By Kyle | April 22, 2012
At the Martin Amis eulogy for Christopher Hitchens in New York City last week, Amis revealed that Hitchens confessed to being in “a world of pain” when the Iraq War, which he vigorously supported, was going badly, suggesting that Hitchens’ contrary nature was not as easy as it looked. Amis also said that Hitchens invariably referred to Amis as “my dear little Keith.” This is interesting; the central or most memorable characters of Amis’s novels “Dead Babies,” “London Fields,” “Yellow Dog” and “The Pregnant Widow” are named Keith, and in all but the last of these (which is fairly autobiographical) the character is hilariously reprehensible. I wonder if this must be a reference to “Dead Babies,” from 1975 (or whether Amis named the character in that book Little Keith to please Hitchens; the two had already been friends for a few years). Anyway, the Little Keith in that book is Amis-sized (I’d say Martin is about 5′ 4″), and a socially isolated, perpetually angry object of universal loathing (his last name is “Whitehead”) who wears gigantic cowboy boots to try to make up some of his size deficit. He’s one of Amis’s finest comic creations, as is the even more vivid Keith Talent, the pub-crawling burglar in thief in “London Fields.”
Update: I see the Wall Street Journal already reported that the “little Keith” sobriquet is indeed a reference to “Dead Babies.” Another interesting tidbit here (also alluded to in Amis’s eulogy) is that each friend thought of the other as the leader, the senior partner, and the one who was irresistible to women.
By Kyle | February 2, 2012
One of my favorite living writers on one of my favorite until-recently-living writers: Andrew Ferguson writes about Christopher Hitchens. I didn’t know until now that Hitch got the full Diana, with the obligatory mini-shrine outside his apartment building (near, I believe, what is now known as the Hinckley Hilton) consisting of notes from well-wishers, bottles of liquor, flowers, etc. The implied belief in an afterlife indicates that these well-wishers didn’t actually understand the character to whom they were wishing wellness.
I note in passing that the Apple store on the Upper West Side, in which I assume Steve Jobs never set foot, was home to a similar tribute for a couple of days last fall. The stuff seemed to embarrass the store, and employees quickly swept it away. Mourning is an odd phenomenon: Purporting to be about respect, it seems often to be about the mourner’s wish to achieve a piece of the action, a spurious connection with fame.
Anyway, says Ferguson of the media’s love for Hitchens:
The scurrilous opinions might bring him fame, but the fame would guarantee that the opinions wouldn’t matter.
I’m not quite sure this is quite right, though after 19.2 years working in the New York City media I have noticed the ways in which fame trumps all. I think it was the whole package of personality — and the baritone voice with its rounded Oxonian vowels was a huge part of it — that brought him fame. Lots of other politiical writers expressed out-there opinions; none achieved his renown.
By Kyle | January 6, 2012
Who says there’s no life after death? Well, Christopher Hitchens, for one, but since his demise he’s remained a lively essayist. Here he is with a Charles Dickens bicentennial piece. He’s still got at least one more piece to run, not to mention a forthcoming memoir.
By Kyle | December 27, 2011
In case you were busy over the weekend, you might not have noticed that Christopher Hitchens got in a posthumous poke at Christmas in the Wall Street Journal, in which he bemoaned enforced seasonal joy.
If you take no stock in the main Christian festival of Easter, or if you are a non-Jew who has no interest in atoning in the fall, you have an all-American fighting chance of being able to ignore these events, or of being only briefly subjected to parking restrictions in Manhattan. But if Christmas has the least tendency to get you down, then lots of luck. You have to avoid the airports, the train stations, the malls, the stores, the media and the multiplexes. You will be double-teamed by Bing Crosby and the herald angels wherever you go. And this for a whole unyielding month of the calendar.
I realize that I do not know what happens in the prison system. But I do know what happens by way of compulsory jollity in the hospitals and clinics and waiting rooms, and it’s a grueling test of any citizen’s capacity to be used for so long as a captive audience.
