Least Favorite Lit-Blog Thing: December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. I greatly admire the passion for life he demonstrated, his commitment to individual freedom and dignity, and his love of the written word.

Slate, where he was a regular columnist, has a moving obituary. I can do no better.

Slate writer June Thomas also has a nice piece linking to a number of his writings.

And then there is this by the man himself:

Trial of the Will” – Vanity Fair (January 2012 issue)

The world is a worse place today, December 16th, 2011.

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6 Responses to Least Favorite Lit-Blog Thing: December 16, 2011

  1. Kinna says:

    I just read this first at your blog! I’m sorry for our collective loss though I guess we’ve known this might happen any day. I love his writing even when I did not agree with all his stands (eg Iraq). But he spoke for me when it came to atheism. Such a big loss.

  2. Kerry says:

    Kinna,

    I share all of those sentiments.

  3. Justine says:

    Kerry, what is it that has you so enamoured with Hitchens?

    • Kerry says:

      I like that he never shied away from truth as he saw it. He could be very charming, but never allowed politeness to get in the way of truth. This made him something of a bastard on occasion. That’s a good thing.

      For instance, his obituary of Alexander Solzhenitsyn highlights both what was great about the man and, also, what was flawed. The flaws of “great” men are worth remembering, and this applies doubly to Hitchens. I think he would expect no less.

      His obituary of Solzhenitsyn is a good example because he lauds Solzhenitsyn’s courage, his refusal to be broken, in the face of a terribly corrosive system of government. Hitchens saw, with more than a dash of hubris, this quality in himself. He nurtured it as best he could.

      A story that endears him to me (beyond his own writings) is that told by one of his friends (Michael Totten) of a time in Syria. In response to a warning by Totten regarding Syrian Social Nationalist Party posters in Beirut with swastikas on them, Hitchens replied: “My attitude toward to posters with swastikas on them has always been the same. They should be ripped down.” And, so encountering a memorial with the SSNP’s Nazi-inspired symbol on it, he defaced it with a black marker (being unable to rip the metal sign down). He was beaten for his trouble. Even if he was sometimes (often?) wrong, he was willing to take the heat for his beliefs.

      I also think this story illustrates what I find most laudable about his views, they were mostly attempts at finding or cobbling together a political/ideological view that most opposed tyranny and most respected individual dignity. This, I think, best explains his flirtation with socialism shading towards communism and his defense of the Bush administration’s aggressive tack against Islamofascism. His primary concern was individuals versus tyrannical ideologies. This, together with his tendency to invite conflict, sometimes resulted in his defense of the reactionaries who, he later realized, had tyrannical aims themselves (i.e. Cuban revolutionaries, Sandinistas, etc.).

      His combativeness also made him unpleasant to people who disdained that personality trait.

      I like that he called bullshit. I like that he truly loved literature (as evident by his extensive and deep knowledge of it). I like that he passionately believed in the dignity of the individual.

      There was much I did not like about Hitchens, too, so I do not think “enamoured” is the best descriptor of my appreciation of him. But, given his genuine disdain for tyranny of any sort, his courage, and his wittily intelligent pen, it will do.

  4. Justine says:

    (I trust you read that Vaclav Havel died on Sunday?)

    • Kerry says:

      I did read that Vaclav Havel died on Sunday. His loss is, perhaps, a greater loss still than that of Hitchens. I only say “perhaps” because Hitchens was still in the thick of his career, while Havel’s greatest accomplishments had, fairly certainly, already been achieved.

      I know far less of Havel and have read little of his work, so feel the loss much less personally. Still, he is a much more significant figure, both on the literary stage and in the actual fight for human dignity. Hitchens, much to his shame, was playing at communist while Havel was fighting that evil ideology (and suffering for his bravery). Havel was a consummately serious proponent of the rights of man, whereas Hitchens was, often, more performance artist than intellectual.

      So, to the extent your two questions are linked, certainly Havel achieved more and his death deserves recognition.

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