Wednesday, December 21, 2011

About Hitchens

I stumbled upon this comment over at Quodbileta:

No, you fools. Hitchens wasn't a great thinker, but he was a great--I won't pussy out and say "very good" or something--writer, speaker, and general stylist of words. I say this as an orthodox Catholic who was against the war in Iraq and hostile to most of his other views. I saw him speak at the University of Tennessee in 2009, and he was both hugely charismatic and charming and possessed of an astounding facility with words. He talked better than most people wrote, and wrote better than nearly everyone.

That said, he was polemical to the point of punditry--and on a lot of things, just kind of stupid--and no one will know who he is in fifteen or twenty years. But everything he wrote and said, even when it was wrong and stupid, was striking and comely and interesting. He was wrong, but he was brilliantly, admirably wrong.

Of all the commentary I've caught wind of so far, this quote seems to do Hitch the most justice in the truest sense of the word. A very skillful writer, great with words, but not exactly wise or supremely intelligent - and probably destined to fade out of the public's memory before too long. It was nice to read this, because I felt somewhat alone in my lack of praise of Hitchens on his death. Everywhere I turned, Christian after Christian piling on praise for him. It felt overdone.

The problem in this case is partly on my end: I'm not all that impressed with a grand command of words. I can recognize and appreciate a stirring speech, a good turn of phrase, but a minute after the experience I'm done with it and onto examining the idea - and if you start to examine Hitchens' (or Dawkins', or Harris', or...) ideas, to the point where they take center stage, the magic disappears immediately. You start to notice how much bullshit is present, or how the abundance of skillful writing is camouflaging the lack of depth or some flimsy reasoning, and by then it's all over.

That's not to say that the great command of language isn't impressive, or hell, deserving of praise. But there's this nasty habit of confusing "the guy who speaks well" with "a guy who's really a genius and intelligent". As our idiot president of the moment shows, it simply doesn't cash out that way. But damned if you can't get a lot of people mistaking the two.

Anyway, RIP and all that. And Merry Christmas to anyone who stumbles on by here, if I don't get a chance to wish it on the appropriate day.


Ilíon said...

The only prayer I can offer for Hitchens' soul is "May he be given the Ultimate Fate he so keenly desired" ... which is not to exist/live in the presence of God.

Darwin said...

That seems like about the right assessment -- a bit like Bernard Shaw but without the lasting literary works.