The World Loses a Light

December 16th, 2011 at 2:54 am | 14 Comments |

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Hitchens is gone. And the phrase that echoes in my mind is Nehru’s at the death of Gandhi: “The light has gone out of our lives.” For every young writer – and every victim and opponent of authoritarianism – there is now darkness.

To Hitchens, there was no difference between the two: he rejected the line that separates the observer from the doer. The master stylist of the English language was also the Western world’s most forceful opponent of authoritarianism. He savaged intellectuals who, obsessed with playing the thinker, refused to engage with reality and often became apologists for tyranny.

“The usual duty of the intellectual is to argue for complexity and to insist that phenomena in the world of ideas should not be sloganized or reduced to easily repeated formulae,” he wrote in his memoir, Hitch-22. “But there is another responsibility: to say that some things are simple and ought not to be obfuscated…”

This clarity was not limited to thought. We must remember Hitchens also for the remarkable lack of gulf between his beliefs and his conduct.

Strolling through Beirut after an evening of drinking in 2009, Hitchens spotted a poster for the fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party. He walked over to it, got his pen out, and scrolled a compliment that all Nazi sympathisers deserve to hear: fuck you. For this he was physically assaulted on the street by the SSNP’s thugs. Did Hitchens flee? Far from it: The next morning he delivered a lecture at the American University in Beirut. Its title: “Who are the revolutionaries in today’s Middle East.”

In his own lifetime, Hitchens inspired and shaped movements that displaced oppressors. His life – his tremendous body of work – is an indispensable spot of light in the darkness that presently engulfs us.

Recent Posts by Kapil Komireddi



14 Comments so far ↓

  • Nanotek

    “Hitchens is gone. And the phrase that echoes in my mind is Nehru’s at the death of Gandhi: “The light has gone out of our lives.” For every young writer – and every victim and opponent of authoritarianism – there is now darkness.”

    great read … thank you

    Kapil, don’t you suspect he would tell you to ignite your candle against it?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQorzOS-F6w

    “This clarity was not limited to thought. We must remember Hitchens also for the remarkable lack of gulf between his beliefs and his conduct.”

    courage born of compassion does that …

  • Frumplestiltskin

    wow, just wow Kapil, you censored a post because I took you to task for needless hyperbole? Do you realize that engaging in over the top hyperbole does a disservice to the dead themselves? Frums piece was far, far better because it was personal. I am sure this will get censored as well, which is precisely the type of thing that Hitchens himself would have hated.

    “For every young writer – and every victim and opponent of authoritarianism – there is now darkness.”

    Again, this is simply not true. You do disservice to the protestors in Syria who risk their lives, and lose them, for their freedom from a tyrant. Those protestors are lights, Chinese dissidents are lights, Burmese dissidents are lights…

    • Oldskool

      One of my posts disappeared when I mentioned that Galatea had the advantage of youth. I thought it was a perfectly harmless reminder but someone made it vanish. Strange things happen here without explanation. Maybe there really is a Republicanland and we’re in it. Ha.

    • WaStateUrbanGOPer

      I really don’t think he meant that the death of Christopher Hitchens would leave “young writers” and “victims of totalitarianism” stranded in a TOTAL intellectual or spiritual darkness. I think he meant “darkness” with respect to the place that Hitchens’s public life occupied in their minds and hearts, which is now sadly no longer extant.

      No one, not even his most passionate admirers, would argue that Hitchens was the sole inspiration to the reflective and oppressed. His life and work does mean a tremendous amount to these people, though.

  • TJ Parker

    Bye bye, Hitch. Thanks for everything.

  • robinvsears

    Brilliant, elegant and moving, David.

    To all those who have not yet, go to the Munk Debate site and see CH on one of his most triumphant final days, his debate with Tony Blair.

    Thanks

    Robin

  • MurrayAbraham

    “…the phrase that echoes in my mind is Nehru’s at the death of Gandhi:”

    Ironic considering what Hitchens thought of Gandhi.

    • WaStateUrbanGOPer

      I was waiting for somebody to point this out. The passage in god Is Not Great where Hitch ridicules the Mahatma and his Spinning Wheel is almost laugh-yourself-to-tears funny.

    • MurrayAbraham

      The other irony of course is that as far as “the world loses a light” is concerned, it must not be forgotten that he got the single most consequential decision in his life, i.e.his support of the invasion of Iraq, horrifically, petulantly wrong. People make mistakes. What’s horrible about Hitchens’ ardor for the invasion of Iraq is that he clung to it long after it became clear that a grotesque error had been made.

      • WaStateUrbanGOPer

        His inability to concede a point or admit an error may have been his greatest failing as a polemicist. In addition to his refusal to express regret for supporting that idiotic and failed crusade in Iraq– and yes, I know he’d pillory me for characterizing it as such, but what better way is there to describe a war launched by a born-again Texas Methodist against a Muslim enemy?– he also refused to apologize for a number of extremely intemperate and calumnious things he’d written in the 70s and 80s, chief among them a nasty swipe he took at Alexander Solzhenitsyn in which he mocks him as “The Ayatollah Solzhenitsyn,” an undeniably despicable utterance if ever there was one.