I once tried to write an article, perhaps rather straining for effect, describing the experience as too much like living for four weeks in the atmosphere of a one-party state. “Come on,” I hear you say. But by how much would I be exaggerating? The same songs and music played everywhere, all the time. The same uniform slogans and exhortations, endlessly displayed and repeated. The same sentimental stress on the sheer joy of having a Dear Leader to adore. As I pressed on I began almost to persuade myself. The serried ranks of beaming schoolchildren, chanting the same uplifting mush. The cowed parents, in terror of being unmasked by their offspring for insufficient participation in the glorious events…. “Come on,” yourself. How wrong am I?
Santa as Kim Jong Il! Perfect. I believe there is at least one more posthumous piece coming from Hitchens, on G.K. Chesterton.
By Kyle | December 19, 2011
Stephen Fry hosts a video tribute to Christopher Hitchens a month or so ago….Reading the many fine obits and appreciations, I wonder why it is that these couldn’t have been published a month or two ago, when Hitchens could have chuckled over (and perhaps) rebutted them? Funerals are for the living; why not “living obituaries” for those who have announced a fatal illness or reached some milestone such as retirement?
By Kyle | August 19, 2011
I was wondering what Christopher Hitchens would say about the gleeful spate of mob destruction in his native land. I suspected he wouldn’t be able to take a full-on conservative position because, as I’ve explained before, his style is generally to automatically defend the perceived underdog.
Being an old Marxist, naturally he would see the underdog here in economic terms — the yob classes who are well alienated from their work and yet not particularly beholden to the state that lovingly writes them welfare checks. The real underdog is of course the innocent bourgeois shopkeeper trying to defend his turf against hooting arsonist mobs with no weapons to speak of and ineffectual or absent policing.
Hitchens can’t in good conscience make an affirmative case for arsonists, thugs and looters, though. So he punts. He produces, somewhat fatuously, an anecdotal list of previous instances of mob crime in England.
This is a bit of a cosmic shrug. And it is an uneasy gesture from such a thoroughly “engaged” public intellectual. The key line of his piece is, after he calls the “there is nothing new under the sun theory” too “callous” and a failure of explanation, his U-turn question, “So how much fresh bad news is there really under the sun?” Rhetorical jiujitsu!
The direct implication of this argument is that no policy change is needed, except maybe a little something should be done about gangs. There were Catholic-Protestant disturbances in the 1700s, same-o, same-o, right? (This is what Christopher means when he tells us to look up our Dickens: “Barnaby Rudge” is about vicious mob attacks against Catholics in the Gordon Riots of the 1780s.)
Yet organized gangs, with secret handshakes and cool insignia, are a bit passe, aren’t they? Anyone can organize what amounts to a gang instantly, via Twitter, advising any opportunists of the moment about where to go for their fix of “pure terror & havoc & free stuff.”
So how can Christopher also admit that his brother Peter’s stern arguments are “cogent”? (Or at least cogent for “the British right,” an odd qualifier. Does Peter’s case make sense or not?) Peter Hitchens has been saying for years that crime and disorder are out of control and getting worse due to utter fecklessness on the part of the authorities and a general moral rot. Christopher, who begins his piece (in incongruous cheerful-weatherman-mode) with some less than reassuring anecdotal good news about the mob scene, is telling us essentially to suck it up.
That will not do, not to anyone who loves England.
By Kyle | May 10, 2011
Unsentimental yet full of feeling and profound, Christopher Hitchens writes with great eloquence about “my year of living dyingly” and how it has robbed him of his speaking voice. One of his most moving essays, I think.
By Kyle | March 31, 2011
An ode to slash attack on the contradictions of Christopher Hitchens from the London Review of Books. Not only is it premature, but Hitchens keeps dishing out Slate columns every week. If this be dying, it looks pretty lively. I’ve just gotten a galley of “The Quotable Christopher Hitchens: From Alcohol to Zionism,” which is easily my favorite book of its kind since “The Alphabet from A to Y (with Bonus Letter Z)” by Steve Martin and Roz Chast. Part of the fun of the book is that it merrily quotes Hitchens when he is completely wrong, such as his foolhardy swipes at George Will and Charles Krauthammer.
