Tag Archives: Hitchens

Up with this we will not put.

Those of us who have survived him are doomed, honored, condemned, predicted, and otherwise going to spend our days reading him, transcribing him, listening to and watching audio and video recordings of him.

I imagine that I share with some of you the discovery ever (I just typed “every” instead of “ever” and because sometimes I also dictate to myself audibly as I type, said  out loud “every” instead of “ever” before “so often” because I am from Southeastern Kentucky, the best place on the whole planet to have in one’s genes, spirit, blood, muscles, sinews, hair, brain, sensibilities, all built upon the ancient and reworked and perfected minerals from this ancient land – all that produced her genealogy and her.  And her progeny.  But I digress.)  [Big smile on this Appalachian girl’s face.]

The point was that “ever” so often, maybe every five or 10 days, I read or hear or watch something of Christopher’s, and I gasp and think, “This is the best piece, the best point, the best phrase, the best argument.”  And it’s true each time.

Today’s amazing find, begins on this video provided by fora.tv (appears to have been taped on May 10, 2007, at Politics and Prose) at about five minutes, and 28 seconds in.

But don’t cheat yourself out of a second up to that point.  Watch it all.  See if you can stand it.  See if you can listen without smiling, clapping, giggling, seeing genius.  Missing him.  Of course you can’t.  You shouldn’t.  Just watch.  Listen.  Smile.

You can see it Dupont Circle, every day. People who want you to be spiritual.  Well, I don’t mind.  I do not mind.  Just leave me out of it. And babble all you like; it’s fine by me.  Whatever floats your boat.

But I insist; I insist.  Don’t  try and teach this to my children. Don’t try and put it in the schools.  Don’t get the President to talk piss on public occasions, in this way.  Don’t be praising people because they’ll believe anything.  Don’t be telling me that jihadism is the expression of some suppressed grievance.  Don’t be telling me any of that.  Don’t tell me that God gave you the West Bank.  None of this, because this is not a difference of opinion; this is a battle, in which civilization is involved, and in which they’ve had it all their own way for far too long.  And people who care for civilization are going to have to fight and show that we, too, have unalterable convictions; we, too, have real principles that can’t be changed.  We won’t call them faith or dogma.  But don’t mistake that for weakness.   And yeah. You know what, on certain days we, too, can be offended.  “I find that really offensive.”  That you say to me that God is telling you blow yourself up in my city.  No.  No.  That’s offensive; it’s worse than offensive.

Up with this we will not put.

From a hanger-on Part II

Detail from the cover of Hitch-22, taken from Salon.com

Yes, the party without Christopher Hitchens is clearly far less interesting, and even though there is, equally as clearly, nothing we can do to fill that hole, I find myself among the cadre – a rather larger cadre than Hitchens might have expected – of folks reading and watching all the Hitch we can get our eyes on.

In one of my recent sessions with Hitch, I watched Brian Lamb, in a 1992 Q&A episode with Hitchens and John Fund, hold up, in typical Q&A fashion, a headline.  You know, where Lamb holds up and the camera zooms in on a newspaper or periodical headline.  I especially like those zooms.  Starting at a point where only Superman could read the text, and then flying in to the point where we mere mortals see the topic come into visual focus.  Where, although we don’t yet know Lamb’s question, we know, because we can see in print, its context.

There are several things, really delicious things, going on with the observer right at that moment.  In rapider-fire succession than I can conceive, there is the visual focus moment followed by the one where the eyes and thinking brain connect.  The moment where one becomes aware that the “engage” button in the brain has been depressed.  Cool moment that is.

Could it get any better?  Well, yes, because that moment is followed by Lamb’s asking of the question, and then the next, where we mortals take a last anticipatory inhale as we watch Hitch begin to formulate his answer.

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I think the thing, or one thing, we Hitchens admirers have in common, is finding that “engage” button’s being depressed every time and all of the time that we spent with Hitchens.  Whether in person (I never experienced that), on-screen, on audio, or in print.  And loving it.

But I see now that he’s gone, and at no inconsiderable risk that this will sound like if not turn into a what-I-learned-from-Hitch piece, that I must generate more “engage” moments now.  On my own.  This what appears to be an all-of-a-sudden need to think probably doesn’t apply to all of you or maybe even many of you.  You think more than I do.  But since I am more than a bit of a couch potato and likely to be counted on the lowest rung of the Hitchens Admirers ladder, I haven’t exactly had it, that is, my engage, on.

