Friday, December 16, 2011

Rest in peace, Mr. Hitchens

"I personally want to ‘do’ death in the active and not the passive and to be there to look it in the eye and be doing something when it comes for me."

- Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, like G.K. Chesterton, was one of the best polemicists of his day. Given his penchant for stridency, I frequently reacted against the moralistic lengths to which he took his arguments, but I was always impressed by his erudition and craft. He was a joy to read.

Also like Chesterton, Hitchens had unconfronted dragons; his robust ego and his tendency to bully intellectual inferiors (as he too often did when wearing his New Atheist hat) were significant shortcomings, but they didn't stop me from relishing his work.

Hitchens died yesterday of pneumonia, at the age of 62, after a prolonged fight with esophageal cancer. Writers and readers should lower their flags to half mast.

For a nice collection of Hitchens' essays, visit Tablet's roundup, "Just Enough Hitch, For A Day."

Addendum: I opened this brief eulogy by likening Hitchens to Chesterton. Two days ago, when I wrote the above, I didn't realize that one of Hitchens' final deadlines was a review of the new biography of Chesterton by Ian Ker. I learned this fact in the course of reading Ian McEwan's moving tribute to Hitchens in the New York Times. For those who, like me, mourn the loss of a keen, energetic spirit and intellect, I can't recommend the McEwan piece enough.

Image credit: ripped from


andrea said...

I just listened to a rebroadcast of CBC's Jian Ghomeshi interviewing Hitchens in June 2009. Ghomeshi asked him what makes life worth living, and he answered: "Irony, literature, laughing at the misfortunes of others, love, being vindicated/proven right and, oh yes, did I mention laughing at the misfortunes of others?" He was unique.

Hungry Hyaena said...

@ Andrea:

"Unique," indeed. My admiration for the man abounds, despite his vindictiveness. We all have our failings, and complicated figures -- especially those who are willing to wink at their own foibles (if not actually wrestle with them) -- are among the most interesting.

andrea said...

Thanks for the addendum. I love Ian McEwan and will head over there after this!