Christopher Hitchens (1949-2012)

A very good writer, a sometime lousy thinker, a man of frequent vicious wit, and too frequent witless viciousness. A mind with a trove of words and memories that could be fashioned with envied ease into jewels and missiles. Some of the missiles were crude, other missiles more beautiful than the jewels. Any plangent notes I might sound may be as much for the man as for the man’s love of books, and a world where such a love was deeper when he was born than it is now. The banality is that history is run through first as tragedy, then farce. That he made enthusiastic alliance with rabid conservatives first on presidential impeachment, then on the war in Iraq might be an example of one more banality he upended. In the past decade, an overcast became more and more common throughout his writing, and I had a queasy anticipation whenever Iran, Iraq, Islam, or Bill Clinton would show up in an essay, as I might when a Jamaican maid made it into a Saul Bellow story.

His work at his best, however, was brave, colorful, and spirited, a pointilism where every point had the deft movement of a lasso artist. His worst should not be forgotten in light of his best, anymore than his best should be dismissed on account of his worst. This best, the rock solid stuff, made up no slim piece, but was several thick steaks thick. Bodies may wither and die, but very good words persist, and one could say given another deceased, “thank god for that”, but a grateful nod to neural spaghetti and sharp eyed dartmanship might be more fitting for this epitaph. I never met the man except through his works; my sense of an absence is selfish, unsentimental, and keen, of someone who very much enjoyed the delicate rich taste of a rare salmon that has now gone extinct.

(This post’s title originally contained an Oscar Wilde reference. The reference was terrible and I hated it. It was bad writing unworthy of the memory of a bad writer, and flagrantly poor for the memory of a very good one.)

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