Saturday, 17 December 2011

Ode to Hitch

There is no-one like Christopher Hitchens. He was the most brilliant and versatile non-fiction writer of modern times, whose prodigious output was of stunningly high quality, a showcase for his vast range, deep knowledge and fierce wit. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he faced it with characteristic honesty, courage and rigour,…He is, quite simply, irreplaceable. The Guardian
What does one say when he loses his main source of inspiration?

We all knew Christopher Hitchens was going to die. In fact back in March, I predicted that he would not last the year. Tragically I was right. He has been gone for less than 2 days, but already I feel an intellectual vacancy, which I doubt will be filled again. The ritual I had in reading his articles 2 or 3 times a week in either Slate or Vanity Fair used to fill me with real pleasure. Not only for their content, but for their technique. And now that is gone.

Reading Hitchens changed my life.

More than any other person Hitchens was the one who made me want to become a writer as opposed to a mere political scientist. He was, and is, my major creative and intellectual driving force behind my writing, and the reason why I have become so prolific on this blog. Reading his memoir Hitch 22 made me want to turn this blog into a book of essays on disability, politics and pop culture. Who knows if it will end up becoming a reality, but I see this goal as my major greatest personal project post PhD and now because of his death I have become more determined than ever to fulfill this goal.

Although I greatly admire him I will never seek to imitate the great man. Thousands have tried and yet so many have failed. One only has to follow my Facebook or Twitter accounts to gain an understanding of the qualities that made Hitchens a literary legend. I agreed with Hitchens a great amount of the time, but even those who did not would have to agree that all of his points had intellectual rigiour behind them. To understand Hitchens was an exercise in becoming smarter. To watch him weave in and out of arguments was a masterclass of writing. Even when he was controversial I still believed he was right. 

To characterise Hitchens as merely an Atheist expert in theology, or a political writer, or a forensic observer of culture and literature is a gross disservice. He was all of these things and much more. As Slate’s managing editor put it:
Here's what I learned from Christopher Hitchens in the 25 years I knew him. Don't let anyone else do your thinking for you. Follow your principles to the end. Don't flinch from the truth. Repeat until the last ounce of strength drains from your body.
To be sure he had his list of heroes and villains, wore his biases on his sleeve, and had a vicious turn of phrase, but that was the part of Hitchens I liked best. Whatever subject he was discussing he would always do so with great passion and intensity. If 10% of this comes across in my writing I will have achieved my objective.

Anyone who believes in the power of words will miss Hitchens.

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