Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A tawdry new book accuses the late great Hitchens of plagiarism—and worse.

A Nasty Piece of Work

One of the journalistic impulses for which the late Christopher Hitchens will be remembered was a propensity for writing nasty obituaries of people he loathed immediately after their deaths. It was only a matter of days, sometimes hours, following the expiration of figures such as Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, or Alexander Haig (to name just a few of the targets of his wrath) that Hitchens would take to the print columns or the airwaves and denounce the recently departed as a “thieving, fanatical Albanian dwarf,” “hyperactive debutante,” “cruel and stupid lizard,” “Chaucerian fraud,” and “neurotic narcissist with an unquenchable craving for power,” respectively. “

For a lot of people, their first love is what they’ll always remember,” Hitchens once told C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb. “For me it’s always been the first hate, and I think that hatred, though it provides often rather junky energy, is a terrific way of getting you out of bed in the morning and keeping you going.

Christopher Hitchens
As a young writer Hitchens was on the left, a self-identified Trotskyist. (Lea Crespi/ LUZ Photo)

In light of this, the one thing that can be said in praise of Richard Seymour’s UnHitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, is that its subject would appreciate the effort. Indeed, I bet that Hitchens would be highly pleased that someone had expended so much time and energy to denounce him posthumously in the style that he had himself mastered, even if it took the author more than a year since Hitchens’s death to produce it. Concocted in the style of a 17th-century polemical pamphlet (a literary template favored by Hitchens), UnHitched purports to be an “extended political essay” that exposes its subject as, among other things, a “terrible liar,” “ouvrierist” (one of several words deployed by the overly earnest Seymour that will drive even more learned readers to the dictionary), a plagiarist, and, most unforgivable among Hitchens’s erstwhile friends and colleagues on the Anglo-American socialist left, “the George W. Bush administration’s amanuensis.” (Full disclosure: Hitchens was a friend, mentor, and neighbor of mine.)

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