Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Grappling with Christopher Hitchens
Keith Miller examines a trenchant critique of the
late Christopher Hitchens.
Christopher Hitchens: In the
pantheon of journalists?
The Telegraph 30 Jan 2013
The journalist, essayist and public speaker Christopher Hitchens, who died just over a
year ago of oesophageal cancer, was no slouch when it came to the gentle art of
making enemies. Liberal isolationists, religious fanatics, female comedians –
all felt the wrath of his bombast. On a more intimate level, he had a talent for
tiffs and squabbles, takedowns and feuds, that made Truman Capote look like a
Buddhist monk. So it would perhaps be surprising if his shade were allowed to
rest in peace for long.
Unhitched by Richard Seymour (Verso,
£9.99) is the first book to cast a cold eye on Hitchens’s career in the wake of
his death, and assess its possible legacy. It won’t be the last; nor, probably,
the best. But by being the first it – courageously, maybe – risks being seen as
the nastiest, trundling off the presses while its subject is still a few degrees
above room temperature. Seymour claims that Hitch was a hypocrite: that his
writing, his political allegiances and, most notably, his friendships were
marked by professions of loyalty, and acts of desertion.
It is from his memoir Hitch-22 that two main, and interrelated, themes
of Unhitched are drawn: the lifelong melodrama of friendship, and the
idea that political life consists of a series of actions and gestures rather
than a coherent programme of belief and commitment. A good example of this is
Hitchens’s belief that being waterboarded for a story added the tiniest
microgramme of weight to his opinion that it should be allowed in a country that
claimed to be not only civilised, but also competent to export its civilisation
overseas by force of arms.
That the second theme inflects on the first can be seen from the Rushdie
affair, when the targeting of a British author by religious fundamentalists
galvanised what had hitherto been a fairly lukewarm affection for Rushdie on
Hitchens’s part – and vulcanised his opposition to hardline religious belief. It
can also be seen in his repudiation of Edward Said (Hitchens’s hostile review of Said’s reissued
Orientalism followed the latter’s death by about the same time-lag as
Unhitched follows his); and in his denunciation of Sidney Blumenthal for
perjuring himself in the Lewinsky inquisition, which cost him most of the few
friends he still had on the American Left.
It’s the political triangulations that get Seymour’s blood boiling. A pattern
of discarding causes when they ceased to be expedient, a willingness to kiss up
to power while emitting torrents of bluster about his lonely duty to speak truth
to it, can be identified even in the salad days of Seventies Oxford. Hitchens is
quite funny about his youthful double life in Hitch-22, swapping his
donkey jacket for a dinner jacket on the hoof between the barricades at Cowley
and High Table like some arriviste superhero (he was quite funny about lots of
things, though he could be eye-gougingly unfunny when he tried to be funny). But
Seymour sees Hitchens’s tragic last act – the alliance with the neo-cons, the
borderline racism, the ghastly statements about cluster bombs – as inevitable. Full article at The Telegraph