December 17, 2011

"And this was a man in constant pain. Denied drinking or eating, he sucked on tiny ice chips."

"Where others might have beguiled themselves with thoughts of divine purpose (why me?) and dreams of an afterlife, Christopher had all of literature."
Over the three days of my final visit I took note of his subjects. Not long after he stole my Ackroyd, he was talking to me of a Slovakian novelist; whether Dreiser in his novels about finance was a guide to the current crisis; Chesterton’s Catholicism; Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” which I had brought for him on a previous visit; Mann’s “Magic Mountain” — he’d reread it for reflections on German imperial ambitions toward Turkey; and because we had started to talk about old times in Manhattan, he wanted to quote and celebrate James Fenton’s “German Requiem”: “How comforting it is, once or twice a year,/To get together and forget the old times.”
Ian McEwan, attending the dying Christopher Hitchens.

49 comments:

traditionalguy said...

That is moving. Death is a terrible enemy without mercy.

pm317 said...

Why all this after one is dead? Would it be weird to say nice and profound things about each other while one is alive? How weird is that? What good is it now to hear all this about one who is already gone? May be it is the process of grief, coming to terms with the finality of death. I don't know. Ann, are you mourning his death?

traditionalguy said...

Yes, that's it. We mourn a man who used words to get into our lives and raise our game. Too bad he was so narrow minded on the Gospel.

sonicfrog said...

Too bad he was so narrow minded on the Gospel.


And he would reply "Too bad you are so narrow minded on the Gospel". Just saying.

William said...

I like and admire Hitchens, but there was nothing particuarly brave or admirable in his death. Like everyone else in the ICU, he endured it, because there was no other choice. It was his particular conceit that, as a journalist, he could file dispatches from his deathbed and thus make the experience more comprehensible. Nice try, but whether the ant scurries or strikes a heroic pose, he still ends up squished under the heel. Pain and death are incomprehensible.

Psychedelic George said...

God wants us to party, to celebrate, to enjoy life to its fullest, and to make the most of our gifts.

So went the theme of a recent sermon in my church.

By such a standard, Hitchens was as good a Christian as one might ever meet.

Party on!

Freeman Hunt said...

Slipping off into death is awful business. This method, with the books and the conversation, sounds ideal though.

somefeller said...

An excellent remembrance for someone worthy of such memory. I'd take exception to this line, however:

The place where Christopher Hitchens spent his last few weeks was hardly bookish, but he made it his own. Close to downtown Houston is the Medical Center, a cluster of high-rises like La Défense of Paris, or London’s City, a financial district of a sort, where the common currency is illness.

I'm pretty familiar with the Texas Medical Center. While it obviously isn't a hub for those of a literary bent, it is a very bookish place. One doesn't become a doctor, research scientist or senior administrator at the TMC without cracking a lot of books or taking the life of the mind seriously. In fact, I'd say that there probably is more intellectual firepower per square mile on any given workday in the Texas Medical Center than almost anywhere else on earth.

But that's a quibble over choice of words. Otherwise, a fine piece.

Bill White said...

"Why all this after one is dead?" Because he is loved and we wish to celebrate his memory and read his words again.

edutcher said...

Excruciating.

Literally, ex crucis.

I hope whatever he sought at the end he found.

m stone said...

There are people, and I've seen them in hospice care, who in the throes of death will clean a room or put everything in order or finish a puzzle with fanaticism. The same fanaticism that Hitchens wrote his last words.

His words may last, but he's not that different from others possessed as William commented above.

Where he ends up...another story to those of us narrow-minded ones in the faith.

Patrick said...

Michael Totten also has http://pjmedia.com/michaeltotten/

ricpic said...

Hitchens was as helpless about the life he led as the rest of us. Note that to the end he is that rarest of types, a pure intellectual, interested in ideas ideas ideas, not people.

MayBee said...

I love it that they were together, these two men who are (were? ugh) so talented with words.
It seems like something that would be in a novel.

wild chicken said...

So, his idols were authors and he worshiped books.

Everyone needs something.

Quaestor said...

So, his idols were authors and he worshiped books.

