News of Christopher Hitchens’ death was crushing to me last night. I can think of no other author that is so inspiring to me. Here are a few simple reasons why:
Reading, or listening to, his prose makes me a better writer. His skill with language was simply magical. I can listen to him speak for hours upon hours, never getting tired of it. When the content is new, it’s brilliant, but even when it isn’t I learn about writing just from observing how he builds sentences.
Reading a chapter of any of his books illustrates how little you know about the world. When I read Hitchens I take notes. The number of references that are present from page to page is unbelievable. I think one metric of intellectual achievement could be to read an entire book of his and know every book, article, person, and concept he’s refers to within. I wonder how many people in the world can do that.
His argument style is eviscerating, yet he clearly continues to change his mind over time. He went from being a Trotskyist to being a supporter of Bush’s war in Iraq. And he did not apologize for it; instead he gave detailed reasons for why he held both opinions at their respective times. This I admire.
He struggled deeply with a duality between elitism and inferiority. He was a harsh critic of his own work, and often thought it was rubbish compared to his own standard. The only reason he came off as arrogant is because most other peoples’ work is much worse, and he didn’t mind saying so. But he certainly did not think he was brilliant much of the time, and even when he did it was merely due to a lack of decent competition.
Alas, I am thankful that he is no longer suffering, and even more thankful that there is so much of his content to read. Not only am I only a quarter of the way through Arguably, his latest collection of essays and articles from throughout his life, but re-reading his books that I’ve already read still nourishes me in the ways I’ve described above.
I’m glad he’s once again resting in the way he did before coming into this world, and I look forward to continuing to learn from him through his works that live on. Goodbye, Hitch, thanks for your attempts to create a more literate and and logical world.