On Christopher Hitchens

Anything I could say about Christopher Hitchens would be completely inadequate compared to the outpouring of grief, affection and admiration that has come from all quarters since his passing away on the 16th of December 2011. Like most people I only knew him through his writing, and through reading about him, both avenues indelibly confirmed his reputation a giant of the written word and of the lived life. I first heard ‘Hitch’ on Youtube. As an increasingly vociferous atheist I came upon the many debates and lectures that, thankfully, are posted online and was immediately a fan. I became hooked  on both his ardently secular philosophy but also on the simultaneously mesmerising yet daunting scope of his intellectual delivery. He had the uncanny ability to be both forensic and poetic at the same time. His uncompromisingly oppositional and combative stances on so many issues often left you in no doubt where you stood, whether it be in agreement or disagreement, with regards to his position. At the risk of an inadequate metaphor, a commentator once described another genius, the racing driver Ayrton Senna as, “often leaving you to decide whether or not you would have an accident with him”. This aptly described Hitchens’ writing and oratory, its clear and sharply incisive rhetoric that, while not deliberately designed to offend, made no apologies if it did so.

Reading Hitchens could be a somewhat belittling experience. The depth of his knowledge and the range of references, that gave his writing such weight in an era of sound-bite superficiality, required a required a regular retreat to the Internet to look up a source. I know reading Hitchens has improved my own knowledge; reading Why Orwell Matters was an education in itself. But engaging which such an mind and a talent through his work reinforced my own political beliefs about the inequalities of education that are ingrained in Britain but also globally – the subject is discussed at length in Hitchens’ memoir Hitch-22. His influence on me has been tangible in terms of a commitment to dialectical thought, critical enquiry and the discipline of production. Further than this reading Hitchens affords the realisation that such worthy aims are made more relevant when imbued with a certain joie de vivre. It leaves one with note of caution however that latter may have contributed to his far to early death. Perhaps this is an unintended lesson that Hitch leaves behind. I had often thought about writing to him over past few years particularly in the light of his illness. Work, laziness a sense of my own inadequacy meant I never did so. In one of his final interviews, with Jeremy Paxman, Hitchens said “if you ever wonder whether to write to anyone, always do...I regret not doing it more myself”. Upon hearing this I deeply felt such regret, that I had not taken up the pen to give some small indication of how much Christopher Hitchens, as a writer and person, had influenced me.