Death … and instant sainthood. Eulogising the recently deceased has become a strange modern form of (almost) worship. The outpourings at the death of smoking-drinking “contrarian” berater Christopher Hitchens led to an instant outpouring of sometimes maudlin sentimentality soaking up vast column inches in the world’s newspapers. It reminded me of the instant sainthood granted former Tasmanian Premier Jim Bacon at his lavish state funeral. You may have read Hitchens’ memoir Hitch-22. I made it to page 120 when the massive ego overwhelmed me and I reached for the smelling salts. It seems I was not alone, thank Thor. A mate has pointed out an eviscerating review in New Statesman by British literary theorist and critic Terry Eagleton (All about Terry HERE). Here’s an excerpt and link; and there’s some other perspectives on that most certain of atheists, Christopher Hitchens
Hitch-22: a Memoir
By Christopher Hitchens
Reviewed by Terry Eagleton – 31 May 2010
Christopher Hitchens became dazzled by his “friendships” with the rich and powerful and turned into an apologist for war on Iraq. Terry Eagleton reads his new memoir –– and finds a man in conflict with every one of his own instincts.
The Oedipal children of the establishment have always proved useful to the left. Such ruling-class renegades have the grit, chutzpah, inside knowledge, effortless self-assurance, stylishness, fair conscience and bloody-mindedness of their social background, but can turn these patrician virtues to radical ends. The only trouble is that they tend to revert to type as they grow older, not least when political times are lean. The Paul Foots and Perry Andersons of this world are a rare breed. Men and women who began by bellowing “Out, out, out!” end up humiliating waiters and overrating Evelyn Waugh. Those who, like Christopher Hitchens, detest a cliché turn into one of the dreariest types of them all: the revolutionary hothead who learns how to stop worrying about imperialism and love Paul Wolfowitz.
That Hitchens represents a grievous loss to the left is beyond doubt. He is a superb writer, superior in wit and elegance to his hero George Orwell, and an unstanchably eloquent speaker. He has an insatiable curiosity about the modern world and an encyclopaedic knowledge of it, as well as an unflagging fascination with himself. Through getting to know all the right people, an instinct as inbuilt as his pancreas, he could tell you without missing a beat whom best to consult in Rabat about education policy in the Atlas Mountains. The same instinct leads to chummy lunches with Bill Deedes and Peregrine Worsthorne. In his younger days, he was not averse to dining with repulsive fat cats while giving them a piece of his political mind. Nowadays, one imagines, he just dines with repulsive fat cats.
The two faces of Hitchens, however, are as much synchronous as sequential. In a sense, he has become what he always covertly was. Even at the age of 20 he felt tugged between dissidence and dining out. “Hypocritchens”, as he was known at Balliol, was suave, bright, fearless, loquacious, self-admiring and grotesquely ambitious. (I write as one who knew him as a comrade in the International Socialists.) He was a man who made Uriah Heep look like Little Nell. Having worked his way through everyone worth knowing in the United Kingdom, he spied a larger stage in the United States (a nation that was the stuff of his fantasies even as a student), hopped on a plane and proceeded to cultivate everyone worth knowing in Washington and New York as well. If he has not settled in Bingley or Sudan, it is because there is nobody worth knowing there.
Yet the synchrony cuts the other way, too, as something of the old lefty survives into the present. His favourite colour, he tells us, is “Blue. Sometimes red”. The tentative punctuation says it all. He still detests Henry Kissinger, despises Bill Clinton, takes a brutal swipe at Dick Cheney (while mentioning that they share a dentist) and, having lustily cheered on the invasion of Iraq, is now honest enough to write of the “impeachable incompetence of the Bush administration” and the “terrifying damage” it inflicted on Iraqi society (though he confines this to cultural looting). He has not made his peace with the insolence of power, simply with capitalism. Nowadays he is a political sceptic, convinced that there are “absolutely no certainties”. This is the catch-22 suggested by the book’s title: the double bind of marrying a wariness of belief with a conviction that certainties are obnoxious.
It is, in fact, a false problem. Liberals ought to hold their convictions just as passionately as their illiberal opponents. Hitchens absolutely believed that it was right to unleash a murderous fury on the innocent people of Iraq. What was wrong was not the degree of his certainty, but the belief itself. It is absolutely certain that Osama Bin Laden is not a liberal pluralist. The mistake is to slip from this fairly innocuous use of the word “absolute” to a political one. But Hitchens, despite being one of the world’s most renowned public intellectuals, was never very adept at ideas. In some ways, Hitchens is a reactionary English patrician, in other ways a closet Thatcherite, and in yet other ways a right-leaning liberal. The problem, in a striking historical irony, is that it is the literary-liberal guardians of the flame of tolerance and pluralism who are nowadays most likely to be cultural supremacists and gung-ho militarists when it comes to the Muslim world.
His double life as establishment groupie and swingeing iconoclast (Hitchens is to be seen smoking on the front cover of this book, the US equivalent of tearing up cobblestones) is reflected in his literary style. Take, for example, this nauseating piece of self-congratulation: “‘I suppose you know,’ said the most careful and elegant and witty English poet of my generation when I first took his hand and accepted a Bloody Mary financed from his slight but always-open purse, ‘that you are the second most famous person in Oxford.'” Perhaps Hitchens obtusely imagines that the faint put-down of “second” will conceal the odious egotism of this vignette, as though he is wryly telling a tale against himself.
Then there’s …