"Hitch 22"

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Tarantella
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"Hitch 22"

Post by Tarantella » Wed Apr 23, 2014 7:46 am

I've just resumed reading this book after rather a long interlude. My daughter took it with her when I hadn't gone more than a third of the way through and I've had to buy my own hardcover. So, I decided to start again from scratch. The re-read sections are yielding more and it has proven a worthwhile exercise.

In a sense "Hitch 22" is a companion piece to the "Biography of Martin Amis", since it's populated with many of the same characters, situations and settings.

Hitchens's grasp of language is phenomenal and he uses it as a weapon. Hubris in abundance. Also language is a distancing device - as though he's standing quite far from the experience and recounting as an impartial observer. However, when he speaks about his mother - about whom he always refers by name (except when he lets slip that she was occasionally still "mummy) - there's real affection and loss which is tinged with guilt. (Yvonne committed suicide in Athens in a bizarre pact with a mentally unhinged male companion when Hitchens was 24.)

In spite of this, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, particularly when Hitchens recalls Yvonne's attempts at sex education. But the book does suffer the same fate as much autobiography; it's always the adult perspective, no matter how the author might want to evoke childhood experience. In the case of Christopher Hitchens the cynical athiest and raconteur is everywhere in evidence and it's almost a case of suspending disbelief to learn that he was ever a child!! Then there is the embellishment of the creative writer. He'll use expressions like "or so I'm told" when discussing a particularly prodigious trait, which I always think is somewhat disingenuous. Sometimes I feel he's trying to convince the reader of something which he barely believes himself!

I've only gone as far as the first few chapters and, thus far, there's no sense of an over-arching 'narrative' which informs the grown man - much as one might find, for example, in fiction. Rather, it seems to be a series of snapshots. To really understand Hitchens one has to read between the lines and analyze the language very closely.

Looking forward to the sections about Martin Amis, whom Hitchens quotes in the chapter heading, "Martin" as follows:

"My friendship with the Hitch has always been perfectly cloudless. It is a love whose month is ever May".

I'll come back with further thoughts when I've finished "Hitch 22".

John F
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Re: "Hitch 22"

Post by John F » Wed Apr 23, 2014 9:49 am

Very interesting. I've been thinking about getting that book. But I should tell you, Tarantella, that with the current technical problems on the CMG web site, your message may disappear when/if the glitch is fixed. So you might want to save it as a text file in case you want to repost it later.
John Francis

Tarantella
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Location: Sydney, Australia

Re: "Hitch 22"

Post by Tarantella » Fri May 02, 2014 8:05 pm

I’ve just finished reading the memoirs of Christopher Hitchens. Not only did this experience exponentially increase my vocabulary, it provided an invaluable and rewarding glimpse into the intellectual life.

Hitchens makes an admission: in his lifetime he has kept “two sets of books” and these could be inscribed metaphorically as either Christopher or Chris (hence the titular reference to Joseph Heller). There’s a sharp duality here right from the start; on the one hand a conservative Anglican upbringing juxtaposed with an Oxford education which provided an entree to some exceptional thinkers, poets, writers and activists. Hitchens adopted the radical path of left-wing political activism in Communist countries (he was then an avowed Trotskyite) and his exploits in some of the less savoury tourist haunts, such as Havana, showed me the extent of his naivete, his singular desire to change the world and the trouble this attracted. I’m afraid this was the rebarbative Hitchens; the man for whom everything could be filtered through the prism of hostile dissent. It was easy to skim through these chapters. And I didn’t like many of his fellow travellers.

Keeping ‘two sets of books’ also meant Hitchens could be both serious and frivolous, and his puerile word-games with Amis and others – and the fact that he actually chose to document these - show the extent of his sometime immaturity and self-destructive drinking ("the demon I carry around with me")!! He candidly admits his “insecurities”, using this excuse to justify some dubious behaviours.

But something happened to Hitchens: he fell in love - with the United States!! His prose about looking towards Manhatten from Long Island absolutely glows in the dark. Hitchens’s American project becomes the driving force in his life. This is the eloquent, funny and passionate Hitchens – when he’s not being an ideologue. (And many observations about American politics show the reader that he held a deep antipathy – no, an actual hatred – towards Nixon, Reagan, Kissinger and Clinton. The benefits of keeping “two sets of books”?)

