Archive for December 16th, 2017

Here’s to Hitch on “Hitchmas”: “Never be a spectator of unfairness and stupidity.”

Saturday, December 16th, 2017
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Hitchens in 2008 (Photo: Creative Commons)

An anniversary passed yesterday, the sixth year after the death of author, essayist, and journalist Christopher HitchensIt’s not an event the Book Haven normally observes, but some in our circle do – mutual friend Steve Wasserman among them, and a few others who no doubt would raise a glass if they were here. The late poet and historian Robert Conquest (we’ve written about him here and here) was a close colleague. Some of Hitchens’s aficionados, whether they knew him or not, go so far as to call December 15 “Hitchmas” – there’s even a website for the celebrations here.

The title is catchy, but surely Hitchens himself would have scoffed at the implications of any “mass” in his honor. In any case, he hated Christmas (i.e., “Christ’s mass”) which he likened to “living for four weeks in the atmosphere of a one-party state” that “imposes a deadening routine and predictability.” Ah, but variation within custom is what makes all rituals memorable and moving – whether weddings, funerals, graduations, or holidays. It’s a delicate art. (See how fellow atheist Salman Rushdie celebrates here.)

You see? We are still arguing with him, even in absentia. While Hitchens is not a demigod to us, and while we are far from embracing all his views (indeed, who could embrace them all?), we nevertheless revere his eloquence, his frankness, his pugnaciousness, the fluency of his pen, his tenacity to what he held to be truth – and so we, too, raise a glass to him. How, after all, can one argue with this: “Never be a spectator of unfairness and stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.”

In this case, we have help in our fête. Paul Holdengräber of the New York Public Library has an undated commemorative post over at the Wild River Review, which includes a two-minute clip of his interview with the author and journalist, three days before he became gravely ill in 2010. The two discuss death, dying, and a mutual interest in obituaries. (The full hour-and-a-half interview at the NYPL is here.)

“I was particularly taken not by the politics, which everyone knew and though of interest, mattered less to me just then, than the literary side. Hitch was a great reader and more candid in print about his life, his mother and father, his origins,” Holdengräber wrote.

“When I played W. H. Auden reading, and Isaiah Berlin teaching a class on Russian Thought at Oxford, Christopher’s eyes lit up. He felt pleasure in reciting poetry, moving his lips to Auden’s reading, and hearing his old professor, Isaiah Berlin talk. A less pugilist side to Hitch.”

When he asked Hitchens why he wrote his memoir Hitch 22 at the relatively young age of 60, he answered simply: “You’ve got to do it in time.”