Good Bye Hitch

16 Dec

Christopher Hitchens circa 2001 Copyright 2011 Robert Birnbaum

One of the reasons that there will be an inordinate amount of ink, literal and virtual,spent on the passing of the mighty Christopher Hitchens is that, unquestionably, his talents were the envy of anyone who ever aspired to reportage and or writing. To say that his prodigious output seemed effortlessly achieved is attested to by everyone who ever worked with him or watched him work. Now he has passed on and all those of us who knew him or of him can behold in wonder what he had wrought.

I am pleased to recall a few hours I spent with (so-called) Hitch on 2 separate occasions— one a leisurely summer mid day where he impressed with his legendary capacity for distilled liquids and conversation and another in which we briskly discussed his energetic little feulliton, Letters to A Young Contrarian It should not go unsaid that I recall those occasions vividly.

Since there will be an oceanic outpouring allow me to guide you to two invaluable sources on Mr Hitchens. One,by his dear friend Martin Amis who recently had pause to comment on the coming departure of his dearest friend— the headline of which bellowed ‘He’s one of the most terrifying rhetoricians the world has seen’ He concludes

…The science of cosmology is an awesome construct, while remaining embarrassingly incomplete and approximate; and over the last 30 years it has garnered little but a series of humiliations. So when I hear a man declare himself to be an atheist, I sometimes think of the enterprising termite who, while continuing to go about his tasks, declares himself to be an individualist. It cannot be altogether frivolous or wishful to talk of a “higher intelligence” – because the cosmos is itself a higher intelligence, in the simple sense that we do not and cannot.

Anyway, we do know what is going to happen to you, and to everyone else who will ever live on this planet. Your corporeal existence, O Hitch, derives from the elements released by supernovae, by exploding stars. Stellar fire was your womb, and stellar fire will be your grave: a just course for one who has always blazed so very brightly. The parent star, that steady-state H-bomb we call the sun, will eventually turn from yellow dwarf to red giant, and will swell out to consume what is left of us, about six billion years from now.

Also there is an inspired précis of Hitchen’s recently published essay anthology, Arguably (Twelve)by the insufficiently celebrated George Sciallaba.Scialabba turns the wonderful trick of viewing Hitchens as a latter day Edmund Burke quoting William Hazlitt:

Burke was an acute and accomplished man of letters—an ingenious political essayist. … He had the power of throwing true or false weights into the scales of political casuistry, but not firmness of mind enough (or shall we say, honesty enough) to hold the balance. When he took a side, his vanity or his spleen more frequently gave the casting vote than his judgment; and the fieriness of his zeal was in exact proportion to the levity of his understanding, and the want of conscious sincerity.

Rest in peace does not strike me as quite the right tone with which to bid Christopher Hitchens adieu— I’ll best remember him quoting the inscription he claimed adorned the Freud memorial in Vienna: “The voice of reason is small but persistent”

Currently reading The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun by Robert Greenfield (Simon & Schuster)

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