September 11 foments Hitchens’s understanding, in his chapter headed “Changing Sides”, of the extent of hatred and antipathy directed towards the USA. One glowing passage about anti-Americanism and extremist cant reads:

“Here was an unexampled case of seeing all one’s worst enemies in plain view; the clerical freaks and bigots of all persuasions and the old Charles Lindbergh isolationist Right, the latter sometimes masquerading as a corny and folksy version of a Grassy Knoll conspiracist “Left”. I took it upon myself to defend my adopted homeland from this kind of insult and calumny, the spittle of which was being gigglingly prepared even as the funerals and commemorations were going calmly forward”.(249)

And this kind of hatred also ensued from articulate American citizens: Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal. These angry men had to be set adrift from Hitchens so that he could fulfil his parturition as American paladin and, frankly, re-orient his antipathies and grievances towards religion and its "superstitions". It appears to have little affected the man that he was sometimes the object of international obloquy and contempt for his verbal chicanery.

Christopher Hitchens is at his most powerful and eloquent when describing Islamofascism: “It took me a long time to separate and classify the 3 now-distinctive elements of the new and grievance-privileged Islamist mentality, which are self-righteousness, self-pity and self-hatred”.(271)

The “two sets of books” kept by Hitchens also included bisexuality, which I had long suspected with the Martin Amis relationship but which, ironically, was not actually a feature of that friendship. Bisexuality was an element of Oxford dormitory life and Hitchens speaks frankly about those experiences. He says about Martin, "I find now that I can more or less acquit myself on any charge of having desired Martin carnally"(157).

One thing leaps out of the pages of "Hitch 22" and that is the incredible gift for friendship that Christopher Hitchens possessed. He says the same thing about Martin Amis, who seemed to carry the dominant role in that relationship. However, I developed a instinctive conviction that what Christopher Hitchens really sought was to belong – to a tribe or a family – and that, for many complex reasons, this was poorly understood by him and never fully realized.

jbuck919
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Re: "Hitch 22"

Post by jbuck919 » Sat May 03, 2014 5:09 pm

Tarantella wrote:I’ve just finished reading the memoirs of Christopher Hitchens. Not only did this experience exponentially increase my vocabulary, it provided an invaluable and rewarding glimpse into the intellectual life.
Although I had to look up "rebarbative" from further on in your post (not a new word to me, but I couldn't remember what it means), as a math teacher I have to point out that you don't mean "exponentially." If you have a vocabulary of 10,000 words,typical for a modern educated English speaker, then raising it to even a fraction of a power greater than one would put you past Shakespeare. Ten thousand squared is one hundred million; ten thousand to the tenth power is greater than the number of atoms in the known universe. :)

I guess I'm going to have to get this book too. Thanks for making it known to us, and for your interesting follow-up review as well.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Tarantella
Posts: 1089
Joined: Mon Jun 25, 2012 12:09 am
Location: Sydney, Australia

Re: "Hitch 22"

Post by Tarantella » Sat May 03, 2014 5:42 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Tarantella wrote:I’ve just finished reading the memoirs of Christopher Hitchens. Not only did this experience exponentially increase my vocabulary, it provided an invaluable and rewarding glimpse into the intellectual life.
Although I had to look up "rebarbative" from further on in your post (not a new word to me, but I couldn't remember what it means), as a math teacher I have to point out that you don't mean "exponentially." If you have a vocabulary of 10,000 words,typical for a modern educated English speaker, then raising it to even a fraction of a power greater than one would put you past Shakespeare. Ten thousand squared is one hundred million; ten thousand to the tenth power is greater than the number of atoms in the known universe. :)

I guess I'm going to have to get this book too. Thanks for making it known to us, and for your interesting follow-up review as well.
Thanks for your comments. Math teachers use "exponential"; English teachers use "hyperbole"!!

I see I've made a mistake in my comments about "Hitch 22" - it was the Catholic Church and not Anglican which Hitchens most remembered. But his father was a British naval Commander and the Hitchens family firmly belonged to the 'establishment'. That was the original point I was making.

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