Thank you, Mr. Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens changed my life. I suggest in his passing, he'll change many, many more
When writing on the death of one of the most towering figures of my life, I resign myself to committing a heinous crime against the memory of the man I wish to honour. How is it possible to do justice?
This sentiment is infinitely more poignant when that hero is a man as gargantuan in intellectual and human stature, as intimidatingly verbose as Christopher Hitchens.
Leafing through the already voluminous works commemorating his life or simply reporting on his death, I note that the authors of such pieces feel precisely the above, grasping for the right words, possibly clutching at their thesauruses.
It is my estimation, from having read Hitchens widely and repeatedly, that he would have relished this idea. Words he described as ‘weapons’ and to know that his passing had precipitated a rekindling of the love for language that many commentators and journalists lose in the scramble for ‘good copy’ would have warmed his heart.
Of course there are already many trite, inaccurate commentaries on Hitchens’ death – born not out of malice, though this will inevitably come to bear – but rather out of a misunderstanding through idolisation.
For example, it must be pronounced that Hitchens was no atheist.
He asserts both forcibly and rationally in my favourite work of his, Letters to a Young Contrarian, “I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.”
In less than fifty words, Christopher Hitchens changed my life.
I went on to read how a man from a vehemently leftist background (Hitchens was an agitpropist for the International Socialist movement) went on to publish great works on ‘The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship’, the art of comedy with relation to gender, condemnations of Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger and most notably: God.
His ‘one consistency’ in challenging totalitarianism is eruditely affirmed from text to text, including those that he didn’t necessarily construct himself.
Utilising his formidable memory and ability to ‘flit and slip’ as he notes in a recent interview for the New Statesman, Hitchens spends as much time introducing his readers to the works that shaped his worldview, rather than simply acting as a raconteur of his own consciousness. This was literally half his art. I’ll never forget being introduced to Byron and Khayyam through Hitchens. Degenerating into hands like his was a pleasure.
In his staggering and unrelenting defence of the war in Iraq, Hitchens made enemies of many old friends, putting principle above the proclivity to temper one’s tone in the presence of old comrades.
A most memorable statement at the time of the war in Afghanistan offers an insight into how Hitchens could rationalise a controversy, or contextualise morality:
“Cluster bombs are perhaps not good in themselves, but when they are dropped on identifiable concentrations of Taliban troops, they do have a heartening effect.”
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