There's a good example of the solipsism at work: Because in his mind the believer can't order the universe without a god, he assumes no one else can as well.

I doubt Hitchens' admiration of diverse literary figures like Kingsley Amis, Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell), Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine ever rose to the level of adoration, so to style them his "idols" is more than a bit disingenuous. (Btw, the day the Pope or Franklin Graham publishes a "warts and all" critique of God, I'll take this back)

Authors as idols and books as objects of worship, hmmm... I for one won't be genuflecting to any writer, living or dead, any time soon, but I must admit the idea has advantages over the worship of Bronze Age war gods.

EDH said...

R.I.F.

Reading (and writing) is fatal?

"[M]ost of my bad habits are connected with the only way I know to make a living. In order to keep reading and writing, I need the junky energy that scotch can provide, and the intense short-term concentration that nicotine can help supply. To be crouched over a book or a keyboard, with these conditions of mingled reverie and alertness, is my highest happiness."

Quaestor said...

I won't say rest in peace over the remains, nor will I say goodbye to Christopher Hitchens as it is far too late. The entity known to itself and to us by that name disappeared when the electro-chemical patterns which was its whole substance went irretrievably chaotic Thursday night.

Yet he has achieved a degree of immortality which will last for decades to come, certainly beyond the spans of any reading this. His works will be read, be appreciated and will influence persons yet unborn. Not a bad epitaph.

wv: catint - Are you dissatisfied
with Puss's coat color? Tried of that same old gray tabby sleeping on your favorite chair? How about a purple kitty or an ultramarine mouser? The possibilities are endless with Catint!

Kit said...

It seems like something that would be in a novel.

or a play.

Wally Kalbacken said...

I like sucking on ice chips, and I feel fine. Really.

Enjoyed his stuff, but rarely agreed with him. If only he had avoided the coffin nails. Sheesh!

Jess said...

or a play.

If only Godot had shown up! Christopher waited and waited, but finally....

Kirby Olson said...

Hitchens struck me as a razor sharp but supercilious and even superficial writer without the ability to deeply think through his ideas. He made a good journalist because he could stay on the surface of things, but I never felt he had any deep or adequate understanding of events and instead relied on cheap shots, like the ones he took at Mother Theresa. I didn't mind it when he took cheap shots at Raymond Williams, or other campus Marxists, but they were still cheap shots. His understanding of Orwell (the one book of his I managed to finish) was rather cursory, and not great. I would say in summing up, Hitchens Was Not Great.

The British seem to produce this kind of bitter bilious individual
: overeducated and yet insensitive and unkind and even downright cruel, and yet certain that they speak for all mankind. Hitchens terrified me, and if that's what an atheist is, it wouldn't seem to lead to anything especially wonderful, or even insightful.

I can't think of any British writers I value terribly much since Chesterton. I like Ronald Firbank's novels, but not because they express a positive moral vision. Firbank's novels are morally insane. For reasons I can't understand, British people strike me as quite simply insane. They have a chattering class that is ten times worse than ours. It is superficially educated: they can spell, and they can allude, but they don't have any capacity to think deeply. I don't know why that is. It's part of the long eclipse of their nation. Mill says that when a nation begins to substitute bullying for freedom of thought, they are no longer able to think clearly or well.

Hitchens was a bully. I never found anything he said or wrote to be worthwhile, and it was only admirable in the sense that he had a highly polished style, like the edge of a stiletto. He could gouge people, and carve them to pieces.

He didn't have any instinct toward healing, or toward mending, or toward anything positive that I could see. He was a bully, and a kind of back alley bully at that. I wouldn't have wanted to be in a knife fight with him, that's for sure.

He was nuts. He did have an instinct for the jugular, rather like a serial killer.

Craig said...

Ackroyd's Milton In America was one of the first books I read after arriving in Manila. The first was The File by Timothy Garton-Ash. The second was called Tesseract by the guy who wrote The Beach. Both of those books were written in the Philippines.

Craig said...

I live a block from a church that the British used as their headquarters when they attempted to liberate the Philippines from Spanish rule during the French and Indian War. They had better luck twenty years later when they borrowed Penang from the Dutch in the Strait of Molucca.