Resources for engagement:

  • Public library.  I checked out the Thomas Paine book from the library just before Christmas (and confess to missing the beautiful old wooden card catalog).
  • Magazine subscriptions.  I now have a subscription to Harper’s for one year, during which time I will have access to the current year’s and archives of all previously published work, including all of Hitchens.  The same appears to hold true for archives of articles in The Nation.  Although the Hitchens articles in Vanity Fair appear to be available online, I can’t tell whether the online and print versions are a layover.  Slate offers up its collection of his articles.  I do not know how complete a collection it is.  Richard Lea at The Guardian has already highlighted the online written Hitchens, so please look there before you consider your search complete.
  • The blog The Film Archive.  Whatever else it does (I have barely scratched its surface), it captures in the 10-minute segments common for, if not required by, YouTube, the episodes, laid out back-to-back, of Hitchens being interviewed on C-SPAN and elsewhere, including the January 12, 1992 Q&A segment with Hitchens and John Fund; and
  • C-SPAN online archive of sessions with Hitch, including his last Q&A with Brian Lamb made nearly twenty years to the day after the one last referenced.

So, as I compile my Hitchens and other engagement sources, I want to express my appreciation to everyone responsible for access to his work and to everyone in Hitchens’ life.

I’ve got lots of reading to.  But don’t get the impression that I expect to become “anything like” truly well-read any time soon.  Or ever.  What I’d still prefer is reading enough to have an inkling of what Hitch is pointing to as he talks, sitting in perfect couch potato position, and listening to him.

Oh, how I wish I could write an article like the one behind this photo. Photo: Christopher Cox

The Four Horsemen: wonderful conversation with Hitchens on faith

Via the wonders of YouTube and blue tooth technology, as I drove to and from my holiday family visit, I was able to listen to many wonderful Christopher Hitchens’ videos and audios over my radio.  One of the rare treats was a two-hour (in two parts) conversation among Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens. Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, convened and recorded by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

The following dialogue, which I particularly like, begins at about 15 minutes and is just a teaser for a marvelous experience with discourse:

  • DENNETT:  I don’t think many of them ever let themselves contemplate the question, which I think scientists ask themselves all the time, “What if I am wrong? What if I’m wrong?”  It’s just not part of their repertoire.
  • HITCHENS:  Would you mind if I disagree with you about that?  A lot of talk that makes religious people hard to, not hard to beat, but hard to argue with, is precisely that they ‘ll say that they’re in a permanent crisis of faith.  There is indeed a prayer, “Lord, I believe; help thou my own belief.”  Graham Greene says, the great thing about being a Catholic was that it was a challenge to his unbelief.   A lot of people live by keeping two sets of books. In fact, it’s my impression that a majority of the people I know who call themselves believers or people of faith do that all the time.  I wouldn’t say that it is schizophrenia; that would be rude.  They’re quite aware of the implausibility of what they say.  They don’t act on it when they go to the doctor or when they travel, or anything of this kind. But in some sense they couldn’t do without it.  They’re quite respectful of the idea of doubt.  In fact, they make, uh, they try and build it in when they can.
  • DAWKINS:  Well, that’s interesting then, and so when they are reciting the creed with its total, sort of apparent conviction.  Is this a kind of mantra which is forcing themselves to overcome doubt by saying, yes, I do believe, I do believe, I do believe.
  • HITCHENS: And of course, like their secular counterparts, they’re glad other people believe it. It’s an affirmation they wouldn’t want other people not to be making.
  • HARRIS:  Also, there’s this curious bootstrapping move  which I tried to point out in this recent On Faith piece, this idea that you start with the premise that belief without evidence is especially noble, this is the doctrine of faith,  this is the parable of Doubting Thomas.  So you start with that, and then you add this notion, which has come to me through various debates, that the fact that people can believe without evidence is itself a subtle form of evidence.  I mean, that we’re kind of wired, Francis Collins, you mentioned,  brings this up in his book, the fact that we have this intuition of god is itself some subtle form of evidence.  It has this kind of kindling phenomenon, where if once you say, it’s good to start without evidence, the fact that you can is itself a subtle form of evidence, and then the demand for any more evidence is itself a kind of corruption of the intellect or a temptation or something to be guarded against.  And you get a kind of perpetual motion machine of self-deception where you can get this thing up and running.
  • HITCHENS: Well, they like the idea that it can’t be demonstrated, because then there’d be nothing to be faithful about.  If everyone had seen the resurrection, and we all knew that we’d been saved by it, then we would be living in an unalterable system of belief, and it would have to be policed, and it would actually be, those of us who don’t believe in it, who are glad it’s not true, because we think it would be horrible, those who do believe it don’t want it to be absolutely proven so there can’t be any doubt about it, because then there’s no wrestling with the conscience, no dark nights of the soul.

