04 Jan 2012

Hitchens… and Victor Davis Hanson!?

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Postmortem tributes to the late flamboyant journalist Christopher Hitchens became so prolific and fulsome that they actually provoked satirical parody from Neal Pollack in Salon.

Hitchens spoke out against war, and also for war. In a span of five years, he bore witness to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the explosion of the Eiffel Tower, and the construction of the new holographic Eiffel Tower. He had acid in his pocket, acid in his pen and acid in his veins. Then Darkness fell, on Sept. 11, 2001. We’d all moved to America and gotten totally rich.

Hitchens changed that day. For months, he’d wander the streets at night, looking to drunkenly berate someone who disagreed with him about the evils of Islamofascism. Occasionally he’d attempt to strangle young journalists, who admired him unquestioningly, with their own neckties. But he was right. He was always right. Even when he was wrong.

The night they killed Osama bin Laden, he showed up at my apartment, drunk but lucid, quoting T.S. Eliot, Longfellow and, of course, himself. We stayed up watching CNN, which was actually pretty boring. In the morning, over a breakfast of corn flakes and whiskey, I said, “Well, I guess that’s the end of Islamofascism. Good job!”

Hitchens went into my kitchen, took a cutting board off the counter, and threw it into my forehead, drawing blood.

“Don’t be an imbecile,” he said. “The struggle never ends. Also, you must remember that there is no God.”

I needed four stitches that day. Hitch put them in himself, with his teeth. What a friend he was.

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I thought that the funereal commemorations, at that point, had gone about as far as they could go, but, no, life was still able to top art.

Along came an essay from (of all people) paleocon classicist Victor Davis Hanson (the California Cato) informing us that he, too, had been a friend of Hitch. Did anyone who writes in Britain or America not drink with Hitchens (–or worse)?

Provoking the question: which is the wilder and funnier story, the fictional parody above or the actual testimony of a live eyewitness?

Christopher once asked me whether the classics community, my readers, and my Democratic family had become disgusted with me in the same way that the far greater global literary and left-wing world had with him over Iraq. I could only answer, “Well, yes, of course, but it is a matter of degree, since I am not sure how much they knew or cared.” He smiled, “Well, if they did, at least, that’s good news, Victor. We are judged better by our enemies than our friends.” I disagreed about that.

Like many Englishmen, Christopher had a great reverence for classics; he made it a point once to have me over to dine with the great Sophoclean scholar Bernard Knox, and on another occasion a Latin-quoting Jerry Brown (who remembered that I had written him a note in classical Greek in 1976). Christopher’s daughter was a gifted Latin student, and he often peppered me with academic questions about Thucydides and Aristophanes. He oddly seemed interested in the scholarly minutiae that others considered the equivalent, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, of a dog walking on two legs (impressive, but for what purpose?): Could the average Greek have followed Pericles’ Funeral Oration as it is “transcribed” by Thucydides? How did the parabases actually work on stage in Aristophanes’ plays? For a radical, Mr. Hitchens had great reverence for traditional education, especially its emphasis on rote, grammar, and syntax.

I was more surprised about Christopher’s interest in agriculture, but then, in my experience, the English — and Christopher seemed to me as English as anyone born in Britain — seem to treat farming with the same special reverence they extend to dogs and Greek. He once asked to visit me for a weekend on our farm, and was fascinated about raisin production, tree fruit, tractors, and the economy of rural central California. I kidded him that out here driving a Massey Ferguson with a tandem disk was seen as far more impressive than reciting a stanza of Kipling, and he flared up and answered, “But why, man, one at the expense of the other?” But often of course they are.

When he arrived in rural Selma, out of drink and angry that he had exhausted his usual favorites, I warned him there was no way I could buy all his accouterments out here, and I was not going to drive all the way up to Fresno to find them. He rattled off a number of carbonated-mineral-water brands that he apparently knew well from Mexico, and announced, “Victor, there is a global brotherhood of quality drinkers that reaches even here that you are apparently not aware of.” He then insisted that we drive into the local barrio and find a “good” liquor store. Finally at one of the most run-down places imaginable we found two dusty bottles of exactly what he was looking for. “Why the surprise?” he scoffed.

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