Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review: Hitch-22: A Memoir by Christopher Hitchens (2010).

Despite "produc[ing] a thousand words a printable copy every day and sometimes more" (p. 350), Christopher Hitchens appears a reluctant writer of memoir.

He admits his reluctance upfront: "When I first formed the idea of writing some memoirs, I had the customary reservations about the whole conception being perhaps 'too soon'. Nothing dissolves this fusion of false modesty and natural reticence more swiftly than the blind realization that the project could become, at any moment, ruled out of the question as having been undertaken too 'late.'" (3.)

Hitchens does not entirely overcome his reticence because after reading Hitch-22: A Memoir does comes away not really knowing the man. For example, Hitchens provides almost zero explanation for his journey to atheism, or as he prefers, anti-theism. This omission surprises inasmuch as Hitchens is one of leaders of the so-called "New Atheism", following the publication of his recent bestseller, God Is Not Great and frequent debates with leading apologists including William Lane Craig. He does include a photo (immediately preceding page 309) with fellow "New Atheists", Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, but his caption is about as much as he says about the collaboration. There's a brief interlude at pages 330-331 about his public debates "once or twice every month" "with those whose pressing need it is to woo and to win the approval of supernatural beings" (330), i.e. Hitchens' creative, yet patronizing, way of saying theists. He writes:

"How ... I am asked, do I find meaning and purpose in life? How does a mere and gross materialist, with no expectation of a life to come, decide what, if anything, is worth caring about?

"Depending on my mood, I sometimes but not always refrain from point out what a breathtakingly insulting and patronizing question this is. ... Just as the answer to the latter question is: self-respect and the desire for respect to others... A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the courageto take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called 'meaningless' except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one's everyday life as if this were so. Whereas if one sought to define meaninglessness and futility, the idea that a human life should be expended in the guilty, fearful self-obsessed propitiation of supernatural nonentities..but there, there. Enough." (330-31.)

That is not to say that the book ignores the people and places that have influenced his life. There's a strong does of that, including chapters on his mother Yvonne who unfortunately committed suicide, and his somewhat distant father whom he called, "The Commander". However, Hitchens does not allow the book to indulge in extended self-introspection or self-analysis. This lack is especially odd when one considers Hitchens' closing sentiment: "After various past allegiances, I have come to believe that Marx was rightest of all when he recommended continual doubt and self-criticism." (422). Hitchens includes one chapter called, Something of Myself, which is exactly that--only "something".

Nevertheless, despite the reluctance to expose the world to his inner thoughts, the world is the richer to see a true man of letters whipping words into a delicacy of prose.

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