June 6, 2010

"Your mother committed suicide, in a pact with a lover, in 1973. Did she suffer from lifelong depression?"

"No. I think she was having a bad menopause, and she was losing her looks, which were pretty impressive."

Is that any way for Hitchens to talk about his mother, who killed herself when he was 6 26?
Yes. She abandoned him, intentionally. This hostility is appropriate.
Yes. It's honest analysis, plainly stated.
No. He should show reverence or empathy or at least respect.
No, because it sounds demeaning toward women generally.

pollcode.com free polls

CORRECTION: Hitchen's age at the time of his mother's suicide was 26, not 6. That mistake affected the first 40 votes or so. Sorry!


Methadras said...

The one thing I appreciate about Hitch is brutal honesty. The pursuit of truth for hitch is his imperative. Sometimes he's wrong, but a lot of times he can be very spot on. Although his take on homosexuality is a little odd, but hey, it's Hitch.

Be said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
somefeller said...

He wasn't 6 years old when she died. He was an adult at the time, and if memory serves, already a working journalist.

somefeller said...

According to Wikipedia, he was born in 1949, so he would have been 24 years old at the time of the suicide.

From Wikipedia: In 1973, Hitchens' mother committed suicide in Athens in a suicide pact with her lover, a former clergyman named Timothy; they bled to death, in what was initially thought to be a murder scene, after overdosing on pills and cutting their throats and wrists. He flew alone to Athens to recover her remains. While there he reported on the Greek constitutional crisis that was happening at the time. It became his first leading article for The New Statesman. Hitchens stated his belief that his mother was pressured into taking her own life under the fear of his father becoming aware of her infidelity.

traditionalguy said...

No wonder he hates Christianity.

Ann Althouse said...

Oh, you're right about the age. Don't know what I was thinking!

somefeller said...

No wonder he hates Christianity.

Yeah, when I first read about the fact that the man involved with his mother was a clergyman (former vicar, no less), I thought that explained a lot. Whether he wants to (or can - to be fair to the guy) admit it or not.

edutcher said...

The option you need is, "No. It's just that he's really a jerk".

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dust Bunny Queen said...

I really like the contrast between the verbose/verbal diarhhea of the questioner and the succinct terse anwsers of Hitchens.

The reporter is all blah blah pretentious blather blah blah and Hitch cuts like a knife.

Whether he is right or wrong, is immaterial. It is entertaining.

traditionalguy said...

Insane loving mothers can really screw up a son. Hitchens probably has repressed anger at being abandoned in favor of a two bit Cult type, as Crack likes to call them. That anger has had to come out later redirected at himself or others, and in the meantime he has dulled the pain with his drug of choice. As a result Hitch has become a formidable debater of any deciever cult type spokesman and Hitch never shows that other side any mercy. I understand him well.

RuyDiaz said...

1) Hitchens really is a world class jerk. It is easy to hide behind 'honesty' when you are enjoying brutalizing others with your words.

2) His take on homosexuality: Huh? Besides anything else, he thinks every man (and woman?) who denies homosexual attraction is lying.

The more I see of Hitchens the less I like him.

El Pollo Real said...

In the past it's been hard to avoid thinking about Hitchens but this makes it easier.

danielle said...

the more i read about Hitchens, the weirder and weirder he comes off .... i cant tell from this article if he really thinks his mother's suicide is related to loosing her looks or if he's just being an ass because he hurts just like anyone who looses a parent to suicide -- and for a lover's pact -- must hurt.

maybe i'll get his book from the library when we get it in.

EDH said...

He flew alone to Athens to recover her remains. While there he reported on the Greek constitutional crisis that was happening at the time. It became his first leading article for The New Statesman.

Nowhere Man

Down the hatch.
A quite curious phrase.

The middle South Midlands
Victorian phase.

Its usage undoubtedly on the increase.

I must work it into
my New Statesman piece.

- That's the hatch, friend.
- Indeed.

Christopher said...