The Crack Emcee said...

traditionalguy,

Too bad he was so narrow minded on the Gospel.

sonicfrog,

And he would reply "Too bad you are so narrow minded on the Gospel". Just saying.

Exactly. Can you see what you just did there, Tg? YOU - the supposed good Christian - set up the confrontation, and did so with an uncalled for insult. That's what we atheists see in Christianity - and why we're so famously angry. You leave no one an out but yourself and pat yourself on the back for your betrayal.

The whole set-up is a fraud, from start to finish.

Mel said...

The pro-life sites are saying between his own mother telling him the pregnancy before him and after him were both aborted and Hitchens witnessing "at least one" of his unborn children being aborted, he was very pro-life. Lifesite news has a good article. (if only I could copy and paste correctly)

Robert Cook said...

Here's a column remembering Hitchens by Alexander Cockburn:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/16/farewell-to-c-h/

Robert Cook said...

"Mill says that when a nation begins to substitute bullying for freedom of thought, they are no longer able to think clearly or well."

The American example confirms this.

Cedarford said...

William - "I like and admire Hitchens, but there was nothing particuarly brave or admirable in his death. Like everyone else in the ICU, he endured it, because there was no other choice........ Nice try, but whether the ant scurries or strikes a heroic pose, he still ends up squished under the heel. Pain and death are incomprehensible."
==================
1. There are people dying that rage against the loss of the light, as another literary figure long dead and gone said. Who have "miles to go before they sleep" in the words of another.

2. Many find the end of their mortality a time to remain true to their life's passions. Deliberately busy until the end. We had a grand-uncle that was a farmer. Dying of metastatic cancer. After all the goodbyes, and being on his deathbed longer than doctors thought he'd make it, he decided to go home to die in early spring. He made his family push him up into his tractor and he proceeded to plow the 22 acres he had raised millet on for decades. Son and a very out of sorts wife walking behind..Died around the 14 acre point, "in the saddle, boots on".
3. Pain and death are quite comprehensible. They are understood things to many of the dying, those that have endured as much pain and confrontation with mortality as the dying do -but escaped to live a bit longer. Doing all that with a lack of faith in an afterlife may also seem incomprehensible - but countless millions have. Even while willingly risking shortening "the only life and existence they will have" in risky endeavors, on the battlefield. Plenty of atheists in foxholes, many who never came home.

traditionalguy said...

Crack...I did not intend to set up a confrontation. I expressed my sincere sadness for a good man.

The message of the Gospel is always there making its claims and its promises to whomsoever will believe.

It will outlive me and Hitchens.

John Lynch said...

I remember my father and the ice chips.

It was awful.

I think I'd prefer to be left alone, and not put anyone through that.

Better yet, I'd like to stay home. My father-in-law managed to do that. The problem when you are dying is that you are in and out of the hospital. It's hard to tell when it's the last time.

I knew when it was the last time for my father. I hope I know it for myself.

MisterBuddwing said...

I think I'd like to meet my end in the hospital rather than at home - much neater that way. An exact time of death, no need to call the authorities.

But I'd certainly like to go a lot less painfully than what Mr. Hitchens must have gone through.

WV: ingshumm

William said...

Since the advent of the tv remote control, internet porn, and microwave bacon, not just the pursuit but the realization of happiness has become a real possibility for many people. I myself am quite content with my lot and will be extremely reluctant to make my exit. That's why I gave up cigarettes and booze. Life is rather pleasant and the more of it the better...... Nonetheless, if I am fortunate enough to dodge a massive coronary, the odds are I will have to endure a few painful and uncomfortable hospital stays before my final bow. During such stays, I have no intention of impressing the nurses on the ICU with my endurance and stoicism. Bring on the morphine drip as soon as possible and I won't complain if you give me a little too much..... I suppose a case can be made for old age as part of life's gaudy banquet, but no case can be made for a lingering, painful death. At at a certain point, the DNR order and living will should be interpreted to mean keep doubling the morphine until the patient smiles.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think I'd like to meet my end in the hospital rather than at home - much neater that way. An exact time of death, no need to call the authorities.

If the person is on hospice at home, it's easy. You just call the hospice contact, and they handle everything, including moving all of the equipment back out of the house.

