Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead


Just two days ago, I blogged about Christopher Hitchens' fight with cancer, posting some of Hitchens' own words about his desperate struggle. Well, yesterday, he lost the battle.

It's a fight we all lose, sooner or later, but that doesn't make this any easier to take, especially since Hitchens was only 62. (At my age, that no longer seems old.)

There are memorials everywhere on the internet, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason is collecting obituaries here. But the best memorial might be that Tribute to Christopher Hitchens YouTube video back in November, since he was still alive then to see it.

If you haven't seen it, check it out. Hitchens touched a lot of people. Me, too. I didn't agree with him about everything (though I certainly wouldn't have wanted to debate him!), but I don't agree with anyone about everything. And he was always worth hearing.

There will be tributes for some time yet, I'm sure, but here are just a few of the comments I've seen on the web:
Christopher Hitchens—the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant—died today [Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011] at the age of 62. Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the spring of 2010, just after the publication of his memoir, Hitch-22, and began chemotherapy soon after. His matchless prose has appeared in Vanity Fair since 1992, when he was named contributing editor.

“Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic,” Hitchens wrote nearly a year ago in Vanity Fair, but his own final labors were anything but...  At the end, Hitchens was more engaged, relentless, hilarious, observant, and intelligent than just about everyone else—just as he had been for the last four decades.

“My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends,” he wrote in the June 2011 issue. He died in their presence, too, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. May his 62 years of living, well, so livingly console the many of us who will miss him dearly. - Juli Weiner, Vanity Fair

We knew this was coming, but it doesn’t lessen the sting. ...

There are no words, for the man owned them all. And he produced them right up to the end. - Jerry A. Coyne

We knew him well; that is, he was one of those people who opened himself up so thoroughly, who expressed himself so excellently, who had a personality so strong, that millions of us can hold him in our mind’s eye. I can see him now — there’s a glass in his hand, his eyes are calm and steady, and he’s speaking in measured tones and with flawless English sentences with passion and reason perfectly intertwined. Even if I didn’t agree with him, I’d be standing awed and respectful before his clarity and elegance.

But I do not say farewell to Hitch. I do not say “rest in peace”. I definitely do not say that he has gone to a better place. I actually find myself already bracing myself for the next sign of deep disrespect that is destined to appear soon: the hackneyed political cartoon that draws him standing at the pearly gates.

Hitch is dead. We are a diminished people for the loss. - PZ Myers

A fair amount of what Christopher Hitchens said and wrote irritated the fuck out of me. Some of it even seriously angered me. But the man was brilliant. He did difficult, at times even dangerous work that few others were willing to do. He was fearless about saying what nobody else was willing to say. He debated with an army of facts ready at his tongue and a wit like a stiletto dipped in venom. He was often totally fucking hilarious. He was beyond eloquent.

And he faced his illness, and what he clearly knew was his impending death, with a courage and grace and brutal honesty that was nothing short of astonishing. ...

A fair amount of what he wrote irritated and angered me. And that’s one of the things I like best about the atheist movement. We don’t have to idolize our leaders and our heroes. We can disagree with them. We can recognize that they’re human. We can say to them one day, “Damn, that was brilliant”… and the next day say, “You’re being a fucking asshole, this is beneath you”… and the next day say yet again, “Okay, that was brilliant.” - Greta Christina

David Bradley, the owner of The Atlantic Monthly, to which Christopher contributed many sparkling essays, once took him out to lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. It was—I think—February and the smoking ban had gone into effect. Christopher suggested that they eat outside, on the terrace. David Bradley is a game soul, but even he expressed trepidation about dining al fresco in forty-degree weather. Christopher merrily countered, “Why not? It will be bracing.”

Lunch—dinner, drinks, any occasion—with Christopher always was. One of our lunches, at Café Milano, the Rick’s Café of Washington, began at 1 P.M., and ended at 11:30 P.M. At about nine o’clock (though my memory is somewhat hazy), he said, “Should we order more food?” I somehow crawled home, where I remained under medical supervision for several weeks, packed in ice with a morphine drip. Christopher probably went home that night and wrote a biography of Orwell. His stamina was as epic as his erudition and wit. - Christopher Buckley

We have lost an irreplaceable person in this age of American unreason. By “we,” I do not mean only atheists (although Hitchens is irreplaceable in that respect too) but everyone who values rationality and the English language. Hitchens, whose obituaries are devoting equal space to his atheism and his support for the Iraq war (he once called me stupid to my face for disagreeing with him about the latter), was a great, scathing Anglo-American writer in the tradition of Thomas Paine, George Orwell and Jessica Mitford. We may not see his like again, because the respect for language exemplified by his writings is fading away. ...

No American atheist was ever going to give a book a title like The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice . No, we would begin such a book, if we ever thought about writing it in the first place, by making sure to acknowledge all the good that missionaries, somewhere, somehow, must have done. Christopher, by contrast, went straight for the jugular, noting: “As Edward Gibbon observed about the modes of worship prevalent in the Roman world, they were `considered by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the magistrates as equally useful.’ Mother Teresa descends from each element in this ghastly triptych.” What a wonderful image “ghastly triptych” is! - Susan Jacoby

The last few days had been, for those of us who knew he hadn't much time left, a strange bundle of suffering commingled with the joy of recollection. We got to relive what endeared him to us from the start: the hilarious tabletalk, the Borgesian library of political and literary arcana that he kept inside his head, and the writing. Of course the writing, particularly the put-downs that never let their subjects get back up again: “No one has a higher opinion of Alexander Haig than I do, and I think he is a homicidal buffoon,” “a herd of antis in search of a climax,” “not only a bore, but the cause of boredom in others.” ...

On email, Hitch was always quickest to reply when I was in need of some kind of help which was more often than I’d have liked – a letter of recommendation for a job, or an introduction to someone I wanted to meet or interview. Friendship was his only real ideology. - Michael Weiss

Christopher was the beau ideal of the public intellectual. You felt as though he was writing to you and to you alone. And as a result many readers felt they knew him. Walking with him down the street in New York or through an airplane terminal was like escorting a movie star through the throngs. - Graydon Carter

But I guess all that is why I want to put down for the record that in addition to all those things, Hitchens was incredibly kind and giving with his time. Every time I met him over the past seven years he greeted me like an old friend, and as far as I could see, every fan he met got his full attention. Even when he was dying, he had time to sit down with a little girl to figure out what books should be on her reading list.

There are religious folks who are currently threatening violence because the hashtag #GodIsNotGreat was trending on Twitter. Their protests got Twitter to remove the topic from their top trends. Ironically, these people will try to convince the world to remember Hitchens as a hateful man. Like Mother Theresa, they’ll hide their own hatred and bigotry and destructive behaviors behind the veil of Godly love in order to convince the world that they’re the saintly victims.

Let’s not let them win. - Rebecca Watson

I'll still be posting occasional "Hitchslap" videos. There are plenty on YouTube. But Christopher Hitchens is dead. There won't be anything new. It's a real shame.

Well, death is a part of life. We couldn't have life without death. We certainly couldn't have progress without death. For all that we lose when someone dies - and we do lose - younger people move up to take their place.

It's hard to imagine anyone actually replacing Christopher Hitchens. That's not what I mean. But it's taking nothing away from grief and regret, it's taking nothing away from our memories, to acknowledge that life goes on.

And when our time comes, as it will come, we could do worse than face it like Hitchens did.

2 comments:

Chimeradave said...

I saw that he had died and immediately thought of you Bill. It's a shame that he died.

WCG said...

Well, we knew it was coming, John. But even though I vehemently disagreed with him about some things, the world is now a poorer place.