Christopher Hitchens’ wit prevails– even in the face of cancer
Christopher Hitchens’ tour in support of his memoir, Hitch 22, had been going splendidly, with liberal dollops of coverage on both sides of the Atlantic. So when he suddenly canceled the remaining stops on Tuesday, only two causes seemed likely: Illness or rehab.
Illness it is: Hitchens has esophogeal cancer.
And yet, even in announcing that he has come down with a mortal illness, Hitchens’ dry wit remains in evidence:
“I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus,” Hitchens writes at VF Daily, the website for Vanity Fair, where he’s been a contributing editor since 1992. “This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.”
This advice seems persuasive to me — Oh, Chris, such understatement reminds us why we love you, even those of us who have become exasperated by your unseemly lurch from lefty champion to neocon warmonger here in the latter years of your illustrious career.
Hitchens further compromised himself, at least in my eyes, with the intolerance (and, it must be said, shocking lack of intellectual rigor) of his 2007 attack on religion, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
And yet for all that, Hitchens remains that rare thing, a journalist who matters, one whose prose is worth reading even if what it says seems wrong headed in the most obvious way. For one take on why Hitchens changed his spots to neo-con “tub-thumper,” and in the process came to “sound a little unhinged,” see Ian Buruma’s Hitch 22 review at The New York Review of Books.
Most of the articles and blog posts about Hitchens’ illness on the Internet today link it — in prim and Puritanical fashion — to his fondness for cigarettes and booze.
“Hitchens is a notorious smoker and drinker who has made no secret of his vices,” sniffs the Oregonian, while the Los Angeles Times notes that Hitchens “is as well-known for the trademark drink and cigarette in his hand as for his provocative views.” The Washington Post referrs to Hitchens as “the notorious chain-smoker.” Tsk, tsk.
True, smoking and drinking are very bad for you, and it seems insane that anyone would continue to smoke at this late date. But the implication that a smoker like Hitchens is getting what he deserves is uncharitable in the extreme. We all, sooner or later, come to a bad end, and none of us deserve it.
Predictably, faith-based commentators are steepling their fingers and pledging to pray for Hitchens to recover — or, as Rod Dreher puts it at his beliefnet blog: “I hope you will join me in praying for his healing, body and soul”
And just as predictably Hitchens’ godless followers respond with some variation of, “We don’t need your stinkin’ prayers!”, one sample of which you can find from “Paul” in the comments section of Dreher’s blog. In fact, an interesting exchange develops between Dreher and his readers, both religious and atheist.
No longer an atheist yet not quite a believer, I can only say I’m now sorrier than ever that I missed Hitchens’ tour stop in Miami in mid-June, when he addressed a packed house at Temple Judea in Coral Gables. I’ve heard that Hitchens was in fine form. For a first-hand account, check out a blog post by my friend Tom Swick, the outstanding travel writer.