The Taser's Edge


Hitch-22: A Memoir by Christopher Hitchens

I picked up Hitch-22 from Durham Public Library’s “Non-Fiction New and Notable” shelf along with Hauerwas’ Hannah’s Child, because I thought reading them back-to-back would be interesting.  Clash of the titans: Hauerwas, Christian theologian criticized for being too friendly with neocons, versus Hitchens, career journalist known later in life mainly for his atheism and also criticized for being too friendly with neocons.   What actually happened is that Hauerwas’ book is great if you like theology, and Hitchens’ book is great if you like history.  Seriously great.  You’ll learn something about the latter half of the 20th century on every page from someone who was there.

Stereotypical (at least to Americans) English prep school background?  Check.  At a Cambridge party where a certain former US president may or may not have inhaled?  Check.  (Hitchens, by the way, has written an entire book on Clinton, its opinions well-expressed by its title–No One Left to Lie To.)  A Trotskist agitator in 1968 and welcomed visitor to Castro’s Cuba just after the revolution?  Check.  Supporter of the removal of Saddam Hussein even without WMDs being found?  Check (although certainly not the way the US did it).

What comes across is that Hitchens values honesty, even when honesty paints a self-critical picture.  I don’t know if ‘virtue’ is a word too loaded with religious meaning, but I’ll use it anyway.  Both Hauerwas and Hitchens are incredibly concerned with seeking the truth and with the virtue of honesty.  Both men come from working class backgrounds and changed their social locations through world-class educations.  Both name-drop like mad in their memoirs.  (This is not a criticism.  I would name drop too if I were best friends with Martin Amis or as-close-a-thing-to-a-friend-as-John-Howard-Yoder-apparently-ever-had.)  Connected with the name dropping, Hitchens and Hauerwas both share a similar strange blend of pomposity and humility when sharing their opinions.  Finally, both Hitchens and Hauerwas have a great sense of being blessed.  Again, perhaps too religious of language for Hitchens, but I am referring to a sense of gratitude for circumstances and/or forces beyond their control coming together to create great lives which surprised them.

I would have to say, where Hauerwas’ memoir made me want to be a theologian, Hitchens’ makes me want to be passionate for the truth.  Those at least shouldn’t have to be too far apart from each other.

And now, an excerpt which doesn’t particularly relate to or illustrate anything I’ve written (from p. 352 of the hardback):

“Hitch: making rules about drinking can be the sign of an alcoholic,” as Martin Amis once teasingly said to me.  (Adorno would have savored that, as well.)  Of course, watching the clock for the start-time is probably a bad sign, but here are some simple pieces of advice for the young.  Don’t drink on an empty stomach: the main point of the refreshment is the enhancement of food.  Don’t drink if you have the blues: it’s a junk cure.  Drink when you are in a good mood.  Cheap booze is a false economy.  It’s not true that you shouldn’t drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain.  Hangovers are another bad sign, and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can’t properly remember last night.  (If you really don’t remember, that’s an even worse sign.)  Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less and are not designed—as are the grape and the grain—to enliven company.  Be careful about up-grading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won’t be easily available.  Never even think about driving a car if you have taken a drop.  It’s much worse to see a woman drunk than a man: I don’t know quite why this is but it just is.  Don’t ever be responsible for it.

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