Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, 1949 - 2011

Christopher Hitchens -- a man who wrote some genuinely fine sentences -- died yesterday. I have mixed feelings about the man's work (which I won't elaborate on now), but none about his death, which is utterly shitty, as all death is. Particularly death too young, when the person had work left to do.

Here are some things that some other people have said.

PZ Myers
Hitch is dead. We are a diminished people for the loss. There can be and should be no consolation, no soft words that encourage an illusion of heavenly rescue, no balm of lies. We should feel as we do with every death, that a part of us has been ripped from our hearts, and suffer pain and grief — and we are reminded that this is the fate we all face, that someday we too will die, and that we are all “living dyingly”, as Hitch put it so well.

As atheists, I think none of us can find solace in the cliches or numbness in the delusion of an afterlife. Instead, embrace the fierce strong emotions of anger and sorrow, feel the pain, rage against the darkness, fight back against our mortal enemy Death, and live exuberantly while we can. Confront mortality clear-eyed and pugnacious, uncompromising and aggressive.

It’s what Hitch would have wanted of us.

It’s how Hitch lived.
The NYT Obituary:
He also professed to have no regrets for a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking. “Writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that — or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation — is worth it to me,” he told Charlie Rose in a television interview in 2010, adding that it was “impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle.”
David Frum:
A friend of theirs once took Christopher Hitchens and his wife Carol Blue to dinner at Palm Beach’s Everglades Club, notorious for its exclusion of Jews.

“You will behave, won’t you?” Carol anxiously asked Christopher on the way into the club. No dice. When the headwaiter approached, Christopher demanded: “Do you have a kosher menu?”
Dave Zirin:
Christopher Hitchens was a man of prodigious gifts, but in the end, he used those gifts to promote wars that produced a killing field in the Middle East. That, tragically, is his lasting legacy to the world, and no amount of flowery obituaries can change this stubborn fact.
(The Nation's more cordial official obituary is here.)

Andrew Sullivan has a very moving video here. Unsurprisingly, Sullivan's blog has been Hitch central today (many of these links are from there): his first reaction to the news is here; he links to Auden's poetic porn "The Platonic Blow" in Hitchens's memory; two quotes from Hitchens's writings here. With doubtless more to come. (Update: Sullivan has a link round-up of his own Hitchens-related posts here, including a fair sampling of Hitchens quotations too.)

Here's a nicely-done collection of quotes from Hitchens about various subjects. And here are his answers to the so-called 'Proust questionnaire'. Selections from Hitchens's writing in their magazines have been posted at The Nation and The Atlantic.

Hitchens's brother, Peter.

No particular quotes, but here are memorial notices or other quotes, clips, etc from other people:
I may add more later if I see them. (Update: yep. Paragraph List below, too.)

Some more negative responses, which I'll separate in case anyone wants to obey the "hear no evil of the dead" rule:
Interesting to note that as time's gone on (and yes, I keep adding to this -- I don't mean to, but I keep seeing things here and there) the latter list has grown and grown after the former one has stopped expanding. I guess the backlash is well and truly on.


I said above that I wouldn't go into what I disliked about Hitchens's work; I didn't say so, but it was out of respect for the man the day after his death. But maybe I was wrong to do so: Hitchens himself set another standard, as this video clip of his appearance on Fox news right after Jerry Falwell's death shows. Perhaps it would be true to the man to light into his errors, even today?

But no. It wouldn't. For above all, Hitchens was true to himself, and refused to mold himself to fit the opinion of the world. He possessed, in this way, what Emerson called "self reliance" -- a refusal to bow to conformity (or consistency, for that matter.) And if it is Hitchens's way to speak ill of the dead, I do not wish it to be mine.

For the same reason, I will not refrain (as PZ Myers and Greta Christina have urged) from saying "rest in peace" -- not because I have any more belief in an afterlife than they or he, but because I don't actually think it means that: it's just a ritual, something to say when you hear about a death and feel that "every man's death diminishes me, because I am part of mankind".

So I won't say what I dislike about his work; I will wish him (not really, just verbally) a peaceful rest. Because Hitchens exemplified being true to one's beliefs, right or wrong, in the face of the world's lashing you in the face with its displeasure.

And that, Noble Readers, is a legacy. And a loss.

Rest in peace.

Still later update: I keep seeing Hitchens pieces -- I guess because this damn grading is taking forever they're being published everywhere. Most of it has been said well enough in the above (or here), so I shan't update any more. (Probably.) But I can't resist linking to this genuinely brilliant satire of the entire affair by Neal Pollack, "I Knew Christopher Hitchens Better Than You." (Via 3quarksdaily, which notes that within a mere "72 hours we've gone from obsequy to backlash to satire".) If you've read even a fraction of the above-linked items, you should read that -- it's quite hilarious.

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