Robin sent me an email from India to tell me the news, and I must admit it hit me much harder than I would have imagined. I never met Hitch, but we knew people in common and I have been a devoted fan of his since the 80s when I discovered him through one of his articles in Harper's magazine and I have been following him closely ever since. It has become normal in some circles to always preface any profession of admiration for Hitchens (and anyone who doesn't admire him in some way or other is a rotten Philistine in my not-very-humble opinion) with something like, “I don't agree with some of his political views, but…”, as if it is normal to agree with public intellectuals of prodigious output 100% of the time. This just irritates me.
The world of letters has lost a giant, atheists have lost their most articulate spokesman, all of us have lost one of the most provocative and courageous voices of our time. And what a voice! If you have not read his autobiography, Hitch-22, do yourself a favor and get a hold of a copy right away. I cannot think of any recent prose which could match the felicity, clarity, honesty, wit, masterful and effortless erudition, and sheer muscle of Christopher Hitchens's lapidary writing there.
The bravery and spunky defiance with which Hitchens faced his painful illness should teach all of us something about how to live. He remained productive and alert to the bitter end. In his last article for Vanity Fair, published just last week, he wrote:
I am typing this having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers. The chief side effect of this pain is numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.
I know I shall be thinking of him and our own profound loss all day today, and very frequently in the future, and I will be reading and rereading him for a long time. One time Robin's sister found herself standing next to Hitch at a party in Manhattan and turned to him and asked, “Hey, you're Christopher Hitchens, aren't you?” to which he replied, “The sexually magnetic Christopher Hitchens!” Indeed, he was a beautiful man.