Friday, August 06, 2010

Christopher Hitchens - human again

Ed here: I'd really recommend going on the Vanity Fair website and reading Christopher Hitchens' essay on how he's dealing with what may be a lethal cancer. Powerful stuff. Here's a reaction to that piece from Salon. For what it's worth I pretty much agree with writer Mary Elizabeth Williams. I too have hated Hitchens from time to time. Wanted to hit him in is booze-sweaty face. But he's such a brilliant thinker and writer I've never stopped reading him. As someone dealing with incurable cancer I was both moved and enlightened by his reactions to facing death.

From Salon:
Sympathy for Christopher Hitchens

The famously hard-living writer contemplates dying -- and becomes human again

Detail from cover of "Hitch 22"
When my friend Michele was a lifeguard, people used to ask her, "Are there sharks in the ocean today?" And she would reply, "There are sharks in the ocean every day." Christopher Hitchens is swimming with the sharks. The possibility of death -- the reality of mortality -- became less abstract for him in June, when, on the brink of publishing his new memoir, "Hitch-22," he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

In a brilliant, beautiful and, fittingly, darkly hilarious essay for the new Vanity Fair, the most seemingly indestructible man in journalism describes his "very short-lived campaign of denial" and "the new land" of sickness with his trademark gimlet eye, chronicling "the way that my razorblade would suddenly go slipping pointlessly down my face, meeting no stubble."

Is this meditation on life's finite nature the beginning of a softer side of a legendarily boozy, cantankerous scribe? Thankfully, no. The 61-year-old Brit who has, in just the past few years, declared women unamusing, wholeheartedly supported the war in Iraq, gone gunning for Mother Teresa and bragged that he drinks enough every day "to kill or stun the average mule" continues to declare "war on Thanatos" and turn a phrase so deftly it'll make your eyes water. He remains a big, fat jerk and a goddamn genius, acknowledging with brutal clarity, "In whatever kind of a 'race' life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist" and complaining that this whole "boring" cancer thing might spoil his plans "to read -- if not indeed write -- the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger."

While the contemporary field of journalism is riddled with pigeon-chested tweet monkeys, Hitchens remains the last of the larger-than-life scribes. You won't find too many magazine writers -- let alone men his age -- whose exploits inspire Onion parodies. And so we wouldn't want the iron man to go all Ram Dass now. Yet the eloquent feistiness of Hitchens' story, it turns out, makes a stunning counterpart to author and doctor Atul Gawande's hauntingly stark New Yorker piece this week on "Letting Go." "Ultimately, death comes," Gawande explains, "and no one is good at knowing when to stop." He writes of a difficult conversation with the sister of a terminal patient, who asks him plaintively, "Is she dying?" Are there sharks in the ocean today?

for the rest go here:


Richard S. Wheeler said...

Hitchens is a man of courage, however maddening. What other journalist permitted himself to be waterboarded in order to write about the experience authentically? The Salon piece catches him superbly.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

I am running right over to Salon. I saw Hitchens on with Anderson Cooper last night and was entranced, as always.


Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Hitchens has made a career of throwing the cat among the pigeons, but he's unfailingly interesting. To read about his contretemps with Alexander Cockburn (half-brother of the late Sarah Caudwell), go here:

pattinase (abbott) said...

One of those fellows you'd like to throttle but then admire on some level.

C. Margery Kempe said...

I find him usually infuriating -- but also skillful. There's something mercenary about writers: we can't help admiring the good stuff, however reprehensible the source.

(Ha! My word verification: loathili)