The Hitchens Post

by A. Jay Adler on December 16, 2011
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Christopher Hitchens

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In the end, no one will be remembered, a monumental few for a very long time. Others, favored by fortune still, and the riches of their own beings – big, big people – leave a hole when they depart. The air is sucked out of the room, which subsides into a banal kind of quietude. After that – what? It’s a little like the way Christopher Hitchens disdainfully conceived of any heaven – rather like North Korea.

There will be many encomia and some idealizations, and robust obituaries that reflect him perhaps less imperfect than he was. Hitchens was the kind of person who drew people to him as the vacuum behind him. People who never knew him called him Hitch, just as his friends, in order to breed familiarity. “I met him once” or “I saw him at the whatever debate.” If you called him Hitch, then you were near to him, in his company, so to speak, even if you had never met him, and the air you breathed was a little richer.

Maybe so famous a friend as Martin Amis will write some time of what it was like to be his dearest compadre, but that surely will be a testimony of love.

From someone who deeply admired him, but who saw him whole, which is to say human and flawed, less great in his earthly manifestation than in his aura, but somehow larger again for having only passing flesh and circumstance and fleeting will from which to work, there will probably be nothing better than Jason Cowley.

Hitchens exuded what I thought then was a superb worldliness. His voice was deep and absurdly suave—and, in manner and attitude, he closely resembled his old friend Amis, both more than half in love with their own cleverness and verbal fluency. He was engaging, yet I found his confidence disturbing: he knew what he knew and no one could persuade him otherwise.

An absence of doubt defines his work. His weaknesses are overstatement, especially when writing about what he despises (Islamism, God, pious moralizing of all kinds), self-righteous indignation (“shameful” and “shame”, employed accusatorily, are favoured words in his lexicon), narcissism, and failure to acknowledge or accept when he is wrong. His redeeming virtues are his sardonic wit, polymathic range, good literary style, and his fearlessness.

….

Ultimately, I suspect, he will be remembered more for his prodigious output and for his swaggering, rhetorical style—as well as for his lifestyle: the louche cosmopolitan and gadfly, the itinerant and sardonic man of letters and indefatigable raconteur.

The culture no longer throws up people like the Hitch. Today, he is very much a man apart. He has no equal in contemporary Anglo-American letters; there are followers and disciples but no heir apparent.

A. J. Liebling used to say that: “I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.” He could have been describing Christopher Hitchens, who may have been silenced but whose essays and books will continue to be read and who, through the Internet, watched and listened to as he went about his business, provoking, challenging, amusing and stridently engaging with ways of the world, always taking a position, never giving ground. The Hitch, the only one.

Christopher Hitchens has left the room.

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2 comments

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Maureen December 16, 2011 at 11:09 am

He has left the room and perhaps taken the air in it with him; but wherever he is – and, as he’d appreciate, God forbid that one call it Heaven – he’s still writing, still provoking.

His last piece in VF shows that he never lost his edge, refused to give ground even when The Beast, as some in Cancer World describe it, was running roughshod, full speed.

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