In case you’ve been wondering, here’s the headsup [via Tim D.] I used to really enjoy Hitchens’ acerbic and witty writing – but he’s descended into a sad self-parody. And lest I be accused of disliking him now that he’s joined the forces of evil, I think that it can easily be argued that his writing has become less punchy and his arguments confused. But maybe, as George Scialabba observes, there is an element of disappointment at his political switch:
If a hall of fame were established for contemporary book reviewers?Äîwell, why not? There’s one for ad executives, poker players, and probably porn stars?ÄîChristopher Hitchens would very likely be its second inductee. (James Wood, of course, would be the first.) About an amazing range of literary and political figures?ÄîProust, Joyce, Borges, Byron, Bellow, Orhan Pamuk, Tom Paine, Trotsky, Churchill, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Israel Shahak, and a hundred others?Äîhe has supplied the basic information, limned the relevant controversies, hazarded an original perception or two, and thrown out half a dozen fine phrases, causing between fifteen and forty- five minutes of reading time to pass entirely unnoticed. His very, very frequent political columns have occasionally seemed tossed off, it’s true; but his books about Cyprus, the Palestinians, the British monarchy, and the Elgin Marbles are seriously argued. Though he lives in Washington, DC, and is said to be very fond of fancy parties, he has famously insulted and called for the incarceration of a sitting President and a ubiquitously befriended diplomat and Nobel laureate. And he appears on all those self-important TV talk shows without wearing a tie. How can you not admire someone like that?
Actually, it’s not so difficult, I’ve discovered. All the someone in question has to do is begin thinking differently from me about a few important matters, and in no time I find that his qualities have subtly metamorphosed. His abundance of colorful anecdotes now looks like incessant and ingenious self-promotion. His marvelous copiousness and fluency strike me as mere mellifluous facility and mechanical prolixity. A prose style I thought deliciously suave and sinuous I now find preening and overelaborate. His fearless cheekiness has become truculent bravado; his namedropping has gone from endearing foible to excruciating tic; his extraordinary dialectical agility seems like resourceful and unscrupulous sophistry; his entertaining literary asides like garrulousness and vulgar display; his bracing contrariness, tiresome perversity. Strange, this alteration of perspective; and even stranger, it sometimes occurs to me that if he changed his opinions again and agreed with me, all his qualities would once more reverse polarity and appear in their original splendor. A very instructive experience, epistemologically speaking.