Christopher Hitchens shares his current near-death experience.
The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth KÃ¼bler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of â€œacceptance,â€ hasnâ€™t so far had much application in my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been â€œin denialâ€ 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 canâ€™t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how itâ€™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 Iâ€™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 readâ€”if not indeed writeâ€”the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. Of course my book hit the best-seller list on the day that I received the grimmest of news bulletins, and for that matter the last flight I took as a healthy-feeling person (to a fine, big audience at the Chicago Book Fair) was the one that made me a million-miler on United Airlines, with a lifetime of free upgrades to look forward to. But irony is my business and I just canâ€™t see any ironies here: would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that my memoirs were remaindered as a box-office turkey, or that I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question â€œWhy me?â€ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
Hitch writes wittily and one admires his courage, but I must say I do find myself a bit puzzled by the eagerness of professional literati like Hitchens not merely to share, but to avidly harvest, process, package, and market such close-to-the-bone experiences as a personal fatal illness.
My own natural inclination is to regard broad areas of personal life and experience, particularly this kind, as completely private. I would no more desire to tell an audience of strangers what I thought when I learned I had a fatal condition than I would care to disrobe in public.
It seems certain to me that my attitude must be a residual feature of my primitive, ordinary American, working class origins. Nothing could be more characteristic of membership in the Ivy League, elite world of high achievement, celebrity, and success than rushing, as quickly as possible following any notable experience, to the keyboard and hurrying one’s account of myself and whatever into print.
All experience was once considered useful for the forging of the human character. Today, all experience is simply more fodder for publication.
True members of the community of fashion are always marketing themselves. One can picture Hitchens arguing with Charon about not being permitted to retain his Blackberry and the lack of Wifi access from the River Styx. There would be such a huge opportunity for a major feature on exactly what a chap sees, and everything he experiences, as he is drawn irresistibly in the direction of that bright white light. How frustrating it would be!
Let’s hope Hitchens beats the odds and can go on writing and self-revelating for a long time yet.