But the entire two hours is a treasure of discussion and dialogue.  Enjoy.

And to you I say, Namaste.

Christopher Hitchens

During his life time, I was aware of only a fractional part of Christopher Hitchens’ body of work.  I knew enough of it, however, to have more than an inkling of our loss at his departure, and so began my mourning.  A mourning that was, and is, saturated by the images, text and voice of Mr. Hitchens.

Which brings up my first “external” dilemma:  what to call him.  When I write about him.  Which I might.  This piece is my first, other than the tweeting (I’m @mobrock) and facebooking of links to and short observations about Mr. Hitchens Hitch him.  A small dilemma, but one with which I will have to deal.  I suspect.  Unless I never again write about him.  Which I doubt will be the case, but which query I am not going to answer here.

As I write this, I recognize that anyone who respects Hitch (too familiar?) will hate the text I’ve just written.  But this blog is so far outside the scope of your radar (I was going to say “beneath your intellectual . . . ,” but I couldn’t figure out how to say it.  See?  My vocabulary sucks.  I think you get my drift.) that you won’t ever see my linguistic ineptitude.  But for the rest of us, I am an adequate to above adequate writer, occasionally witty, despite the fact that I don’t need to be, but mostly just self-indulgent.  At least on the subject of Hitchens, and during my mourning.  But then,

I don’t need a seconder. My own opinion is enough for me. And I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get on line, and kiss my ass.                            – Christopher Hitchens

So, here’s what my mourning has looked like: Upon reading the announcement of his death, likely from Twitter, I watched several hours of Youtube recordings of Christopher by FORA.tv and C-SPAN and loaded by some of you to whom I am so grateful.

Note: If you aren’t mourning, you haven’t yet discovered Christopher Hitchens.  But not to worry.   His work, so luckily for us, is documented and available.  And I am hoping and believing that many more recordations and memorials  will continue to appear.

Next, I cancelled my workout (thank you, Shari, for understanding).  Then I went for a long walkabout in Stone Mountain Park.  A long, slow walk with my coffee-and-a-little-something in honor of the man.  Four hours of slow forward motion and slowed emotion; a quiet walk punctuated with tears, laughter, observations about the scenery and its mood, and dialogues about life.  I dreamed about him that night.  For the first, and so far, the last, time.

During the few days between his death and my drive to visit my beloved family for the holidays, I spent more hours in his presence.  Watching videos, transcribing into short bursts on Facebook and Twitter a few of his quotes, and sharing observations about him.

My family – bless them – I think, are a bit worried that I am taking his death too hard, and maybe in an inappropriate way. So I am especially thankful for those of you who understand this grief, although many of you are experiencing a much deeper and more intimate grief than mine.

To all of us, I say, relish it.

Because whatever it will be like, it won’t be like this forever.  At some point in the future, the pain will be less sharp.  We’ll accommodate it in order to remain functional in this world.  We’ll sob less often as we continue to learn about the man and find him to be a crystalline lens through which we can focus our perspectives on future current events, and ask, you can hear it coming, “WWHD?”  And although I’m not sure that Hitch would condone my own attempt to dissect an issue by considering how he would see it, instead of clearly evaluating what my own thoughts and observations are; and at the risk of being secularly sacrilegious in that reference, I just have to observe one contrast between WWHD and WWJD:  how much more appropriate it is to consider the basis for the thoughts of a man who authored a considerable body of work and whose lectures and debates are recorded, on the one hand, versus those of a dubiously historical figure and potential mythical character, about whom we know only via stories written about him by other people, after his death, and through numerous translations.

I am definitely not guru-izing H.  Nothing of the sort.  And I suspect that you noticed that I said next to nothing about him.  The thing is, I wouldn’t know how to choose what I wanted to say or was worth saying.  You know what I mean.  And now, back to the mourning.

Hitchens, from guardian.co.uk