The Crack Emcee said...

traditionalguy,

Crack...I did not intend to set up a confrontation. I expressed my sincere sadness for a good man.

But you did, intentionally or not, and that is also product of your "faith." Hitchens made the point very clearly in his debate with Tony Blair - and Blair agreed with him - that the biggest problem with religious belief is the evil it's supposedly fighting is endorsed by God:

Stand by "faith" and you are infected.

I know - not "believe" but know - you comprehend right from wrong. If you are honest about your morality, then that evil is the struggle you must come to terms with.

The message of the Gospel is always there making its claims and its promises to whomsoever will believe.

Yes, and condemning anyone who doesn't/won't/can't to Hell in the afterlife, and damnation in this one, all delivered by the supposedly "good" people. And for what? Not going along with a bunch of stories from the ancient Middle East, developed before we knew hardly anything. It's simply incredible that, in 2011, anyone with an education would still buy into such nonsense. You use all the world's modern conveniences, understand science, and normally conduct yourself in a reasonable and intelligent manner, but still have decided - in this one area of life - rather than exiting your house through the front door, it makes more sense to leap from the attic. Simply because you have "faith" a God no one has proof of - and who, since we learned how the world works, no longer seems capable of miracles or anything else really - wants you to.

It will outlive me and Hitchens.

Sure. And if you care at all about mankind, that should be a horrifying thought,...

Carnifex said...

I disagree with those saying Hitchens attained literary immortality. I agree with what was said about him being a top notch journalist, but no, he was not a deep thinker.

And again we get the anti-christian bigotry from the atheist, like Christianity is coming right into their lives and making them worship God.

If its so offensive to you move to... well wait there is no country that doesn't worship some form of God in some method.

The militant atheist does more damage to their cause than any other animal.

Here's a question for the atheist, that they will dismiss as stupid but won't answer...If there is no God, then why do you get upset when someone says "Marry Christmas"? I don't get upset when someone says "Darwin proved evolution"

On the other thread, some of the atheist agreed that there was good and evil. Well then tell me who makes that determination? You? Society? So was the human sacrifices performed by the Aztecs evil?

If no, then we can do what ever we like, because good and evil is in the eye of the beholder. And if the answer is yes, why? Because YOU say so? Again, who made YOU final arbitrator of good and evil? I say you're wrong.

Moral relativity is the biggest false argument atheist engage in. There is ultimate good and evil. It is evil to kill your fellow man. It is evil to enslave your felllow man. It is evil to harm a child. It is evil to bear false witness.

Character is what we do when no one else is looking.

Ps. I don't think that the Bible is the "Word of God". It was compiled by a bunch of politicians to further their aims of consolidating power.

CachorroQuente said...

"Here's a question for the atheist, that they will dismiss as stupid but won't answer...If there is no God, then why do you get upset when someone says 'Marry Christmas'?"

What else can you so with such a fucking stupid question?

Who wants to "marry" Christmas and what business is it of mine if they do?

The short answer is, no atheist gets upset when some numbnutz claims a desire to "marry" Christmas.

CachorroQuente said...

Yeah, Cederford, I know what that farmer felt. When I go, I want to go like a man: out there in my driveway with a snow shovel in my hands.

Carnifex said...

I've got a better topic than some bitter old atheist death anyway.

What do you supposed intellectuals have to say about the new regulations that allow the government to detain American citizens, without trial, indefinitely.

How any American can think this is a good idea is beyond me. Do YOU trust the government that much? I sure as hell don't.

I pray (heh heh heh) that the SCOTUS overturns this. But the dummies effed up the private property issue.

Mark in Spokane said...

I agree with Freeman Hunt on this. This sounds like an almost ideal way to prepare for death -- visiting with friends and discussing great literature. As a Christian, I would add receiving the Last Rites and undertaking specific spiritual practices to get ready for death, but since Hitchens was most certainly not a Christian, his path appears to be the best in a bad situation. I hope that I am lucky enough to meet my end so well.

ed said...

