I’m sorry to say that I arrived rather late to the Christopher Hitchens party. So late, in fact, that no sooner had I arrived that I was told the guest of honour would soon be departing. But what a party it was: “I burned the candle at both ends, and it gave a lovely light.” I suppose my introduction to Hitch’s work began much like new fans of a band who have just released a new popular album. In this case it was the powerful new addition to the atheist arsenal, God Is Not Great. I dimly recall giving it a go when I was around 17 and failing abysmally to understand a word. A couple of years older and very slightly more well-read, I tried again. If it wasn’t the book itself that struck a chord (on balance I think I preferred the excellent The God Delusion), it was the author. Following my completion of the book I spent a great deal of time tracking down his various recorded orations online. Again very much like the new fan, I also explored some of Hitchens’ older material to mixed effect. His commentary on American politics was impenetrable to me, but the great thing about Hitch was his ability to apply wit and his original prose to an extremely wide range of subjects: from the oddly entertaining analysis of fellatio, to the description of the appalling multiple-generation effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
“Writing isn’t what I do; being a writer is what I am.” Nowhere was this more apparent than in Hitchens’ last piece, a morbid refutation of the old maxim that “whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Written just days before his last, and with the exact same high quality for which Hitch was renowned, it showed that writing was ingrained in him down to the very core, even when a relentless barrage of protons had left little else behind. It seems the candle gave a lovely light, right up until the very end. A cliché perhaps, but if anyone was going to fulfil it, it was going to be Hitch. His bookishness and knowledge seemed so great at times that they were easy to dismiss as pretentious blagging, but to really believe this was to oversee his great modesty. Hitch had his solid opinions, for sure, but they were at their strongest when condemning those in this world that seek to take away the opinions of others, whether he agreed with them or not. When asked by Richard Dawkins whether he would want to see a world devoid of religion he replied in the negative. For him, an opinion was only worth having if it was genuine and not forced upon the person. The totalitarian was his arch enemy. He argued his case but relished the debate and had no wish to “convince” people to change their opinions to his own based on bended truths. These were simple values, but values that Hitch fought for with impeccable polemic.
As expected, countless tribute articles and eulogies have now been published and are a joy to read, particularly those from close friends of the author. This piece won’t compare in any way but if I can encourage any new interest in the now sadly late writer then I would have hopefully spread some of the enjoyment found in dissecting a Hitchens sentence.
Thank you Christopher for your invaluable services to reason; you are already greatly missed.