Hitchens lives for debate
Many years ago critic Maurice Samuel wrote a book called "The Gentleman and the Jew." He contrasted his two legacies: the English side of him saw life as a game; the aim was to be dashing, Byronic, to die with a quip on one's lips. He simultaneously grew up with the image of the Jew for whom life was serious indeed, for whom the obligations of morality were not a code of honor, an Etonian extension, but a matter of service to a command that transcended one's own wish or social circle or nation. Two different kinds of souls strength: one of dexterity and one of devotion. Throughout his life he struggled with these polarities.
Apart from reading him, my acquaintance with Christopher Hitchens is primarily through debate, cushioned by a few rounds at the bar. But I think Samuel's tension lives in him. At times it felt as though the argument was in service of the adroit joust; a good jab was more valuable than being right. Accuracy was sacrificed to fluency, or better, to high class raillery. In the midst of it however, his passions would be engaged. The anger would no longer be theatrical nor theoretical.
I am not tossing flowers in Christopher's path because he is sick. To do so is dishonorable and besides, he would detest the practice. Friction keeps him warm. But here is the encomium I can offer, from a passage in Chesterton that I quoted to Christopher before one of our debates. Dickens, wrote Chesterton "did not dislike this or that argument for oppression: he disliked oppression. He disliked a certain look on the face of a man when he looks down on another man. And the look on that face is the only thing in the world that we really have to fight between here and the fires of hell." God knows there are endless things I would reproach Christopher for, disagree with him about, hope still perhaps to argue over; but he does hate that look and musters the powers of eloquence, ridicule and considerable charm to combat it. How can one not love that?
Posted by: Secular | September 21, 2010 2:57 PM
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