Friday, December 16, 2011

The Measure of a Man

Anyone who's read this site for any length of time knows how I feel about Christopher Hitchens -- and just about everyone understood once his cancer diagnosis was made public that it was only a matter of time before we had to say goodbye to him. Today, unfortunately, is that day.

There's an almost comical irony to the fact that I can't even begin to find the words to properly explain the indelible mark that Hitchens's brilliance, fearlessness, and all-around larger-than-life presence has left on the world around him over the last six decades -- the irony being that those very words would likely come easily to him, and did, right up to the end. He lived his life with a kind of conviction few of us could muster, turning an intellect so virgorous that one would normally imagine it as a cold and sterile instrument into a weapon of pure human passion. He regularly challenged the expectations and sensibilities of even his fiercest defenders, forcing them, as he did everyone else, to accept that the mark of a truly exceptional mind was the willingness to not simply break with conventional wisdom but to sometimes angrily turn against the opinions of your idols. Put simply: Hitchens never expected you to agree with him all the time, even if you were someone who admired the way his brain worked and reveled in his ability to bring that genius to the page; on the contrary, he'd probably think quite a bit less of you if you did.

Sometimes it felt like he argued simply for the sake of arguing, but he was never some grotesque and gratuitous provocateur, pushing buttons in the hope of drawing attention that would be its own reward; his militant intelligence, scalpel wit and irrepressible tongue never felt self-serving. What Hitch was doing -- always doing -- was flexing a muscle so fucking powerful that, like the many other unabashedly human impulses he exhibited, not even he himself could completely control it.

In the end, Christopher Hitchens was something few of us can claim to be -- a completely honest man. Honest in his beliefs. His faults. His vices. Intellectually honest. And what he may be remembered best for: honest in his willingness to voraciously live the one and only life he knew he had.

Here's to you, Hitch.

Vanity Fair: In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens/12.15.11


Adrienne Saia said...

I asked:!/AdrienneSaia/status/147563273540206592

You answered. Thank you for this piece. I'm going to miss this man's input immensely.

Dan said...

I was truly saddened when I saw the news headline that he had passed. With full acknowledgement that the following may sound like a cliché, I really feel the world is a lesser place now that he's gone.

Just a few weeks ago I was watching several debates he had taken part in, and found myself hoping that he would be able to tough it out for a much longer period of time. Even in his final months, the wit and intelligence were at full strength. And now more than ever, in a time in which Idiocracy seems not like a satire but an all-too-accurate description of a very near future (and arguably present), a voice like his was needed. It's going to be tremendously missed.

Deiskrad said...

You once said that the world instantly got less funny after the death of George Carlin. I submit that the world instantly got dumber after the death of Christopher Hitchens.

ntx said...

I'm going to miss reading Hitchens. His writing almost always surprised.

IrishGirl said...

A nice homage to a brilliant man

cgwalt said...

Chez, I think you did, despite your self-doubt, find the perfect words. Thanks for saying what I am incapable of writing. He was a most honest man.

CNNfan said...

R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens

NoxiousNan said...

Well said, Chez.

I remember he first came onto my radar with several pro-war articles in Vanity Fair that infuriated me (and still would).

Bob Cesca aptly said, "What a brilliant and peculiar man."

Ref said...

Sometimes I agreed with him. Sometimes I furiously didn't. He was smart and able to argue his positions. We're going to miss him around here.