by Chude Jideonwo
For a long time as a child, I insisted that silence couldn’t possibly be the best answer for a fool – we just had a bunch of people too lazy to find the right words. It was a position I soon had to drop for lack of role models to prove this theory – until I met Christopher Hitchens.
As one writer has said this morning, “Hitchens never could simply nod his head.”
This was a thinker so sure, a writer so good, a human being so pure in his moral and intellectual integrity that he would always find the exact words needed for that fool. And the words were always elegant.
Influenced greatly by the journalistic excellence of Vanity Fair as this site and our magazine is, for us Hitchens more dramatically symbolised the intellectual extravagance and rich depth of that magazine – whether he was writing about Brazilian waxes and the joys of alcohol or about water-boarding and the righteousness of the Iraq War.
Thus I am terribly ashamed that, on this day of his death aged 62 (a day, many of us, who have followed every move since he revealed his cancer have expected with dread), I am unable to find the right words to describe a man who affected my life and my writing so distinctly – who made it difficult for me to excuse an inability to think even about the hardest things, and to communicate them with the most clarity possible.
Such clarity as this – “It’s not enough that faith claims to be the solution to all problems,” he wrote in Slate in 2009 after a Danish newspaper apologised for publishing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. “It is now demanded that such a preposterous claim be made immune from any inquiry, any critique, and any ridicule.”
Even his narrative of the cancer that ravaged his body, his throat, but not his voice and never his mind, was magnificently clear. Throwing light in a place and experience so muddled with fear and worry in most cases that no one has been able to tell an exact story.
“He was intolerant of nonsense,” another writer has said. “Including about his own health.” Indeed, his unwavering courage of conviction, in insisting even more earnestly in the absence of a God, when his own mortality should have weakened and softened him only quickened the regard with which I viewed this phenomenon.
Said another tribute this morning: “Even after being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in 2010, Hitchens refused to turn to a deity or organized religion for comfort. He made it clear that if anyone ever claimed he had converted at the end of his life, it would be either a lie propagated by the religious community or an effect of the cancer and treatment that made him no longer himself.”
“The entity making such a remark might be a raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain. I can’t guarantee that such an entity wouldn’t make such a ridiculous remark, but no one recognizable as myself would ever make such a remark,” he said.
Vanity Fair’s simple In Memoriam at 11.45pm – the official announcement of his death – refers to him as “incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant”. At the end, it notes, he was “more engaged, relentless, observant, and intelligent than just about everyone else – just as he had been for the last four decades.”
In the absence of my own inadequacy here and now, I shall appall Hitchens wherever he is now and quote some Tweets that mirror my thoughts:
@Toure Hitches was intellectually macho, as in he wielded his mind like a massive muscle. And he was intellectually courageous – no idea scared him.
@AO1379 Even at the point of being decapitated by cancer, he stoically maintained his opinion of God. He was a brilliant man who offered no apologies for his radical, sometimes erratic views.
@Toure I respect immensely that the proximity of death did not change Hitchens’s feeling about God. He stood his ground on that one.
@AO1379 You could disagree with his views, but Hitches is one of the most compelling writers I’ve ever read.
@dreamhamption RIP to the wildly brilliant Christopher Hitches, who fought cancer and never stopped writing.
@BlacCanseco Hitch was so anti-faith he attacked it like it was a public nuisance.
@joseiswriting RIP, Christopher Hitches, one of the most prolific, original and discerning writers of ANY era.
@Tourse Hitches was a throwback to the Norman Mailersque vision of the writer as macho, brilliant, argumentative &, critically, hardliving.
@Toure If Hitchens is wrong about God it’ll be a very interesting scene when he shows up at the pearly gates.
@morgan_murphy Gonna read Hitches tonight & pray to ever write that well. Tomorrow, I’ll accept my limitations & tweet a fart joke.
From his editor at Vanity Fair, and another magnificent writer, Graydon Carter – @VanityFair He was a gift from, dare I say it, God.
And finally, this one – @goldietaylor I hope I’m right about God, because I think he’d really like Hitchens.
“There will never be another like Christopher. A man of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar,” said Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. “Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls.”