A bit more on Hitch's poor mother's suicide in this old Guardian link


Christopher said...

sorry, clickable link here

Ralph L said...

I suppose the effect of becoming 60 on me was stronger than I thought it was going to be. I took it quite heavily...
That might explain the menopause answer. Projection.

SMGalbraith said...

He clearly developed his debating style over the decades as a Trotskyite taking on the Stalinists. Pretty nasty infighting there.

But he still thinks he's in that arena and it just doesn't always work.

The goal, after all, is usually (not always) to win the argument; not destroy your opponent.

danielle said...

Ann, you really need another poll option -- 'The interviewer is getting on his nerves and he's taking the piss'

danielle said...

thanks for the link Christopher, that cleared a few things up.

Luke Lea said...

Must say I like Christopher Hitchens though I can't imagine how he ever defended Trotskyism. There is nothing wrong with his remarks about his mother's suicide that I can see, nothing inherently inappropriate.

rcocean said...

The interviewer is wrong. Based on his views, Hitchens is NOT an 'iconoclast'. He loves Israel, voted for Obama, proudly proclaims his Jewishness, attacks "religion" and Bob Hope, & supports the Iraq war. Not many idols being smashed here.

The fact that the NYT's labels him as such only confirms he's not.

As a rule, anyone described by the New Yorker, NYT or WaPo as "iconoclastic", "irrelevant", or "edgy" - isn't.

amba said...

Although his take on homosexuality is a little odd

Which part, that it's love and not just sex?? Or the other part?

I think he's right: most straight people are "a little bit gay" (and most gay people are a little bit straight).

Largo said...


Not because she abandoned him, nor because it is "honesty, plainly stated".

This is .... well, it is a very Hitch thing to say isn't it. And its not wrong for him to say it, because Hitch is teh awsome!

(Actually, I am being only 10% sarcastic. Certain people can pull off--note I did not say get away with--saying certain things because...

...because why? Because he's Hitch? Well, yeah--not really a full or satisfying answer, but yeah. Different people can pull off different things. When it comes to saying something like this, in his manner of saying it, Hitch is teh awesome--hands down :)

DBQ gets it. And danielle ('taking the piss') probably gets it more than me.

Paul said...

Why should his mom get a better break than Mother Theresa?

I used to think the entertaining part of Hitchens outweighed the attention-seeking a--hole part. Changed my mind.

Methadras said...

amba said...

Which part, that it's love and not just sex?? Or the other part?

I think he's right: most straight people are "a little bit gay" (and most gay people are a little bit straight).

I'm not even remotely a little bit homosexual. The thought of it is bullshit to say the least.

Slow Joe said...

Honestly, sincerely, with no effort to prove my manliness or disgust for gayness... I have no attraction to other men. I do not fund anything about that sexually attractive.

I have no problem with those who are gay. I think they should be treated the same as anyone. I think gayness is probably biologically determined. I don't mind Hitch's view on this. Apparently some people do find both sexes attractive. For Hitchens, he thinks anyone who doesn't admit seeing sexuality the same as he does is a liar. That's pretty unintelligent, but I don't mind someone boldly throwing that out there. It's wrong, but no problem.

Also, I admire people who are bold enough to be derogatory towards suiciders they are close to. I strongly oppose the concept of showing pity or sorrow or any respect for those people. I think that encourages the mentally ill to go through with it when they could be cured to some extent. I do wonder, how do you know a suicide pact wasn't really a suicide+murder?

Lynne said...

I have always found it interesting that both Hitchens and Glenn Beck lost their mothers to apparent suicide just they entered young manhood. They each proceeded to become charismatic, polarizing figures on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Sort of makes you wonder a bit.

A.Worthing said...

mmm, i would add a fifth option: no, its not appropriate, but its completely understandable.

Its sort of similar to gallows humor, its sort of the wildly inappropriate reaction to horror.

lemondog said...

I still think like a Marxist in many ways. ..... I consider myself a very conservative Marxist.

Of course, I do everything for money. Dr. Johnson is correct when he says that only a fool writes for anything but money.

