18 Dec 2011

Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

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Christopher Hitchens (center), between friends Ian McEwan (left) and Martin Amis.

Electronic and print media are absolutely filled with tributes to Christopher Hitchens, who died this week of esophageal cancer aged 62. Hitchens seems to have known, and won extravagant admiration for his wit, his writing, and his panache from just about everyone in the international republic of letters.

David Berlinski (father of the lovely and talented Claire), I thought, delivered the most poetical, comparing Hitch’s conspicuously gallant departure, conducted deliberately on the record and before his enormous readership in print (final example), to that of the great William Marshall.

Christopher Hitchens chose to greet death publicly. Had he thought of it, he might well have invited an orchestra. We signed books together after our appearance in Birmingham, and to admirers on his very long line inquiring after his health, Hitchens replied that he was dying. It was a response that inevitably took his interlocutor aback, the more so since it was true. I followed his interviews and read his essays about cancer and death. I found them moving. But they do not evoke the man. In his portrait of William Marshall (Guillaume Maréchal), The Flower of Chivalry, Georges Duby describes William “advancing calmly toward death” in full public view, his friends and retainers at his side, “proud of having been the instrument of the final, the fugitive, the anachronistic triumph of honor.”

Having contracted a terrible illness in the twenty first century, Christopher Hitchens returned to the thirteenth century in order to have it be seen to its end.

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