Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead at 62.

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday of pneumonia due to esophageal cancer. (Wikipedia.)

His last published article — an extended refutation of the adage, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" — conveys the agony he was in at the time:

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.
Last year, he wrote:
In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? . . . To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
He wrote about death and the afterlife in his memoir from last year, Hitch-22 (at 337, taken from The Quotable Hitchens, at 85):
I do not especially like the idea that one day I shall be tapped on the shoulder and informed, not that the party is over but that it is most assuredly going on — only henceforth in my absence. . . . Much more horrible, though, would be the announcement that the party was continuing forever, and that I was forbidden to leave.
He wrote this about George Orwell (in Why Orwell Matters, at 211, taken from The Quotable Hitchens, at 210-211):
[W]hat he illustrates, by his commitment to language as the partner of truth, is that "views" do not really count; that it matters not what you think, but how you think; and that politics are relatively unimportant, while principles have a way of enduring, as do the few irreducible individuals who maintain allegiance to them.


(Photo by meesh via Wikimedia Commons.)


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