I haven’t got to the point yet where phone calls and e-mails are billable, but I am working on it. That would be happiness defined for me.


c3 said...

I voted for the "honesty" response but it requires an asterisk. When speaking of one's personal familial relationships, honesty is an elusive thing. Throughout our lives when considering our opinion of, say, our father we ask ourselves "Is that what I really believe?"

And the answers change throughout our lives. How I view my mother is different than it was 10 years ago and much different than 20 years ago. Which is the "correct" view?

Quien sabe?

Dead Julius said...


The only hostility I sense from Hitch is toward the NY Times, probably because the questions asked are patronizing and ridiculous.

So is the photo.

It's just another meaningless NY Times hit piece.

traditionalguy said...

Thorley...But do you think that becoming a jerk was genetic here, or did something in Hitch's nurture experience with mom take this brilliant man and send him down the road to Jerk finishing school seeking for retribution skills.

Blue@9 said...

The interviewer is wrong. Based on his views, Hitchens is NOT an 'iconoclast'.

Dude, the guy wrote a piece excoriating Mother Teresa after she died. Mother Teresa!

As for Hitchens being a jerk, so what? He's not running for office or best friend; he's putting ideas and arguments out there. Maybe he's a jerk because the world is full of insufferable fools.

Sky Lawyer said...

I did not know the story about Hitch's mom. Very sad.

Lynne said:

"I have always found it interesting that both Hitchens and Glenn Beck lost their mothers to apparent suicide just they entered young manhood."

Fascinating. Knew the Beck story a little, but good point.

I see this (to lesser degrees of course) with people in everyday life. The ones who experienced some great loss or trauma as a kid or young adult seem to have an inner motor and a 10,000 yard stare. They just have...drive. Not sure there's any other way to describe it.

People like that are interesting, if nothing else. That describes Hitchens to a T.

To his credit, by the way, Hitchens makes war on religion with a lot more good cheer and respect than does Dawkins, who is unbearable.

lemondog said...

The ones who experienced some great loss or trauma as a kid or young adult seem to have an inner motor...

It's called survival.

...and a 10,000 yard stare.

I like that descriptor.

traditionalguy said...

My guess is that Hitch is living his life to find encounters with situations that he sees as similar to the one that killed his Mom. Hitchens is then fighting to save whomsoever he picks as the substitute for Mom from deception and death by a cult ...just like he feels that he should have done by powerfully intervening for Mom back when she needed him. Some of that drive is also seen in our commenter friend Crack Emcee's drive to fix the past by fighting similar evils in the present. They are both highly talented and complex men.

lemondog said...

I also was thinking that this thread might have some relevance for Crack.

I wonder if Crack likes who he is.

Suburbanbanshee said...

1. It's known that his mother left a suicide message blaming Hitchens for her suicide, among other things. Comments about her looks, or which led to him thinking this was part of it, may have been part of the message.

2. Women who have physically bad reactions to menopause do occasionally commit suicide or do other drastic things. It's a reasonable hypothesis, if he didn't really see her doing suicidal depression stuff all the time.

3. I realize it's fair game when interviewing someone about a memoir, to ask about bad stuff in his life. But I can't say that I'd want to ask someone that particular question. At all.

Kirstin said...

I wonder what brother Peter Hitchens says about the suicide, if anything.

cf said...

I think the suicide of a parent is the ultimate betrayal, the ultimate abandonment. I think Hitch never got over it.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

I love the question of whether someone, who commits the most selfish act possible, is being treated with sufficient respect by the one of the people with the most to lose by her act. What a bullshit perspective!

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

And the fact is that if the mom had had the guts to stay alive and sort out her life she could have corrected a record that is now relegated to the musings of those she left behind.

The entitlement in any proposition to the contrary is too fucked up to even consider. How pathetic it is that some people really do consider the fruit of their loins not as people, as human beings, but rather as possessions from which to nevertheless impart some semblance of meaning into their sorry lives!