Ain’t That a Hitch

9 Sep

For someone interested in both culture (literary) and politics (that would be me) the inimitable Christopher Hitchens is a font, nay, a roaring stream of information and provocation. And the publication of almost anything by the preternaturally gifted writer is cause of much stirring and clattering amongst the chattering class. Hitch (as he is frequently referred) has a new tome,Arguably (Twelve), a book of essays described by hits publisher as encompassing subjects ranging from:

…ruminations on why Charles Dickens was among the best of writers and the worst of men to the haunting science fiction of J.G. Ballard; from the enduring legacies of Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell to the persistent agonies of anti- Semitism and jihad. Hitchens even looks at the recent financial crisis and argues for the enduring relevance” of Karl Marx…

Amongst the fanfare attendant to Hitchen’s new opus is an excellent article from Australia,There’s Just One Hitch a shrewd and observant snapshot of the irascible writer:

Hitchens, especially when his blood is up, is capable of advancing poor arguments along with good ones. But we wouldn’t want to be without his readiness to get personally involved. For Hitchens, the life and the work are thoroughly intertwined. His famous essay on waterboarding is here: the one in which he researched that procedure by volunteering to undergo it himself. Believe Me, It’s Torture runs the title of his essay. In Vietnam he visits a hospital for victims of Agent Orange and emerges with almost unbearably vivid descriptions of the malformed children inside. “One should not run out of vocabulary to the point where one calls a child a monster,” he writes, “but the temptation is there.” It’s a rare writer who can strike a note like that and also, at the other end of the register, make you laugh out loud. Ripping into waiters who top up your wine while you’re trying to talk, Hitchens is brilliant. His famously close-to-the-wind piece Why Women Aren’t Funny is here too. “Please do not pretend not to know what I am talking about,” he says in that essay: a phrase that would have made an apt title for the whole book, if an unfeasibly long one.

In 2001 I had the great pleasure of twice chatting with Hitchens, once at the Plough and Stars in Cambridge where he did his reputation for a monumental thirst proud. My second encounter was equally worthy and I am frequently buoyed by a citation Hitch offered in our tête-à-tête:”The voice of reason is small but persistent.”-an inscription from the Sigmund Freud memorial in Vienna.

As is common knowledge Christopher Hitchens is battling a lethal cancer and has in recent times lost his hair and his voice( one wonders why the press materials picture a pre-hair loss Hitch) and sadly (for me and many others) the above conversations with Hitchens will not be appended.

So it goes.

Currently reading Triple Crossing Sebastian Rotella (Mulholland Books)

2 Responses to “Ain’t That a Hitch”

  1. carl quinlan September 13, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    I find it distressing that there is a possibility that Henry Kissinger will outlive Hitchens.

    • robertbirnbaum September 14, 2011 at 12:56 am #

      I agree, though I had not considered that awful circumstance.

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