I don’t relish a world without Hitchens: along with many people, I like to hear from a man of principle at moments when recourse to principle strikes him as the greater part of valour, and listen in on his boisterous indiscretion when it doesn’t.
So no thanks, not ‘played’. Not quite yet. And who but the press looks forward to the homage from the Hitchens camp: the opera buffa novelists, the prickly atheists and Muslim-baiters, the warrior intellectuals pondering their just wars? Can anything strike a harsher blow to a celebrity’s standing, dead or alive, than the thoughts of his close friends? Hitchens has an army of those. The silence of erstwhile comrades and the barbs of enemies old and new will do him more credit.
By Kyle | November 13, 2010
Christopher Hitchens continues to amaze. I’m told he has commmitted to two more books, one a work of nonfiction which I assume is to be a memoir and one to be a tome of selected, previously published essays. He is going to debate Tony Blair and give interviews, such as this lengthy one with the Guardian. I didn’t know Hitchens had a one-year affair with Anna Wintour in the 1970s; in “Hitch-22,” which should be listened to in its audio format (read by the author) to get the full force of the Hitch’s dry wit and determined baritone, Hitchens barely mentions his two wives, his girlfriends or his children (though he notes that he could scarcely conceal his pride when his son agreed to visit with him the Green Zone in Baghdad during a very violent period). His personal motto, he says in the book, is “Allons travailler,” or let’s work. I assume he is not cribbing this catchphrase from the Mark Wahlberg film “The Big Hit.” Though Hitchens’ health is not good, he is also very far from tossing in the sponge. As for the deathbed conversion, don’t wait up for it:
“So now I know that there’s another life in my body that can’t outlive me but can kill me, it’s the perfect moment to gratefully acknowledge that I’m a product of a cosmic design? Who thinks up these arguments? Actually it’s an insulting question: ‘I hear you’re dying. Well wouldn’t it be a good time to get rid of your beliefs?’ Try it on them and see how they would like it. ‘Christian, right? Cancer of the tits?’ ‘Well, yes, since you ask.’ ‘Well, can I suggest you now drop all that tripe?'”
Encouragingly, the correspondent — a superb writer himself, Andrew Anthony — admits to being bested by Hitchens when it came to drink:
We repair back to the apartment for a nightcap or two, and I fear it is I, the ostensibly well one, who crashes first.
The following morning Hitchens rises late, as is his routine nowadays, and after working for an hour or two, reconvenes our discussion over lunch. We sit in the dining room with the window open on a distinctly chilly autumn afternoon. He’s wearing just a thin shirt, while I shiver in a thick pullover. Not for the first time, I feel a twinge of pity for that tumour. Does it realise what it’s up against?
By Kyle | August 16, 2010
A rangy and unusually unsentimental interview with Charlie Rose shows Christopher Hitchens at his finest. Hitchens notes that his mother was a chain-smoker and his father was a heavy drinker. He begged his mother, at least, to stop. And his children took up the call with him. He said that the one thing that tends to make him lachrymose is the thought that he will not see what becomes of his children. Given the chance to do it all over again, Hitchens says he wouldn’t change: the late-nights, the conversation, the friendship made it all worth it. “Life is a wager,” as he puts it.
Hitchens makes it clear that his Iraq stance really was of a piece with his whole life: steadfast anti-totalitarianism. It’s the rest of the left that moved. Any enemy of America’s was a friend of theirs.
He admires President Obama for being “cerebral” but also calls the president “possibly very weak” in that he seems to believe that our differences in opinion with Iran are due to some sort of misunderstanding instead of Iran’s intransigent theocratic dictatorship and its dedication to the export of violence. “Confrontation is inevitable” with such a power. Hitchens worries that doubling the US presence in Afghanistan while announcing the date that they will begin to leave could be disastrous. Asked to name a political figure he admires, Hitchens sang, at length, the praises of Tony Blair.