Graeme Wood on Christopher Hitchens

By Graeme Wood

Editor’s note: we asked Graeme Wood, the reporter, Atlantic contributing editor and BNR contributor for a few words on the influence and legacy of his colleague Christopher Hitchens.  Here’s what he sent us: 

My last news of Christopher Hitchens’s health, until the obituaries anyway, came via a friend of Salman Rushdie about six months ago. The news was positive, I was told: the cancer treatment in Houston seemed to be helping, and Hitchens might just survive to die of something else. After relief, my first thought was exasperation on Hitchens’s behalf — not at the extra years or months, which he would have relished and used, but at the cavalcade of cliche and mush-headed sermonizing that he would have to endure at the pens of those who would congratulate him on “beating the odds,” on a “miraculous recovery,” or on receiving the love of a God who “loves him, even if he doesn’t love Him back.”

I’m sure he would have accepted recovery on just about any terms. But as a writer and thinker, Hitchens’s cardinal virtue was an inability not to be irritated, on a level of physiological reflex, with what he liked to call langue du bois. “Wooden language” (the phrase is a borrowing from the Solidarity movement’s drętwa mowa, to describe the numb language of bureaucracy; such were his allusions) bears the relation to real thought that a scarecrow bears to an angry farmer with a shotgun.  And Hitchens managed to stay angry, and verbally armed, long after others had others had sued the crows for peace.

I’ve shared a masthead with him at The Atlantic for five years now, and no name brings me more honor by association.  I didn’t know him, except in the sense that I spent minutes in his company at magazine parties in Washington, hours hearing him speak on television and the Web, and my entire adult life admiring him in print. He combined that perpetual sense of irritation with a serpentine charm. With just the charm, he would have been frivolous; with just the irritation, a bore. Instead he was Christopher Hitchens: a master, now sorely missed.

See Graeme Wood’s review of Hitch-22.

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