a new perspective (which I rarely, if ever agreed with), and his unwaveringly succinct, eloquent and gentlemanly dialogue wherever he spoke. Will be missed.

LPC said...

I think I know where the young ones are. I believe they are generating snark and ironic age round about the Internet. Have you ever read The Hairpin? Hysterical. Sarah Haskin's videos? Even Jon Stewart is sort of the type. My son seems familiar with the territory. It's very political, in an indirect way. Lots and LOTS of gender and race discussion.

Paul in NoVA said...

hawkeye315 - I recommend reading Andrew Sullivan (his blog is The Daily Dish). He is a longtime friend of Hitchens and a brilliant writer.

As for Hitch, I am a bit late to the party having mostly read his stuff from the Atlantic and Vanity Fair. I am still refusing to read his book on religion because I am told it will close the door for a skeptic, my current state as a lapsed Catholic, forever. I am not ready yet but I think I will at least buy it now.

GP said...

I think you're right to identify courage with Mr. Hitchens. He expressed himself in writing and words with precision, efficiency, and eloquence. He admittedly enjoyed the challenge of words, and conducted exercises with words to push the boundaries of expression, to uncover new thoughts within himself, and to encourage thought in others. In exchange for all his efforts, he only asked for a formidable challenge. A failure to respond to one's times, to adapt to changes and challenges, was for Mr. Hitchens an expression of cowardice.

Anonymous said...

I loved to read Hitch's work. I prayed for both his health and his soul. Finally, I offer up this for us Christians who will miss him:

(12/16/2011 entry)

http://www.visionforum.com/news/blogs/doug/

Richard M said...

I must agree with LBF on this one. Although I'm a Christian, I don't begrudge Hitchens' atheism. I do begrudge his public persona, his use of terms like "scumbag" to degrade those who differed with him, and his worship of such as Wolfowitz in lieu of God. A real intellectual, Prof. Tony Judt, recently died an equally awful death from a progressive neurologic disease (not related to personal habits). He was a civilized and learned man, with humility and manners. I miss Judt; I don't miss the self-inflated Hitch.

Paul in NoVA said...

Here is good post from Andrew relative to the criticism some here have raised.

http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/12/a-friend-and-a-war.html

Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

What I find most surprising about this post is that you have never had a glass of Johnny Walker.

UWO said...

Agreed.

ilovelimegreen said...

YWP- My thoughts exactly.

Richard M said...

The Salon article was perfect. Hitch was a foul mouthed braggart, who switched from vulgar left to vulgar right. But he was "good copy" for the media-like the Kardashians or Paris Hilton.

Anonymous said...

I never read any of his books but when he died I read what he was "about". I think it safe to say I would not have liked him very much. But I am sad for his family and friends. It hurts to lose someone you love.

GP said...

Every word has an appropriate use and place. The misuse and abuse of words can thus, and often does, qualify as a vulgar act. Mr. Hitchens was careful, always, in his choice of words. When they exceeded the norms of institutional expression, of social customs, or of present biases on the left or the right, Hitchens knew the risks and that he would be accused of "vulgarities against the masses." Still, Hitchens would face them on public podiums, and his pseudo-intellectual opponents of the left and the right would leave the stage with something more than the tail they came in with missing. Quite simply, the man knew what he was doing to them, what they failed to understand, and that this is supposed to be fun.

Barima said...

This was both well written and made me desire a drink. That's progress

BON

Sheik of Araby said...

That Laguna Beach creature hates anyone who doesn't share his unrepentant racism.

Anonymous said...

Laguna Trad- you are WAY OFF on Hitch, particularly his, as you write, "Israel First" leanings. As an Arab American I can tell that I very much respected his balanced, principled analysis of Middle East conflicts. This is the man who said, and I paraphrase, "how can a Jew born in the Bronx have an automatic right of return and a Palestinian who can trace back generations of his immediate family in Jerusalem does not have a right of return? It doesn't make sense and it's wrong." Laguna, I respectfully think you're mistaken on this one old chap:)

Young Fogey said...

I hate to have to come to Laguna Beach's defense, Sheik, but I'm afraid that he's mostly right.

Recall the title of one of his books: god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. (Yes, "God" is not capitalized in the title.) Hitchens was one of the biggest public atheists—well, anti-theists, to be accurate—of our times.

He was also a great proponent of our wars in the Middle East, though I'm not sure it was because he thought our involvement was good for Israel.

There's more to be said about him, but I would rather take my grandmother's approach here: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

Anonymous said...

"Laguna Beach creature" ha ha, funny.

heavy tweed jacket said...

I paid my respects by rereading his piece on the King James version of the Bible in the May 2011 issue of Vanity Fair. I, too, often disagreed with him, but he was a demanding writer to read and dialog/struggle with.

katon said...

Public intellectuals... good question.

Have you seen Lewis Lapham's new project Lapham's Quarterly? He has his own podcast now, too. A good use of his time after retiring from Harper's, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Peter Hitchens deserves more credit. He was often overshadowed by his older brother, which is unfortunate.

Julie Whitmore Pottery said...

Adored him. Loved hearing him pontificate on anything. Johnny Walker Black is milder, in case you haven't been to the corner liquor store as yet.

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