@ The Crack Emcee

"That's what we atheists see in Christianity - and why we're so famously angry. You leave no one an out but yourself and pat yourself on the back for your betrayal. "

Really? You're angry at Christians for being Christians?

The heart of Christianity is Salvation. What kind of person truly believes in Salvation without wanting to share it with the people they know? If Christians wish someone were Saved then you're angry at them.

I'd suggest that if Christians simply didn't give a fuck whether or not you suffered eternal damnation you'd still be pissed off because they weren't trying to push Salvation on you.

And yes I've seen atheists do exactly that.

Look if you're and atheist then why give a shit? And if you do give a shit then perhaps your atheism is the issue. Are you really an atheist because you don't believe in the Salvation? Or are you an atheist because of issues with authority figures or some such psychological mumbo-jumbo?

Personally I'm an Animist. And yet I've attended Sunday school, gone to Mass, prayed alongside Catholics, lay and priests, Baptists and other denominations. I've enjoyed discussing religion with rabbis and ministers and all sorts of people.

I've had people ask me about Salvation and Jesus and I have never, not one single time, ever been insulted in any way shape or form by any of it. Frankly it touches my heart that people I know worry so much for my soul that they would ask.

You're the one that is angry. Perhaps the problem isn't anywhere else but you. I suggest that because honestly, you're whining like a stuck bitch right now.

ed said...

@ CachorroQuente

"The short answer is, no atheist gets upset when some numbnutz claims a desire to "marry" Christmas."

Well aren't you the Spelling Nazi Jackhole of the season.

I suppose someone will have to explain to you that people do in fact occasionally make spelling and grammar mistakes on the internet and a good faith approach to that is acceptable.

But since you're really just jackass I suppose we can just let you fester in whatever swamp you like to call home.

Robert Cook said...

"What do you supposed intellectuals have to say about the new regulations that allow the government to detain American citizens, without trial, indefinitely."

It's abominable, the latest overt manifestation of the police state in America. (Following up on that abomination, get ready for flocks of flying drones to be employed soon in American airspace to surveil American citizens everywhere; there's already talk they will be weaponizd with non-lethal tools such as bean-bag guns and tasers, but we can be sure it won't be a long interval before more lethal weapons will be sdded to their aresenal.)

One hopes the Supreme Court will overturn it as unconstitutional, but with the current court, I have little expectation they will do so. (In any case, they can only consider the matter once the bill becomes law and once someone brings a challenge that reaches he high court. I'd love to see a lower court overturn it. Perhaps the supremes would either decline to hear an appeal or perhaps they would uphold the lower court's decision. Again, though...I'm not hopeful about it. Things will get worse and more authoritarian in this country before they get better...assuming "better" is on our near horizon.)

CachorroQuente said...

"Well aren't you the Spelling Nazi Jackhole of the season."

No. The joke actually has nothing to do with the spelling error, it has to do with the stupidity of asking why atheists get upset over something stupid.

Here's another stupid question:

If there is a God, why do Christians get upset over people saying, "Happy holidays?"

If you think I'm a jackass for thinking that's a stupid question, that is an assessment that I can live with, Baby Boy.

CachorroQuente said...

"I'd suggest that if Christians simply didn't give a fuck whether or not you suffered eternal damnation you'd still be pissed off because they weren't trying to push Salvation on you.

And yes I've seen atheists do exactly that."

Say what? You've encountered atheists who were pissed off that Christians weren't harassing them sufficiently? Excuse me for observing that that is bullshit.

"Personally I'm an Animist."

Oh, isn't that sweet.

CachorroQuente said...

Here is the funniest thing that I have read regarding Hitchens death:

"Christopher Hitchens was a hateful man. I long ago stopped reading him. The world is a better place because of his demise."

That written by one who claims to be a professional, traind philosopher.

Hope that I need not explain to the animists among us why that's funny.

The Crack Emcee said...

ed,

The heart of Christianity is Salvation.

Except for the being evil part. You cannot leave that out - your God demands it.

ampersand said...

And he never changed his name. Christopher means bearer or carrier of Christ. Ironic ,if he is interred his headstone will carry the name forever.

Browndog said...

Late...I'd add what I posted on Insurrection-

I miss his mind.....as I miss all thinkers.