by Tauriq Moosa
I had chosen not to write extensively about the late Christopher Hitchens, since his contributions to my life’s betterment is of no real interest to anyone save my future biographers. And in looking at Maniza Naqvi’s piece on Hitchens I am, in fact, still not focused on Hitchens but on a point much broader: using colourful language in place of arguments is unhelpful to, I think, everyone. To be clear and upfront, I adored Hitchens’ work but that is, in fact, irrelevant to why Naqvi’s piece is a thin piece of tripe that stays afloat on nothing but its own hot air and strained eloquence. This is the type of thing Hitchens attacked: obscurity dressed in eloquence, masking hollow ‘arguments’. Indeed, try and read the first sentence of her piece and see if it makes sense. Come back to me if you know what she's trying to say.
To summarise the entire piece: Ms Naqvi did not like Hitchens. The end.
It is one of many ‘critical’ pieces following his recent death. However, I find it doubtful you will acquire better critical pieces now that the great man is dead than were written while he was alive. No insight can, I think, be gained on his arguments now that his corpse is cold, except that critics can be certain that they will receive no brilliant and biting counter-attacks.
Naqvi’s piece contains things like:
This type of thinking is hitched to a fine pitch for the American audience, in the packaging and selling, in my opinion, of a slimy toad: the blow hard, alcoholic—poser, social climber, wannabe—the unoriginal mediocre cheerleader of war and mass murder who made a career of being draped in mounds of other peoples’ books and supposedly having been himself well read and writing well, all the while being a fraud—and an Iago to America’s Othello.
Oh, I see what she did there! Using colourful language and phrasing, Ms Naqvi managed to write an entire piece without saying anything. Even when dissected, this cumbersome paragraph tells us something extraordinary: Someone didn't like someone else. The world just became dimmer.
The toad, an inebriated toxic decay wrapped inside the blubber of mid life crisis, appeared to himself, a legend, from a bar stool smoky view of the mirror. So he hitched his sense of self to some confusion with Dorian Gray.
On and on. There is nothing to use, nothing to point at. Her whole essay is itself nothing but a fog of eloquence hiding the shrivelled entity of hatred mewling in the corner. An entity that is not interesting and entirely boring to anyone seeking some kind of increase in knowledge.
It’s nothing but character attack, after character attack. So what if he was an alcoholic and smoker? So are many great people, who, like Hitchens, still managed to produce work that, unlike Naqvi's piece, stimulated thought (even if one disagreed). What does she mean by mid-life crisis?
I am consciously not trying to make a ‘tone argument’ – that is, to say her ‘tone’ is right or wrong or bad, etc. The problem is not her tone. People can write in whatever way they wish. The main problem is the essay is entirely tone.
That is, it contains no sustained argument or point; sentences crash into full stops, like rough seas into rocks. By its sheer force of emotion we are meant to… what? Agree? But, what are we supposed to agree with? That Ms Naqvi disliked Hitchens? Sure, I can agree to that. But who cares? Many people disliked and hated him. It makes no more impact on me than that people read astrology columns.
The piece drones on, using “Hitch” and “hitch” as both the man and the verb. Because that is, you know, so clever and has never been done before. It’s colourful and dramatic and belongs in an emo-kid’s diary, not an essay that is expected to convey something of substance.
I’ve read many of the pieces praising Hitchens and those criticising. You can disagree with both, since both types contain his arguments and views on the world. They tell us why the writer in question admired or criticised Hitchens. There are things we can do with these pieces. With Ms Naqvi’s piece we can do nothing but feel the pounding of her attacks: it’s like being hit with a hollow hammer, since it’s mainly irritating but you can see what she's trying to do.
Again the main problem is that she can sustain several hundred words because the whole piece is entirely colourful language. Execution is not really her problem, it's her substance. She has nothing to provide the world in this piece. I don’t care whether someone adored Hitchens or hated him – I’m interested in why and what arguments moved people either way. I care about this for every public figure. Personal feelings bore me, as they should everyone.
This flaccid piece deserves condemnation; not for its attack on Hitchens but for its insult to our time, mortality and intelligence. It is as childish as it is regrettable. This is not what one expects from adults, but from those who think they’re ‘deep’ and recently stopped using fractions when giving their age. The fewer pieces of writing that make up for their lack of substance with forced eloquence the better. We wouldn’t have so many postmodernist posers and professors (not mutually exclusive), we would have a better conception of what constitutes an actual argument, and so on. I don’t think one should never publish one’s feelings on things — but for goodness’ sake, make it interesting; make is sustainable; give us something to chew on that’s not made of lukewarm air.
It reminds me of Hitchens’ mother saying the only true sin is to be boring. If so, what a sinner we have here.
(In a joyful moment, her piece did produce the best comment I've ever read on the Internet by A.C. Douglas: “Since when has 3QD accepted articles written in crayon?”)