Movie Friday: Hitchens on not staying home

I have made no secret of my great admiration for the writing of Christopher Hitchens. The man was, as far as I’m concerned, the heir to the throne of George Orwell – a man who took the English language and turned it from mere utilitarian utterances to a rapier, wielded with deadly beauty by a master. I learned last night that Mr. Hitchens died, succumbing at last to the esophageal cancer that took his voice, but never his spark.

I never got to meet Mr. Hitchens, but of course his writing spoke to me in ways that made me struggle furiously to achieve just one phrase, one sentence, one moment that could equal what he seemed to produce effortlessly pages at a time. I have just finished reading his memoir, and had to put it down several times because the language was so impressively drawn that I needed respite to take it in.

Written, Christopher Hitchens was an architect. Spoken, he was a concert pianist:

If ever there was a dark time in my ‘soul’ where I despaired of the effort of arguing against the things I hate, where I felt like just giving up and staying home, where the forces of good seem to be irredeemably flagging behind the forces of stupid, I can remember that Hitch faced down death with a sneer, and probably a few well-crafted rejoinders about the fashionableness of scythes.

Mr. Hitchens’ death does not make me sad, except insofar as he will never write again. He has carried the torch of English as a mastercraft for decades. There are thousands more like me ready to pick it up, light it anew, and march inexorably into the darkness he helped us put words to.

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

“Do I fear death? No, I am not afraid of being dead because there’s nothing to be afraid of, I won’t know it. I fear dying, of dying I feel a sense of waste about it and I fear a sordid death, where I am incapacitated or imbecilic at the end which isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s something to be terrified of.”

“In one was, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely this reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me.”

“Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.”

“Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.”

- Christopher Hitchens, in various writings

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