Martin Amis on Christopher Hitchens: "Common Sense Was Not His Beat"
|courtesy Twelve Books|
|Hitchens with James Fenton|
Of this writing, newly collected in Mortality the posthumous essay collection that follows Hitchens's cancer ordeal, Blue said, "The book doesn't have a logical ending. He was going to write a different book with a different ending, was the hope."
He wrote until his last moments, finishing an essay on G.K. Chesterton from his hospital bed. (In his introduction of the panel, Herald book critic Ariel Gonzalez applied a description from Chesterton's novel The Man Who Was Thursday to describe Hitchens: he was "a blend of the angel and ape.")
All three panelists spoke of Hitchens's refusal to compromise as he fought his cancer. Amis recounted how "his sincere good manners were never abandoned... Sitting in his hellish hospital in Houston, with visitors coming in every 30 minutes, he never lost his grace."
This was the same friend with whom Amis used to frequent the "rough bars" of London and even when faced with "five very useful-looking men of no great education, he would never back down." Blue told of how, in later years, Hitchens ran out of their house to fight off a man he'd seen attacking a woman in the street and that this sort of thing happened all of the time.
|courtesy Twelve Books|
|Hitchens in Iraq, 1975|
Goldstein repeated a story shared backstage by Mitch Kaplan of Books & Books, of a time when Hitchens came to Miami to debate not just one but five religious leaders on his God is Not Great book tour. After dismantling the arguments of the first four, Hitchens had only left a disabled doctor of Islamic thought. He announced to the crowd, "Surely you must be thinking he can't go after the woman in the wheelchair. But surely you would be wrong."
"He was loved," Amis said. "His terrific good looks had something to do with it." Hitchens himself, Amis continued, identified with Humbert Humbert's self-description in Lolita of his "striking if somewhat brutal good looks." Blue amended the description to "empire-building good looks."
Amis also attributed Hitchens's popularity to "the sense of danger" that surrounded him and how he "made intellection quite dramatic. Common sense was not his beat." Instead, Hitchens work was an exercise in deep personal exploration. "The Hitch was really debating with Christopher half the time," Amis said.
"For all the public pugilistic posturing he was known for," Goldstein offered, "he was a kind and appreciative writer."