Sunday, April 24, 2011

With Obituarists Like That . . .

This remarkably gristly piece of meat cooked to toughest inedibility and served up in the Guardian on a chipped and discolored stoneware dish by Martin Amis on the subject of his dear dying friend Christopher Hitchens—so tight are they, in fact, that Mr. Amis has packed up his family and moved from England to America to watch Mr. Hitchens undergo a last-ditch experimental cancer treatment—suggests Mr. Amis has had not a little difficulty eulogizing his best beloved—the one, at any rate, he doesn’t look at in the mirror every day—which, when you think about it, makes sense because a) Mr. Hitchens hasn’t as yet kicked the bucket and therefore will be perusing Mr. Amis’s obituary of him before it has earned the title in actuality, and b) Mr. Amis appears to envy Mr. Hitchens with such a simmering desperate intensity that something rather more akin to hatred than admiration—and this about a man whose own encomia of him have come awfully close to reading like love letters—rises from the page like the rancid stink of days-old mutton.

This: “Lenin used to boast that his objective, in debate, was not rebuttal and then refutation: it was the ‘destruction’ of his interlocutor. This isn’t Christopher’s policy—but it is his practice.”  Whoa. Sounds like a man who’s been at the splintered-door end of the Hitchensian verbal battering ram more than once.

And this:

As a young man, Christopher was conspicuously unpredatory in the sexual sphere (while also being conspicuously pan-affectionate: “I’ll just make a brief pass at everyone,” he would typically and truthfully promise a mixed gathering of 14 or 15 people, “and then I’ll be on my way”). I can’t say how it went, earlier on, with the boys; with the girls, though, Christopher was the one who needed to be persuaded. And I do know that in this area, if in absolutely no other, he was sometimes inveigled into submission. 

Golly, Mr. Serial-Philanderer-and-Betrayer-of-Women! What’s a guy—your BFF—gotta do to measure up?

And this, on “Christopher’s baffling weakness for puns,” which

. . . doesn’t much matter when the context is less than consequential (it merely grinds the reader to a temporary halt). But a pun can have no business in a serious proposition. Consider the following, from 2007: “In the very recent past, we have seen the Church of Rome befouled by its complicity with the unpardonable sin of child rape, or, as it might be phrased in Latin form, ‘no child’s behind left’.” Thus the ending of the sentence visits a riotous indecorum on its beginning. . . . But puns are the result of an anti-facility: they offer disrespect to language, and all they manage to do is make words look stupid.

On the contrary: That particular play manages to make words look quite the opposite of stupid. But Mr. Amis, culling like an enemy, does succeed in making many others of Mr. Hitchens’s words look very stupid, indeed, while claiming for them a “magisterial expansiveness.”  Some of the “insights that lead the reader to a recurring question: If this is so obviously true, and it is, why did we have to wait for Christopher to point it out to us?”:

There is, especially in the American media, a deep belief that insincerity is better than no sincerity at all. . . . One reason to be a decided antiracist is the plain fact that “race” is a construct with no scientific validity. DNA can tell you who you are, but not what you are. . . . [I]n America, your internationalism can and should be your patriotism. . . . It is only those who hope to transform human beings who end up by burning them, like the waste product of a failed experiment.

Before he passes on to that atheist’s great post-life nothingness in the sky, Mr. Hitchens might ask himself how he ended up with so unloving and unforgiving a man as Mr. Amis as his kaddish, and whether there isn’t a special place in Hell for friends like that.

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